At Vatican News I read that His Eminence Mauro Card. Piacenza – the Penitenziere Maggiore or the head of the Church’s highest tribunal that covers matters of the Sacrament of Penance, all internal forum issues, and indulgences has something to say to priests and bishops. He has released a letter to confessors for Easter. HERE
In this time of Coronavirus….
[L]a Misericordia non si ferma e Dio non si distanzia!
Il distanziamento sociale richiesto per motivi sanitari, pur necessario, non può, né deve mai tradursi in distanziamento ecclesiale, né tantomeno in distanziamento teologico-sacramentale.
Mercy does not cease and God does not distance Himself.
Social distancing required for health reasons, even though it is necessary, cannot and must not ever turn into ecclesial distancing, much less theological-sacramental distancing.
He acknowledges that there must be distancing, but clear the Church’s highest confessor under the Roman Pontiff, the Major Penitentiary, is urging priests and bishop to find ways, within the strictures of social distancing and local laws, to continue to confess their penitents. That’s how I read this.
We have to find sound and prudent ways to make the Sacrament of Penance available to those who need it… and who doesn’t?!?
The Sacrament of Penance was instituted by Christ Himself as the ordinary means for the for the forgiveness of post-baptismal sins.
St. Augustine of Hippo gave us probably the most profound commentary on the Last Supper ever preached. He explains Christ’s washing of the feet of the Apostles in unsentimental terms. It isn’t about all people washing each other’s feet. It’s precisely about priestly service to the people.
Augustine teaches in his exegesis of the washing of feet that ministry can be dirty and risky. He interprets the mandatum or foot washing by Christ through the lens of the Song of Songs.
You will recall that, in the Song of Songs, when the lover calls to his beloved to rise and come to him, she demures. At first she says that she has already washed her feet and she doesn’t want to dirty them. If she got up, her feet would get dirty again. Getting dirty feet, however, is precisely what the priest is supposed to do. The priest must risk contact with the dirt in his constant battle against the world, the flesh and the Devil for the sake of the people he serves. Priests must risk getting dirty in order to serve, in order to go to Love Himself.
The grit of the world and the grease of the flesh and the grime of the Enemy must be constantly cleansed. Augustine explains that Christ wanted the Apostles to get up and get their feet dirty in His service and that He would wash them as they needed.
How can this be other than a call to forgive the sins of penitents?
I hope that priests and bishops out there will find prudent and creative ways to receive sacramental confessions and shrive their people. C’mon! You can do it!
And, Fathers, try to make your own good confession as well.