"The new confessional in the Edith Stein Kapelle at Ebendorferstrasse 8, Vienna, introduces a new way of thinking about the architecture of sacramental space. The small room at the rear of Ottakar Uhl's modern Chapel is more than just a space for the administration of the sacrament of penance. It also functions as a one-person sacred space for quiet prayer, contemplation and preparation for confession during the periods when a priest is not present. The walls are packed with second-hand clothes and are covered with 100% natural beeswax which has a delicate scent and glow. Ten small speakers are concealed behind the walls and a projector beams moving images onto the small confessional screen. Confession is available in three modes: through the screen, with door half open and with door completely open - the interior door is closed at all other times.
The confessional is a space of healing, introspection and reconciliation. The experience of hearing one's own voice speak of vulnerability, weakness and resolve is both therapeutic and transforming. The words of absolution are also profoundly consoling and have an effect on both the individual and the space. The experience of art and architecture has the potential to shape, transform, and change people just as the ritual experience of the sacraments move, heal and inspire. The room in which confession takes place is a passive participant in the ritual event and the words spoken are effectively absorbed into the walls. The beeswax walls are alive as a passive witness to significant events. The sacred is activated through ritual and traces of the sacrament remain absorbed within the space. This confessional has two distinct functions, one is liturgical (active) and the other is contemplative (passive). In its liturgical state, the room is quiet and sounds are insulated from the outside . A small light in the shape of a cross shines on the head of the person confessing but the majority of light is directed through . When the room is not being used for administering the sacrament of penance, it functions as kind of seclusion chamber animated by sound and moving image. This secondary function serves to provide a rare opportunity to isolate oneself from shared sacred space and experience being alone in a sacramental space where the scent of conversion, vulnerability and healing remains and lingers in the room. Individual voices appear intermittently from the speakers placed behind the beeswax walls which represent the words that have been uttered in the space, as if they were slowly released back through the walls. The second-hand clothes packed between the stone and beeswax represent the personal histories, traumas and memories deposited and stored in the space. These clothes are weighted with sentimentality, as indexes to significant life events. Alongside the soundscape of voices, the screen between priest and confessor functions as a field for the projection of moving images during passive times. These moving images are produced specifically for the confessional screen and reinforce a sense of the sacred present. The use of beeswax on the walls has two distinct functions, the first is poetic and the second is reflexive. The bee returns to the hive to deposit the pollen collected, rest and rejuvenate; honeycomb cells providing a safe place for retreat and the raising of young. The symbolic power of beeswax as a life-sustaining substance serves the poetic function. The reflexive function of art can be explained with the concept of self-referentiality. The beeswax is a familiar material in liturgical space, it is used to make Church candles and its spiritual significance is embedded in its materiality. The confessional becomes a multi-sensory environment appealing to the senses through intermittent sounds, moving images and beeswax infusing the space with a rich, warm fragrance.
The sacrament of penance is administered in three modes: through the screen, with the upper door open or with the entire door open. The ritual of kneeling is an essential part in all three modes and the confessor is free to choose whether to kneel or sit. When the priest speaks In Persona Christi, it is Christ himself uttering the words "I absolve you from your sins". With this profound moment in mind, the space occupied by the priest can be seen as a form of tabernacle, if only for a brief moment during the administration of the sacrament; Christ is present in the space. The empty confessional then has the resemblance of an empty tomb and offers a space to contemplate the presence of Christ. The practice of confessing to a priest through a screen may have been regarded as old fashioned and unnecessary in recent years and there seems to have been a movement toward more open confessionals where the individual can have face to face contact with the priest, uninhibited by a screen. The use of a screen may well have been for some people a way of maintaining privacy and perhaps even anonymity before a priest, but in terms of its function in the administration of a sacrament it serves to maintain a deep sense of mystery. The experience of hearing oneself confess and hearing the words of absolution are a tremendous source of consolation that give the sound of two voices a significance greater than the possibility of seeing and recognising the other. The use of the screen in the beeswax confessional is not designed to protect the identity of the confessor but rather to promote a sense of wonder at the mystery of Christ being present in the words of absolution. When the component where the priest normally sits is empty, the presence of Christ is then reinforced by projecting a slow animation of an icon being written on the screen. The hope is that this confessional will offer religious and non-religious people alike, a new way of engaging with sacred space. Insofar as the beeswax confessional is for the administration of the sacrament, it is also for those who find it difficult to participate in the liturgy and who might feel uncomfortable in shared sacred space." (David Rastas, 2013)