Thursday 3 March 2016

Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink: Is there a lot of this going on?

A few years ago I was somewhat taken aback when a friend told me that when she a schoolgirl they were taken regularly to confession and she couldn`t think of anything to confess so made up a list of sins and always added at the end `And I`ve told lies` to cover herself. Personally I`ve never had this problem. However I was watching Adrian Chiles recent programme, an exploration of Mediterranean religions, and was interested when he started with his atheist Croatian mother who had become an atheist as a child because she hated going to confession when she had nothing she could think of to confess. `Interesting`, I thought. Then this year I have started reading Elvis Costello`s new autobiography. From the time I set eyes on the LP cover of his first album. My Aim Is True, at a student party on South Street at St Andrews in 1979, I was intrigued at a figue that looked like a cross between Buddy Holly and Woody Allen, called himself Elvis and was steeped in the tradition of the genre and yet was something new.

Then I found the music captivating with its angry songs of guilt and revenge, mixed in with Catholic imagery but balanced by the sadness of the ballad `Alison`. There are about nine of his albums which I enjoy (which is far more than for any other singer).  So far in his autobiography he has mentioned his Catholic upbringing a number of times including the satisfying nugget that his father used to take him to a Latin Mass when it was generally being abandoned. He makes a reference to being an altar server (pouring wine over the priest`s fingers) but when it comes to confession as a child he says he couldn`t think of anything he had done wrong so looking at the commandments chose a couple to have something to say: committing adultery and added coveting his neighbour`s ox "to be on the safe side" (p.58).The priest he says `gently set me straight on the possible sins of a child and then gave me a penance of three Our Fathers and five Hail Marys for telling lies" He adds: " I`ve spoken with several Catholic friends who made the same idiotic, forced confession rather than claim their little souls were spotless"

All this makes me wonder whether this still goes on with first confessions? In my twenty-six years as a priest I`ve never heard any child make a confession like Costello`s and they all seeem to have been sincere but next time I`ll be more aware of this. Maybe Pius X`s move wasn`t that great if we ask for confession before first Holy Communion for children when it is the only time the Church requires confession for non-mortal sins before receiving Communion. I`ve no idea what the answer is. 

I enjoy reading and was reminded recently by abbot Cuthbert that I promised to read his book on Mgr McReavy and Vatican II. I got my copy yesterday and have started and will report in due course!


  1. Father,
    I have always found the children's First Confessions to sound very sincere. I have always, in every parish, had the catechists take them through an Examination of Conscience and get the children to say what they might have done wrong, and not to tell a lie in Confession, so when they come to me to Confess they have what sound like very real things to offer God. So sincere are they that they have admitted to breaking 'thou shalt not kill' because they killed spider or ant or such like! They are not shy to tell you what their sibling did that made them strike out, either! They obviously think about their Confessions these days -much more than they think about getting to Mass, I suspect.
    God Bless.

    1. I agree in that my experience nowadays is that the children have more than enough they want to talk about.

  2. I didn't know what was so awful about "covering my neighbour's goose."
    For one thing, my neighbour didn't have a goose - a cat and dog, yes, but covering such creatures didn't seem to be sinful.

    At our parish school, the HeadMistress was a fearsome lady who instilled fear in all of us. On the eve of our First Communion, we trotted off to the church to go to First Confession. We were all told to confess 1) Telling lies, and 2) Being disobedient. Nothing else, so no covering of geese. One particularly upsetting feature of the whole thing concerned my best friend. The Head Mistress told us as we were leaving school on the eve of First Communion that we had to be perfect before receiving Communion the next day, and we had to avoid associating with anyone who was not a Catholic. My friend's father was not a Catholic, and he spent the whole walk home in a quite dreadful state of distress, crying his eyes out, wondering how he was to avoid speaking to his Dad, and worrying that his Mam would go to Hell for associating with a non-Catholic.

    Now, I know that may sound funny, amusing, typical of 1950's Catholic Primary Schools. However, to my friend it was cruel, indeed wicked. And all wrapped up in a cloak of repressive piety.

    1. We just seem to go from one extreme to another in the Church. No wonder people brought up with this approach were willing to throw the baby away with the bath water.


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