24 Hours of Grace
Priests come together to offer 24 hours of Reconciliation and adoration for those who need it most.
"As a priest, you realize how much people carry around with them that they need to bring to the Lord. By doing this, you give them such an incredible opportunity to come back, and it's hard for them to say no. It's encouraging for them to realize that the priests are there all day and all night to hear their confessions."
Fr. Michael McGovern
Pastor of the Church of St Mary
The need it meets
People who have been away from the sacrament of Confession need a special "window of opportunity" to come back and become part of the life of the Church again. This outreach gives them that opportunity.
Where it came from
Father Michael McGovern started this outreach effort three years ago to bring more souls back to the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Lent. Other parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago now do it, too.
How it works
From 9 a.m. on Friday to 9 a.m. on Saturday, there is a marathon of confessions and adoration. The Church of St. Mary holds it on the Friday following Ash Wednesday because the beginning of Lent is a time when people are more likely to make a good resolution.
Confessions: A team of 12 priests covers the 24 hours in rotating shifts so that there are always 2 (sometimes 3) priests hearing confessions. Booklets are provided with a simple outline of what happens in the sacrament of confession, an examination of conscience, the act of contrition, and other prayers. (A few hundred of these handy booklets go home with people every year.)
Adoration: The Blessed Sacrament is exposed all day and all night. The Knights of Columbus are on hand for security and to make sure the adoration continues at all times.
Souls return to the life of grace and the sacraments. At the Church of St Mary, the outreach typically draws 250 - 350 people for confession. Father McGovern estimates that about 10-15% of these people were away from the sacraments for over a decade. About two dozen people return to the sacrament of the Eucharist afterwards.
Priests benefit as they build priestly fraternity around the sacraments and care of souls. Fr McGovern reports a strong esprit de corps among the team of 12 confessors, and that every single priest who participated in the past has asked to be invited back the next year.
- A team of confessors.
- Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament for adoration as confessions take place. This is vital so penitents can pray to the real presence of Christ before and after confession, deepening the personal encounter with the mercy of Christ.
- Booklets with a guide to confession and act of contrition. Some people avoid confession because they can't remember the act of contrition. The booklets help people who have been away from the sacrament for a long time.
- Wide-ranging promotion. Promote in the local secular newspaper to reach people who are not attending church. Put ads in various newspapers with the act of contrition included so that they can cut it out and take it with them.
- Knights of Columbus on hand for adoration and extra security during the night, if needed.
How to implement it
Set a date several months in advance.
- It has to be a date that the other confessors can attend.
- It should be a date that you can build up to. Fr McGovern chose the Friday after Ash Wednesday because it is a time when people are ready to make a good spiritual resolution. Ash Wednesday is also a day of high Mass attendance, so the announcement reached a larger number of people.
- Local newspapers, announcements after Mass, bulletins, school announcements...
- The purple stoles to be worn by the priests involved in the 24 Hours of Grace ministry had been specially blessed by Pope Benedict. These images were put into a flyer, which was widely distributed throughout the archdiocese to promote the confessions day.
Do it year after year so word gets around.
Fr. Michael McGovern is pastor of
Church of St. Mary.