The Liturgy Office has recently received several inquiries regarding the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. One questioner asks whether it is possible to hear confessions at the request of a member or group of the faithful while Mass is being celebrated. In 2001, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published a response to a dubium (see N otitiae 37 : 259-260), indicating that the faithful may have recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation in these circumstances. The Congregation noted that, while the “faithful are to be constantly encouraged to accustom themselves to going to confession outside the celebration of Mass, and especially at the prescribed times,” this does not “prohibit priests, except the one who is celebrating Mass, from hearing confessions of the faithful who so desire, including during the celebration of Mass.” If it is foreseen that the faithful will ask for this ministry, some priests may refrain from concelebrating to attend to this pastoral need. In 2007, the Congregation reiterated these statements in its Instruction, R edemptionis Sacramentum, noting that, while the Sacrament of Reconciliation may take place during the time when Mass is being celebrated, it is not permitted to unite this Sacrament with the Mass and to make of them a single celebration, “according to a most ancient tradition of the Church” (76).
Another inquiry concerns whether a penitent has the right to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation anonymously and behind a screen. Canon 964 §2 indicates the following: “The conference of bishops is to establish norms regarding the confessional; it is to take care, however, that there are always confessionals with a fixed grate between the penitent and the confessor in an open place so that the faithful who wish to can use them freely.” Thus, a penitent may always elect to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation behind a screen. In 1994, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts clarified that a priest may also legitimately decide to hear a confession behind a fixed grille, “for a just cause and excluding cases of necessity.” Bearing this in mind, the bishops of the United States have directed that the place for sacramental confession be visible and accessible, and that it contain a fixed grille, as well as allow for confession face-to-face for those who wish to celebrate the Sacrament in this manner.