A priest-friend of mine e-mailed a request to help hear his second graders' First Confessions. The way in which he offered the invitation both made me laugh out loud and has given a bit of food for thought:
Nothing fancy… my focus on these things is not to make a big production for the second graders. We won’t do a big Liturgy of the Word with song-singing and a candlelighting/butterfly releasing event at the end… (Actually, releasing butterflies in January might be considered cruel.) I’ll just offer a good last-minute examination of conscience, review of the ritual, and get ‘em going. The idea is that this experience of the sacrament should be as normative as possible with respect to what they might experience on a Saturday afternoon-- all the parts and prayers (such as the Act of Contrition, etc) in tact.
I, too, am rather in favor of not releasing butterflies in January. The last thing we need is the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals coming after us.
I also share his conviction "that this experience of the sacrament should be as normative as possible."
Is a child's First Confession an important, holy and joyous day? Of course it is. But it should also be just the first of many confessions thorughout their lifetime. Does making a big to do of this day go against that principle by making their first confession so do different than their second confession? Or their 83rd?
I do not know, but I suspect it might. Compared to a child's first confession, his second might seem a rather a let down, a bit anti-climactic.
Singing cutesy songs after their first confession, giving paper hearts or flowers to mom and dad may be fun for the children and entertaining for adults (who are rightly proud of their children), but does not help prepare them for their next confession? Does it help instill within them a genuine love of the sacrament? Does it help them understand our need of the sacrament?
My penitents have told me that they like confessing to me because it is "easy." What they seem to mean is that I do not ask too many questions and I do not offer too much advice. I very clearly make a distinction between confession and spiritual direction. I only ask questions if I need more information to understand the nature of their sin, and I only offer words of counsel if I genuinely feel the penitent needs them. At the same time, I will hear confessions anywhere - on the soccer field, in the library, in a corner stairway, walking down the sidewalk, in the dining room and, of course, in the confessional itself. And all without any fanfare, just the rite in its simplicity and beauty.
I wonder if my priest-friend is on to something. Please feel free to discuss this in the combox, with charity, of course. You are free to disagree with me.