By Joann M. Ringelstetter
February 18th marked the beginning of Lent, a six-week period of prayer, repentance of sins, and sacrifice for many Christians in preparation for Easter.
The penance associated with this period reminded me that I have some photographs to share related to the Catholic Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, commonly called Confession.
On May 12, 1963, near the end of my second year at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in East Bristol, Wisconsin, I was to make my First Holy Communion. There was much preparation for this sacred occasion, the hardest being the requirement to make my First Confession prior to my First Communion.
Making your First Confession is also supposed to be a sacred occasion, but it was more of a “scared” occasion for me. I remember being frightened nearly to death by the whole thing. First of all, I had to memorize a bunch of complicated words to say to the priest and then I had to spend some sleepless nights worrying about the sins I would need to confess.
When the day of our First Confession arrived, I and my classmates nervously lined up in the pews near the confessional. One by one, we entered the darkness of the confessional booth to confess our “sins” to Fr. Klaas, our pastor.
Finally, it was my turn. Shaking like a leaf, I entered the confessional and knelt down on the kneeler in front of the screen behind which the priest sat. Suddenly I heard the panel on the other side of the screen slide open and I could see the faint outline of Fr. Klaas.
Fr. Klaas: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
Joann (after joining the priest in the Sign of the Cross): “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. This is my First Confession.”
Fr. Klaas: “What sins do you have to confess?”
Joann: “I fought with my brothers and sisters ten times.” (Well, it was probably more like 30 times, but I wasn’t going to tell HIM that.) “I am sorry for these and all the sins of my past life.”
Fr. Klaas: “I’d like you to try to get along with your brothers and sisters and not fight so much.”
Joann: “Yes, Father.” (Like that’s ever going to happen! You don’t know these people!)
Fr. Klaas: “For your penance, I want you to say five Hail Marys." (What? FIVE?!) "Now you may say your Act of Contrition.”
Joann: “O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you and I detest all of my sins because of thy just punishment. But most of all because I have offended you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of your grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.”
Fr. Klaas (after pronouncing absolution, possibly in Latin): “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
Joann (making the Sign of the Cross): "Amen." (Get me out of here, I can’t breathe!”)
The good news is that I lived through this traumatic experience and made my First Holy Communion, which was a much less frightening experience. The bad news is that I had to visit the confessional often after that, whether I felt I needed it or not!
And a big thank you goes out to my sister, Phyllis, for helping me to remember the words of the confession process, especially the Act of Contrition.