PROVIDENCE — Normally, the faithful approach the confessional or another designated area to receive forgiveness of their sins in the sacrament of Penance.
While many opportunities remain to confess in churches in the Diocese of Providence, pastors in the time of coronavirus pandemic have taken special care that all the appropriate precautions between penitent and confessor are met. Some pastors have found other creative avenues to provide the sacrament of penance.
At a Tiverton parish, penitents do not even have to leave the church parking lot to receive this sacrament.
This past Saturday, Father Jay Finelli, pastor of Holy Ghost Church, sat outside the entrance of his parish, welcoming those in cars who wished to confess. Close enough to hear, but maintaining a safe social space away, Father Finelli offered “drive-thru” confessions.
The next “drive-thru” confessions will take place tomorrow, Friday, March 27, from 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Catholics can drive up, turn down their car radios and tune in to their faith for a few minutes. In a moment that still remains sacred and private, it is a unique option for those wishing to confess their sins, all while staying safe.
“Most of us have never experienced anything like this before,” said Father Finelli.
“It is so important that we go out to the streets and meet the people where we can so that Jesus can fill the void in their souls. I also think this is an opportunity. It may be a graced moment that God is using to move those who have been away to take a new look and come home to their spiritual mother — the Church.”
While Lent is a time that more people take advantage of the gift of Confession than any other time of the year, Father Finelli shared, it remains important to the faith life of Catholics, even in a pandemic.
“We don’t want to lose the window of opportunity,” he said. “This will help our people feel the connection they miss so very much. So many I am connected with on social media and people I have talked with, with social distancing, feel a great disconnect.”
Twenty-five people took advantage of the drive-up confessional this past weekend. Father Finelli said that it was a great moment for all who visited, all grateful for the opportunity to take part.
“I was very moved by those who came,” said Father Finelli, who noted that some penitents came from Massachusetts as well as Rhode Island.
The pastor explained that some question if virtual confessions might be available in the future, but he said in lay terms — it doesn’t work.
“There is a danger in times like this that we could go off the rails. I was told about one pastor in a Southeastern state that was offering his parishioners confession over the telephone. Let’s be very clear about this, confession via telephone or any form of the internet is invalid. The sacraments are personal encounters with the living Lord Jesus. We must be in the physical presence of the Church’s minister for penance to be a valid sacrament.”
Over the last few weeks, priests have found creative and prayerful ways to reach out to their parishioners while public access to the Mass is restricted. Father Finelli said that everyone needs to do their part to continue to share the Gospel and offer hope.
“I think this situation has been very painful for us all. If you leave a baby in a crib and never touch it, the child will have severe emotional problems. We all need that human connection. We were made for God, but He also made us for one another,” he said.
“It is very difficult for us priests to be separated from our people also. We know the souls that God has entrusted to each one of us. So in this crisis, it is important that we meet people where we can in a safe and personal way. Live streaming Masses, podcasts, social media — we ought to do all that we can to be sure we continue to bring Christ to his people where they are.”