My Wish List for the American Bishops: Bring Back Kneelers and Confessionals!

ConfessionalI was thrilled to hear about the British bishops bringing back the fish-on-Friday rule for Catholics, and I wish the American bishops would follow suit.

Forgoing burgers and chicken– and don’t forget pepperoni pizza–on Friday was something that defined Catholics in my childhood. And frankly, I know very few people who took on some other weekly sacrifice once that obligation was lifted after Vatican II.

Actually, I’ve felt vaguely cheated that so many things once considered standard fare for Catholics are nowhere to be seen today, so I made up a wish list for the American bishops about other distinctly Catholic practices that I’d love to see resurrected.

Kneelers: During the most sacred part of the Mass, the Consecration, we kneel down, but when we receive Communion, we do so standing up. Hello?

Some determined souls, like my husband, manage to kneel on the floor every time they receive Communion, and I would love to follow suit. But I fear that even if I got down successfully, it would take two altar servers to get me back up.

Removing the kneelers at the altar has been a rather slippery slope for some parishes, where you won’t find a kneeler anywhere in the entire church. While attending Mass in Florida last Christmas, I was horrified to discover that people stood up throughout the entire Mass, unless, of course, they were sitting down.

And, yes, I know that bowing is supposed to take the place of kneeling as we receive Communion, but it seems too quick and easy –especially in parishes where we’ve been instructed to bow at the back of the fellow in front of us. (This is recommended to save time, but it’s not like we’re rushing to get to the cash register at a Macy’s white sale for heaven’s sake!)

The old confessionals: Every time I hear a priest giving a sermon in which he bemoans the dwindling numbers of people going to Confession, I have to wonder if part of the problem could be that the average person craves more privacy.

As for me, I wish there were a voice-scrambling device, so the priest couldn’t figure out who I am. Now I really don’t expect this to happen, but I would love to see a return to the old confessionals, which gave everyone a degree of privacy that can’t be achieved in the modern-day version of a confessional, usually consisting of a room with two folding chairs.

You’ll notice that whenever a movie shows a person going to Confession, it’s the standard “box” that is depicted. This tradition — just like meat on Friday –has been impressed in the general consciousness as distinctly Catholic.

There are still some parishes in Atlanta where the old confessionals exist, and it’s interesting to note that there is usually a long line outside them. I haven’t noticed too much of a crowd outside the room with the folding chairs!

There are other things on my wish list for the bishops, such as banning guitars, liturgical dancers and cantors at Mass, but I don’t want to be too greedy, so this is all for now.

Lorraine’s latest book is “Death of a Liturgist,” about a layman who meets a grisly end after tweaking the traditions at a small church in Georgia.

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About the Author

Lorraine V. Murray grew up in Miami, and graduated from Immaculata Academy High School. One of the nuns there predicted that if Lorraine went to a secular college, she would be in great danger of losing her faith. Lorraine thought that was funny, but in fact the sister’s prediction came true. Majoring in English at the University of Florida, Lorraine bid farewell to her Catholicism when she was 19. She went on to get a Ph.D. in philosophy and became a radical feminist and atheist for over 20 years. After teaching courses in English and philosophy on the college level, Lorraine worked as an editor in a university publications office. In her forties, the Lord called her back to her Catholic roots, and she went on to write about her conversion journey in her book “Confessions of an Ex-Feminist.” Her recent books are "Death of a Liturgist," a fun-filled mystery featuring murder and mayhem in a Georgia parish, and "The Abbess of Andalusia," which explores Flannery O'Connor's Catholic journey. All her books can be seen at www.lorrainevmurray.com (link provided below). Lorraine writes regular columns for the religion section of “The Atlanta Journal-Constitution” and “The Georgia Bulletin.” She lives in Decatur, Georgia, with her husband, Jef, a Tolkien artist and book illustrator. In her spare time, she bakes bread, watches hummingbirds, and chases squirrels out of her garden.

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