From a reader…
Our Dean plans to hold ‘The Rite of Reconciliation of several
penitents with General Confession and Absolution‘ as part of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. In a note inserted in our parish newsletter, [Good… it’s in print.] he writes: ‘Pope Francis encourages us to experience this jubilee first-hand as the favourable time to heal wounds by offering everyone the way of forgiveness and reconciliation. The symbolism of opening the doors to God’s mercy and throwing the net wide is well provided for in this Rite… ‘Those wishing to received sacramental absolution in this form will be required to bow their heads in quiet prayer. In this way we are confessing that we are all sinners, and acknowledging together our vital need of God’s grace. The Service (lasting slightly less than an hour) will consist of the Liturgy of the Word, a homily and an examination of conscience. A litany of repentance then encourages us to renew out love in a heartfelt desire to amend our lives. We say together the ‘I confess’ and then General Absolution is bestowed by the laying on of hands as the priest prays over us. [No individual confession?] ‘A proclamation of praise and thanksgiving expresses our joy of forgiveness and we conclude by joining hands to say the Our Father, before sharing with each other a sign of peace. ‘Should anyone wish to speak with a priest about any matter, we will be available at the end.’ [This does not seem to include individual confession of sins (aka auricular confession). Not good. NB: Pope Francis encourages people to GO TO CONFESSION, not to go to General Absolution (aka Form Three).]
My understanding of CCC 1480-1484 tells me that this… it’s not so good. I feel it would be a sin of omission for me to do nothing but what can I, a housewife, do about this other than beg St Teresa of Calcutta’s intercession? If you advise speaking to him, I’m happy to, but how on earth do I go about phrasing it?
I hope that the priest in question has good intentions, but this is just plain wrong. You are right to be concerned. It is also your right and duty to make your concerns known to your pastors. Canon 212 § 3 says that the faithful (which includes both lay people and clerics) have the right and, sometimes, the duty to make heir concerns know to their pastors. about those things which pertain to the good of the Church, according to their knowledge, competence, and dignity. With regard to liturgical worship and the sacraments, Redemptionis Sacramentum 183 and 184 strengthen the explanation that the faithful can, and sometimes must, make their concerns know about abuses.
General Absolution (absolution given without individual confession of sins) is to be given in cases of grave necessity, emergencies (e.g., airplane about to crash, earthquake traps people under rubble, listeners are around in a hospital ward, battle is about to begin, 1000 people show up in the village when the missionary arrives on his circuit, etc.).
Canon 961 establishes that a grave necessity exists (outside of the clear case of danger of death) when…
“given the number of penitents, there are not enough confessors available properly to hear the individual’s confessions within an appropriate time, so that without fault of their own the penitents are deprived of sacramental grace or of Holy Communion for a lengthy period of time.”
All those conditions would need to be present for general absolution to be given licitly.
Telling people to “come back next week” would NOT deprive them of sacramental grace for a “lengthy period of time,” which most manualists – and we like manuals – would say is a month or more.
Furthermore, the Motu proprio of 7 April 2002 Misericordia Dei, 5 clarifies that
“judgment as to whether there exists the conditions required by canon 961 is [Note bene] not a matter for the confessor, but for the diocesan bishop who can determine cases of such necessity in light of the criteria agreed upon with other members of the Episcopal Conference.”
The local bishops lay down the conditions. They may vary from place to place. In Africa, for example, a missionary priest might arrive at a place to find a thousand people waiting. That conference will lay down the proper conditions for the priest. In the USA, these problems don’t exist. Bishops have laid down the conditions (which repeat the point about a month or more – HERE).
The scheduling of General Absolution is, therefore, as wrong wrong wrong as wrong can be. You cannot schedule an emergency in advance!
Since you don’t say when this is scheduled emergency is scheduled to take place (next week? next month? etc.), depending on your time frame you might try the following.
We are reminded in Redemptionis Sacramentum 183 and 184 that we should, ideally and if possible, bring concerns first to our local pastors. While we always have immediate recourse to the Holy See, it is fair and fitting first to address concerns to your parish priest, then to your local bishop, then to the Holy See.
However, and keep this in mind, all of us, no matter who we are – layman or priest – have the right always to address ourselves first, directly, to the Holy See! No one can accuse us of cutting someone out or going over their heads. Again, it’s usually better to work up the ladder, but it isn’t obligatory.
If there is a space of time to work in, you might ask this Dean to clarify whether or not there are going to be individual confessions before absolution is imparted. It doesn’t seem like there is. Also, it may be that he simply doesn’t know that the bishop, not he, lays down the conditions of General Absolution. You might say something along the lines of, “What you described in the bulletin does not seem to include confession of sins before absolution. However, that doesn’t seem to be permitted except in the case of emergencies. Otherwise the Bishop has to approve it before hand. This isn’t an emergency that warrants General Absolution. Is the bishop on board with this?” If you can get a response from the Dean in a letter of some kind, that would be best.
If he blows you off, write to the bishop if there is time.
Otherwise, you could bring your concern directly to your local bishop without talking to the Dean. If time is short, you could send, immediately, by fax or scanned attachment to an email, or by hand delivery (best), the printed material with the description of what is scheduled to the office of your diocesan bishop. Keep copies of everything. Include a brief (one side of one sheet of paper), respectful cover letter. Include a question along the lines of: “Have you (i.e, the Bishop) given permission for this scheduled General Absolution according to can. 961 and according to the Motu proprio of 7 April 2002 Misericordia Dei, 5? Is it permissible to attend such a scheduled General Absolution?”
If this is a very short time frame before the scheduled event, as you approach the bishop, you can also send a fax of the same to the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome, with a brief (one side of one sheet of paper) description of where this is to take place. You might say in such a letter something like, “I send this information for the Cardinal Prefect’s opportune knowledge. This scheduled ‘General Absolution’ has caused questions and wonder.”
When writing to a Congregation (or any Vatican office) you always write directly to its head. In this case…
Robert Card. Sarah
Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments
Palazzo delle Congregazioni
00120 VATICAN CITY
Fax: 06.69.88.34.99 (from these USA 011-39-06-184.108.40.206)
Always, when writing to Church authorities, be brief and be kind. Do not write angry words about anyone. Keep it simple and stick to facts. Include any and all printed matter, etc.) which will support your claims. Assure them of your respect and promise of prayers.
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