St John's Q&A

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Filling in for Anthony

Our summer seminarian, Anthony, made a post on Aug. 19, “If a priest is excommunicated”. Anthony is back home with his family in Texas until he heads back to seminary in Rome. I will fill in for our all-star sem and attempt to answer the following questions which anonymous bloggers have asked:

Anon 1: “I know that a priest has to have permission to celebrate confirmation because that is usually done by the Bishop. But why does a priest need permission to hear Confession? I know there are things only a Bishop can absolve or even only the Pope can absolve in special circumstances but regular confessions? I'm confused.”

First, a bishop is the ordinary celebrant of confirmation, but a priest can celebrate this sacrament in extraordinary circumstances (e.g., when it’s done along with Baptism for catechumens). We can understand “ordinary” circumstances to mean the Confirmation of baptized Catholics.

Second, canon law requires that “the valid absolution of sins requires that the minister have, in addition to the power of orders, the faculty of exercising it for the faithful to whom he imparts absolution (#966). The faculty to absolve sins is ordinarily given to a priest immediately after his ordination, either verbally or in writing.
Anon 2: “I didn't think there were any longer things only a bishop could absolve. What would those things be?”

This was mentioned by the first Anon, and I think it’s something that we have addressed here before. There are no longer any sins of which I am aware that only the bishop can absolve.
Anon #3: “What is a ‘regular priest’? Is it unusual for a priest to NOT be granted the authority to celebrate reconciliation, confirmation and marriage? How does a priest become a Monsignor?”

Anthony wrote that “a regular priest, for example, needs a special faculty to absolve sins…” I think he was just trying to say an ordinary priest, or a priest in ordinary situations. It is unusual for a priest to not be granted the authority to celebrate the sacraments. This occurred with the Cure D’Ars, St. John Vianney (d. 1859). After he was ordained, he was not given the faculty to hear confessions. Fr. Vianney had struggled mightily with moral theology in the seminary and the bishop thought that he wasn’t ready to give counsel to people about their sins. He was finally given the faculty and became one of the greatest confessors of all time. Finally, a priest becomes a Monsignor when the Pope gives him that title which it to acknowledge years of extraordinary service to the Church.


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