Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Communal Penance Services Do Not Take the Place of Individual Confessions

March 18th, 2010, Promulgated by Dr. K

I will repeat that one more time, because too many leaders in this diocese do not get the message: communal penance services DO NOT take the place of individual Confessions. One does not receive absolution for mortal sins at these services. Yes, general absolution is possible, but only when danger or necessity requires it. There have been far too many bulletins published in our area with ambiguous explanations for communal penance services, so I believe it is important to remind everyone that individual Confession is still necessary. I hope that all of these services in our area will offer individual Confessions after the service.

Anyways, here is what the Church says about this matter. From Misericordia Dei, a Motu Proprio of Pope John Paul II, emphasis added:

“Thus, after consultation with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, and after hearing the views of venerable Brother Cardinals in charge of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, and reaffirming Catholic doctrine on the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation as summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church,(11) conscious of my pastoral responsibility and fully aware of the need for this Sacrament and of its enduring efficacy, I decree the following:1. Ordinaries are to remind all the ministers of the Sacrament of Penance that the universal law of the Church, applying Catholic doctrine in this area, has established that:

a) ?Individual and integral confession and absolution are the sole ordinary means by which the faithful, conscious of grave sin, are reconciled with God and the Church; only physical or moral impossibility excuses from such confession, in which case reconciliation can be obtained in other ways?.(12)

b) Therefore, ?all those of whom it is required by virtue of their ministry in the care of souls are obliged to ensure that the confessions of the faithful entrusted to them are heard when they reasonably ask, and that they are given the opportunity to approach individual confession, on days and at times set down for their convenience?.(13)

Moreover, all priests with faculties to administer the Sacrament of Penance are always to show themselves wholeheartedly disposed to administer it whenever the faithful make a reasonable request.(14) An unwillingness to welcome the wounded sheep, and even to go out to them in order to bring them back into the fold, would be a sad sign of a lack of pastoral sensibility in those who, by priestly Ordination, must reflect the image of the Good Shepherd.

2. Local Ordinaries, and parish priests and rectors of churches and shrines, should periodically verify that the greatest possible provision is in fact being made for the faithful to confess their sins. It is particularly recommended that in places of worship confessors be visibly present at the advertized times, that these times be adapted to the real circumstances of penitents, and that confessions be especially available before Masses, and even during Mass if there are other priests available, in order to meet the needs of the faithful.(15)

3. Since ?the faithful are obliged to confess, according to kind and number, all grave sins committed after Baptism of which they are conscious after careful examination and which have not yet been directly remitted by the Church’s power of the keys, nor acknowledged in individual confession?,(16) any practice which restricts confession to a generic accusation of sin or of only one or two sins judged to be more important is to be reproved. Indeed, in view of the fact that all the faithful are called to holiness, it is recommended that they confess venial sins also.(17)

4. In the light of and within the framework of the above norms, the absolution of a number of penitents at once without previous confession, as envisaged by Can. 961 of the Code of Canon Law, is to be correctly understood and administered. Such absolution is in fact ?exceptional in character?(18) and ?cannot be imparted in a general manner unless:

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

2. a grave necessity exists, that is, when in light of the number of penitents a supply of confessors is not readily available to hear the confessions of individuals in an appropriate way within an appropriate time, so that the penitents would be deprived of sacramental grace or Holy Communion for a long time through no fault of their own; it is not considered sufficient necessity if confessors cannot be readily available only because of the great number of penitents, as can occur on the occasion of some great feast or pilgrimage?.(19)”

Remember this if the priest claims that your sins have been forgiven for simply attending one of these services. One still needs to attend individual, private Confession, and to receive a penance and absolution. Don’t be fooled by a priest who doesn’t know Church law, or chooses to ignore it.

Tags: , ,


13 Responses to “Communal Penance Services Do Not Take the Place of Individual Confessions”

  1. Christopher says:

    Just to be clear, just because it's a "community penance service" does not mean it's a "general group confession service".

    I cite the example found in St Thomas the Apostle bulletin:

    "Community Penance Service
    Monday, March 22 at 7:30 PM
    Sacred Heart Church, Bloomfield
    The Catholic Parishes of Bloomfield
    (Sacred Heart, St. Valentine?s, and
    St. Thomas the Apostle) will have a
    Communal Penance Service with
    individual confessions.

    From what I have understood, this involves 4 priests at different places in the church offering INDIVIDUAL confessions. This is something that is not against church law and in fact would be good to goto if you haven't been to confession this week.

    I have confidence in the righteous Priests that will be there will not let it turn into something sacrilegious.

