The Sacramental Seal

By: Deacon Marques Silva

Are you familiar with the phrase sub rosa or “under the rose?” Beginning in the sixteenth century, the rose was occasionally placed over the entrance to a confessional to symbolize the sacramental seal and its obligation of permanent silence concerning what is revealed.[1]

The origin of this tradition is a little mysterious.  Some attribute it to the myth of Cupid bribing Harpocrates (the god of secrecy and silence) with a rose in order to keep amorous activities of Venus (goddess of sensuality and love) a secret.[2] As we entered into the twentieth century, a rose on a dining room table meant that everything said around the table is to remain in the room. (A secular seal?)

ConfessionalDo you remember the rose or red curtain that is hung over the entrance into some confessionals? Some have suggested this is another enculturation of the rose by virtue of its color. Regardless, I am thankful for the blessed sacrament of reconciliation and its seal.

Perhaps the next time you go to Confession, you could bring a rose for your confessor and thank him for his faithfulness to the sacramental seal.

[1] Klein, Rev. Peter, The Catholic Source Book (Harcourt Religion Publishers, 2000) p. 304

[2] Homer, The Illiad (Trans by W H D Rouse) (nd) Bk xxiii.

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