1

Where man meets mercy

Carl Jung (1875-1961), one of the fathers of modern psychology, once apparently quipped that in all his years of therapy he only ever met a handful of Catholics. Jews and Protestants were his bread and butter clientele; Catholics almost never came. One explanation is that Catholics sin less and have fewer sorrows. Another is that Catholics don’t like to pay for things they can get for free. Jung preferred the second explanation. Catholics didn’t need to sit on his couch, he surmised, because they were already in the habit of kneeling in the confessional box.

Discipline has, perhaps, slackened since Jung’s day. According to research conducted by the University of Georgetown, only 2% of Catholics go to confession at least once a month (75% go never or “less than once a year”).

I think it’s no accident that designs for the confession box have become less enchanting. Contemporary designs for confessionals often give the feeling that you’re chatting with your banker. That’s the wrong feeling. Historically, confessionals have usually been objects that we’d lavish decoration with quiet intimacy. Given their purpose, this custom makes good sense. Confession offers a moment of intimacy with the Lord. It provides a privileged moment of encounter between God and the soul; it “imparts to the sinner the love of God who reconciles” (CCC 1424). At confession debts are freely paid: it’s where man meets mercy.

A rather cool aesthetic: Richard Artschwager’s 1980 design for a modern confessional, on display at the Saatchi Gallery, London.

A rather cool aesthetic: Richard Artschwager’s 1980 design for a modern confessional, on display at the Saatchi Gallery, London.

“Light’s on” at the elegant baroque confessionals at Santa Maria Maggiore, in Rome (image from the New Liturgical Movement).

“Light’s on” at the elegant baroque confessionals at Santa Maria Maggiore, in Rome (image from the New Liturgical Movement).

A 1935 watercolor of a simple—though not simplistic—confessional box, by the American artist Harry Wadell (courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.).

A 1935 watercolor of a simple—though not simplistic—confessional box, by the American artist Harry Wadell (courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.).

Copyright © 2016 Catholic Insight Magazine. All rights reserved.   |   Developed by [w-i] in association with TrueMedia   |   Subscribe RSS