Sunday, May 25, 2008

Confessional Comparisons

St. Peter's basilica has some fifty or so confessionals. They are located mostly in the wings of the church in sections roped off for prayer and genuflection. With Hillary's camera I was able to sneak couple quick shots of one of the operating confessionals, before I was told not to photograph the confessionals. As I had imagined, it is a touchy subject for photography. Given the secretive nature of the sacrament, I will have to be cautious about how I document it.

There are some significant differences between confession at St. Peter's as compared to Santa Maria Liberatrice. At Santa Maria, a younger priest came out to hear confession during the service. As far as I can tell, at St. Peter's you can confess anytime. It seems pretty clear that this is designed for different audiences. Santa Maria is a neighborhood church and the priests there are fewer in number and offering a spiritual service for a population with habituated practices for attending mass. At St. Peter's the population that is confessing is largely tourist. One of the students in our program who took confession at St. Peter's explained that when he went, he was able to select a priest based on the language that the priest spoke. Each confessional had a list of languages outside ranging, he said, from two to four or five. He also said that he spent a fair amount of time talking about St. Peter's as well as confessing. I got the impression from the behavior of the people confessing at Santa Maria Liberatrice, that they were not taking time to talk about the building during their confession.

Another interesting point of comparison is provided by the Pantheon. The Pantheon has been a Catholic church since it was given to the Pope in the seventh century. Despite its technical existence as a local church, the Pantheon did not have any visible confessionals. It seems that people interact with the Pantheon more as a secular monument than as a religious one. That is, no one goes to the Pantheon to confess their sins. I would assume that it is grander to confess your sins at St. Peter's. As Hillary joked, if you have a really big sin to confess, St. Peter's would be the place to confess it. In fairness as well, you are much more likely to get a priest who speaks English and absolves sins on a regular basis at St. Peter's. Confession at the Pantheon and certainly at Santa Maria Liberatrice is much less tourist-friendly.

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