St John's Q&A

Friday, November 16, 2007

General absolution??

1) Eucharistic Adoration tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. All who wish to adore Jesus in the Eucharist are invited.

2) DC ‘Hood vs. SE parishes, tonight, 7:30 pm. The ‘Hood will take on a team consisting of players from nine parishes from Southeast Washington. Go ‘Hood!!

3) Parish penance service: Tues, Dec. 18, 7:30 pm, SAA Church.
‘Yet another Anon’ wrote:
“I recently went to confession for the first time in many years. I had no problems being honest about what I had been doing in that time (hadn't been to Mass in as long as I hadn't been to confession), and the priest I confessed to was really wonderful and very kind. I think the "face to face" setting made things easier to discuss than with the privacy screen (I've always hated that thing). The priest asked me some questions to help probe my memory for any additional sins, but it was done very gently. I wasn't lectured, didn't get yelled at, and the penance (20 Hail Marys) was a lot less than I expected (or deserved). The priest welcomed me back to the church and I walked out of there feeling much lighter and happier than I had in eons. So very glad I decided to bite the bullet and go!”

Great story! I’ve always been encouraged and inspired by stories like these. I have another story about Confession that may not be as uplifting but is good for us to know about. At last weekend’s youth group retreat, I celebrated a Penance Service and gave our teens an opportunity for individual confessions. Several of them went (that was inspiring) but some didn’t. When I was talking with some of them later that night, a couple of them initiated a discussion on Penance. They indicated that they have experienced Penance at their school or (another) parish differently than the way we did at the retreat.

The teens explained that at these other Penance Services, they were invited to write their sins on a piece of paper. Then, they take the papers to a grill and burn them. I have seen this done before but always in the context of individual confessions. They told me that they didn’t go to Confession (earlier that day on the retreat) because it is much easier to just write their sins down and burn them than to say them to a priest. ‘Of course’, I said, ‘but what about absolution of your sins?’ They responded by saying that the priest gave a general absolution to everyone as they held up their pieces of paper and before they burned them.

This was a tough pill for me to swallow because of I know of what the teens (through no fault of their own) are being deprived: true healing and freedom that comes with individual confession. Yes, it’s easier for everyone involved (penitents and priests), but the teens really haven’t gotten their sins “off their chests”. I have been thinking about this and how crazy it would be if we treated reconciliation with our friends this way. Can you imagine writing the sin you had committed against your best friend on a piece of paper, and then handing it to them? Your friend might think that was as bad as the sin itself! While I know that some people confess their sins against others on emails, text messages, and letters, we all know that the best way to reconcile is by going to that person face-to-face, telling them what we did wrong, and saying that we’re sorry. When they forgive us, we walk away knowing that we’re forgiven. That brings great peace and begins the healing process. Anything short of that and we still carry the burden of those sins with us.

In this type of situation, the true peace of Reconciliation is missed. So, the Church has laid out strict guidelines for general absolution (which our Archbishop does not grant). It is to be a rare occurrence – for example, in the World Trade Center on 9/11/01. One of the key points in the following canons of Church law is that, if general absolution is given, grave sins need to be confessed privately to a priest as soon as possible (one month, per the Church). I’m guessing that our teens have never been told this because they didn’t mention it in our conversation. Please pray for the priests and teachers in our schools!

Can. 961
§1 General absolution, without prior individual confession, cannot be given to a number of penitents together, unless:

1° danger of death threatens and there is not time for the priest or priests to hear the confessions of the individual penitents;

2° there exists a grave necessity, that is, given the number of penitents, there are not enough confessors available properly to hear the individual confessions within an appropriate time, so that without fault of their own the penitents are deprived of the sacramental grace or of holy communion for a lengthy period of time. A sufficient necessity is not, however, considered to exist when confessors cannot be available merely because of a great gathering of penitents, such as can occur on some major feastday or pilgrimage.

§2 It is for the diocesan Bishop to judge whether the conditions required in §1, n. 2° are present; mindful of the criteria agreed with the other members of the Episcopal Conference, he can determine the cases of such necessity.

Can. 962
§1 For a member of Christ's faithful to benefit validly from a sacramental absolution given to a number of people simultaneously, it is required not only that he or she be properly disposed, but be also at the same time personally resolved to confess in due time each of the grave sins which cannot for the moment be thus confessed.

§2 Christ's faithful are to be instructed about the requirements set out in §1, as far as possible even on the occasion of general absolution being received. An exhortation that each person should make an act of contrition is to precede a general absolution, even in the case of danger of death if there is time.

Can. 963 Without prejudice to the obligation mentioned in can. 989, a person whose grave sins are forgiven by a general absolution, is as soon as possible, when the opportunity occurs, to make an individual confession before receiving another general absolution, unless a just reason intervenes.


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