What to Say to the Penitent


"If all confessors would fulfill the obligations of their office, the whole world would be sanctified." —St. Alphonsus Liguori
A startling challenge to all priests, and a down-to-earth book of spiritual instruction that penitents can read for themselves and apply to their daily lives. When the lines of penitents are long, and the number of priests hearing is few, it’s understandable if the confessors make short work of each confession, imposing a routine penance and a quick absolution. Right?

Wrong! says Father Charles Hugo Doyle, widely regarded as a masterful guide of souls. In the confessional the soul of the penitent is fertile ground, ready for a brief, to-the-point instruction that only the confessor can provide. To rush through a confession is to pass on a God-given opportunity to move a soul further along toward perfection.

The original publisher of What to Say to the Penitent said that given "the near-state of moral collapse in the world," it was especially important for confessors to offer their penitents a little spiritual direction.

That was back in 1953! Imagine what the publisher would say today, when sound spiritual advice from the other side of the grille is needed more desperately than ever.

Father Doyle admits that for years he found it "a most difficult and frustrating task" to think of something suitable to say to penitents in confession. Then he had an inspiration: he would base his spiritual direction on the Epistles and Gospels from the upcoming Sunday Mass. "Then," he says, "when the person hears the Epistle or Gospel read again on the following Sunday, the chances are good that the words of the confessor will be recalled and suitably applied."

Father Doyle has tailored his spiritual direction for four groups of penitents: adults, children, religious, and clerics. For each group he offers a long and a short instruction. The short instruction takes only 30 seconds, the "long," 75 seconds.

A confessor can keep Fr. Doyle’s book in the confessional, either reading the instruction directly from the book, or if he has familiarized himself with the text, repeat it to each penitent in his own words. Either way, this book places at the confessor’s fingertips an entire year’s worth of sensible spiritual advice:

61 instructions for every Sunday of the year, plus all holy days of obligation and other important feasts such as Corpus Christi
Instructions tailored to First Communion, Confirmation, and for the bride and groom before marriage
Special instructions for retreats, parish missions, and Forty Hours’ Devotion
12 instructions, one for each First Friday
Crucial advice on assigning a suitable penance
"The reflections, based on the Sunday Epistles and Gospels, are addressed to 4 different groups: adults, children, religious, and clerics. The longest instruction takes only a minute and a half to give. Practical and inspirational are these guides for confessors." —Liguorian