Reconciling the sinner with God

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned . . .”

So begins the lament of the penitent within the private confines of the confessional.

Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent for Catholics worldwide, including at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. After receiving ashes on the forehead as a reminder that “from dust you came and to dust you shall return,” the basilica’s faithful will spend the 40 days of Lent in self-reflection and renewal.

For Catholics, examining the state of one’s inner and outer life is a regular practice. It is particularly important during the Lenten season. For many, it is a time to remove distractions; some people give up watching television or eating certain foods as a way to center one’s thoughts on God and the cross of Christ.

Also part of this period of reflection is the confessing of wrongs committed against one another and, ultimately, against God. The Catholic sacrament of penance and reconciliation (confession) reconciles the sinner with God and re-establishes right relationships with all.

The basilica currently has one confessional in the chapel and two confessionals in the upper church. Prior to the creation of the chapel, the lower church was equipped with eight confessionals.

Prince of Peace member David Rioux remembers them distinctly. “There were four confessionals on either side of the lower church. They were like little churches themselves; they had peaked roofs and spires dividing one from the other. Each priest had his own confessional, with his name on a placard. One of the confessionals was manned from the time the earliest Mass began until the last Mass was celebrated.”

Madeleine LeBlanc also has memories of attending confession in the lower church. LeBlanc, a Prince of Peace Parish member, went to St. Peter’s school on Bates Street. She remembers monthly walks from the school to the church to attend confession. “We would walk two by two,” she recalls, “the girls in front and the boys in the back.”

Today, Catholics may receive the sacrament of penance and reconciliation anonymously in a confessional or face-to-face with a priest. During the 40 days of Lent, basilica faithful and all other Catholics will be given additional opportunities for reconciliation.

In the upper church of the basilica of Saints Peter and Paul are two side rooms that contain confessionals. A penitent can kneel to confess their sins anonymously or go around the side of the confessional, sit in the chair and talk to the priest face to face. 

This is another view of one of the confessionals in the basilica’s upper church. A penitent can choose to confess their sins while sitting across from the priest.

Celebrating the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul

The Sun Journal is celebrating the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, which was completed in 1936-1937. For a year, we are taking a close look at the iconic structure, its history and even some of the people who built it. We will explore rooms behind the high altar, crawl along the catwalk, explore the cellars and rooftop carvings, and peek into drawers and cabinets in the sacristy. We’ll show you historical photos and compare them with current images of the basilica. We’ll also speak with basilica experts and comb through historical documents to uncover some of the 80-year-old church’s enduring myths and mysteries.

Do you have a special Easter memory or photograph from the Basilica you’d like to share? Please contact writer Julie-Ann Baumer at [email protected] or at 207-353-2616.

The entire series is being archived at sunjournal.com/basilica.

This is a view of the confessionals, right, that once stood in the right nave of the lower church of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. Four similar confessionals stood in the left nave. This undated photo was included in a 1996 commemorative album of the basilica. 

A penitent can kneel to confess his sins anonymously on the left of the confessional or sit face-to-face with the priest on the right. The priest will always wear a purple stole. 

There is always a Bible and a crucifix in a confessional.