From a reader:
Today I was reading “Pardon and Peace” by Fr. Randolph, and he writes “Church law requires that confessions should normally be heard in a proper confessional” and that for hearing confessions “a priest should always wear a purple stole” (page 18). And then I read somewhere else that Canon Law says (964 §3) “Confessions are not to be heard outside a confessional without a just cause.”
Do these criteria affect the validity of the confession? If the priests who heard my confessions didn’t use a confessional even though one was readily available and there wasn’t any reason not to use it (I didn’t insist on using it because I wasn’t aware of this Church law), were my confessions valid?
It is not the confession that needs to be “valid”. The absolution has to be valid!
It is for the good ordering of the Church, and to protect her priests, that confessions should be heard in a confessional with a fixed grate. This is also why priests have the right not to hear confessions if there is no confessional with a fixed grate. However, if a priest hears a confession in some other place, that does not in itself affect validity of the absolution. He still validly absolves, under the usual conditions, in an airport, or hospital room, or hallway, etc.
The stole is a sign both of the priest’s sacramental power as well as his authority to forgive sins. It is a liturgical vestment as well and each “celebration” of the sacrament of penance has its liturgical aspect. The stole should be used if at all possible. There might be some emergency situation in which a priest doesn’t have a stole. He can absolve even without a stole.