At Saint Mungo’s we hear confessions every day of the week except Sunday. Each of us has a day “on duty”; my day is usually Tuesday, but this week I had to go with someone to the hospital on Tuesday, so I was hearing confessions today. As well as being well-constructed and moderately comfortable from the confessor’s point of view, these Victorian confessionals are a real feature of the interior of our church, partly because there are so many (-there are eight of them) but also because of the beauty of the materials and design.
The number of confessionals reflects an age when frequent, including weekly, confession was much more common than it is today. Nowadays, apart from before Christmas and during Holy Week, only one confessional is in use at any one time. However, as a religious community near the city centre, we still probably hear more confessions on any weekday than many suburban parishes do in a week, since we are able to offer daily confessions morning and evening with a different confessor each day of the week. (In Glasgow, daily confessions are also a feature of life at Saint Andrew’s Cathedral and at the Jesuit Saint Aloysius’.)
What kind of people go to confession? The short answer is Catholics. In this church, people of all ages go to confession, not just older people; we hear more confessions of men than of women (probably three or four to one); there is also a great maturity in the way most of the penitents approach the sacrament. In spite of what you may read in the papers about the decline of Catholicism, lots of people pray every day, like to go to weekday Mass, set aside time each day for spiritual reading, and seek to grow closer to God through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
For many people, the Mass is the centre of their spiritual life, but the confessional is their opportunity to be personal. The anonymity of this wooden box allows people not just to confess their sins but to share their burdens, to ask serious questions, to express their deepest feelings, and to open to God their most profound needs. In their life span of more than a century, how many life-changing encounters with Christ have these confessionals witnessed?