Going to Catholic grade school for eight years at St. Amelia’s in Tonawanda, NY, left me with some indelible memories, like the time I went to confession and told Father Ochs that I had eleven sins of sacrilege on my soul.
I remember there was a stunned silence for a moment. Then he began to question me as to how I had possibly committed that many terrible sins.
This is it how it happened.
At St. Amelia’s during the school week, any student could go to Holy Communion at 11:30 am.
Usually there were only two girls in my class who went regularly. Elizabeth Baltisberger and Catherine Gaulthier.
They kept the little lace doilies for the required female head covering in their desks. They were considered the “holy” girls, very religious.
So one day, my teacher Sister Frederick decided the whole class would go to communion every day. No one was exempt. As I think back, as an adult now, I suspect Sister probably had some early dementia going on. And there always did seem to be some competition between the nuns and their classes, for example, who could collect the most pagan babies.
Well, I had a mortal sin on my soul, which I pictured as a sort of test tube, with rounded edges at both ends.
I can’t remember which mortal sin it was. But, as a good Catholic girl, I knew that if you took Holy Communion without first confessing your sins and receiving absolution, you had committed a sin of sacrilege.
So, if you’re Catholic, you may have guessed what happened. I couldn’t get to confession, so Sister Frederick’s forced communion participation resulted in those eleven sins of sacrilege.
I lived in mortal terror those eleven days, because it was my understanding that if I died before I could get to confession, I would go straight to hell.
There was a long silence after I explained to Father Ochs what had happened. Then he gave me absolution, told me to say ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys for my penance. Which I gladly did. And I left the confessional feeling light as a feather, quite relieved to have those sins off my soul. That was a Saturday.
On Monday, 11:30 am came and went, and not a peep from Sister Frederick about the class lining up to go to Holy Communion. Now I know Father Ochs must have had words with Sister Frederick, or perhaps Sister Amabilia, who was our principle.
The seal of the confessional means that a priest may never reveal anything he has heard in the confessional to anyone.
But if my experience is anything to go by, wow, what a book that would make if priests could talk!