    Your brother in Christ,

  2. Dr. K says:

    A lot of the bulletin ads I read made no mention of individual Confessions, and made ambiguous comments about the Communal Penance Service itself to suggest that this is the equivalent of Confession. Not all parishes make this mistake, and some do clearly stress the necessity of individual Confessions, whether following one of these services or not.

    ~Dr. K

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hmm, I noticed that you did not cite Canon Law.

    961 ?2 states: "It belongs to the diocesan bishop to judge whether the conditions required according to the norm of ?1, n. 2 are present. "

    That seems to mean that the Pope and Dr. K are not the ones to judge whether the conditions are met.

    The Catechism seems to reinforce this. CCC 1458 reinforces that only grave sin needs to be confessed.

    So, if people do not have grave sin, the sacrament where absolution is given to many-at-once is indeed VALID.

    Also note that Canon 962 lays out the requirements for VALIDLY receiving absolution given to many at one time. It only states that grave sins need to be confessed within a suitable time, it says nothing of less serious sin.

  4. Gen says:

    Your objections are merited, but without foundation. I won't even touch on the hypocrisy of liberals citing Canon Law.

    The matter at hand relates to how many parishes have these services *in place of* sacramental confession. The actual sacrament always carries more grace than any subsidiary gathering or theological/liturgical notion.

    Who are we to judge whether or not the people are in grave sin? That is between the penitent and God, who acts through the priest to restore us to a state of grace. The nature of a sacrament can never be changed. This is why women won't be priests, maple syrup won't be used for Anointing of the Sick, etc . . . To presume that "Confession" still works when taken out of its intended context, i.e. one on one, is to wager an awful lot on the mercy of God. Yes, He is all merciful. No doubt. However, he gives us His mercy through His Church. If we reject what She teaches about God, His Sacraments, and the manner in which His grace is distilled to us through them, is to openly flaunt your contempt of God's mercy. It's not some game in which we have Divine Mercy as a bargaining chip.

  5. Dr. K says:

    "That seems to mean that the Pope and Dr. K are not the ones to judge whether the conditions are met."

    Would you say that the conditions have been met in the Diocese of Rochester? Are we in danger of imminent death? Unless the Mayan calendar theory is right, no. Are Catholics here going to be deprived of Confession for an excessively long period of time? No, since most every parish offers Confessions every weekend. I don't see how we come close to fulfilling either of these.

    That's an interesting comment about the Holy Father and Canon Law. Are we to ignore Misericordia Dei because of what is contained in Canon Law? The Holy Father obviously felt there was a need to provide clarifications on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, so he released that Motu Proprio. It's not the case that anything the Church says after 1983 is irrelevant. For example, a diocesan bishop's approval used to be required to offer a Traditional Latin Mass. Not so anymore because of Summorum Pontificum. Motu Proprio's are the law too.

    "So, if people do not have grave sin, the sacrament where absolution is given to many-at-once is indeed VALID."

    Provided the conditions for having a general absolution have been met.

    Please re-read the following canons:

    "Can. 960 Individual and integral confession and absolution constitute the sole ordinary means by which a member of the faithful who is conscious of grave sin is reconciled with God and with the Church. Physical or moral impossibility alone excuses from such confession, in which case reconciliation may be attained by other means also.

    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. "


  6. Dr. K says:

    As well as #1456 of the Catechism: "Confession to a priest is an essential part of the sacrament of Penance: "All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent self-examination are conscious must be recounted by them in confession, even if they are most secret and have been committed against the last two precepts of the Decalogue; for these sins sometimes wound the soul more grievously and are more dangerous than those which are committed openly.""


    #1458 "Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church.59 Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father's mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful"


    "1484 "Individual, integral confession and absolution remain the only ordinary way for the faithful to reconcile themselves with God and the Church, unless physical or moral impossibility excuses from this kind of confession."94 There are profound reasons for this. Christ is at work in each of the sacraments. He personally addresses every sinner: "My son, your sins are forgiven."95 He is the physician tending each one of the sick who need him to cure them.96 He raises them up and reintegrates them into fraternal communion. Personal confession is thus the form most expressive of reconciliation with God and with the Church."

    ~Dr. K

  7. Dr. K says:

    Furthermore, read the following: click here

    ~Dr. K

  8. Ben Anderson says:

    well said, Dr. K.

    What amazes me is the sheer attitude that always wants to push things are far as they can. Even if it were somehow acceptable through some loophole according to the law – why do we not honor what the pope says? Why does everyone always want to push things as far as they can? Simply put – because the bishop lets them. It's like we're teenage lovers trying to push the limits w/out actually having sex? "Well, if we have our clothes on then it's ok, right?" or "we plan on getting married someday" or "we didn't go all the way home – just rounded third base". It's a question of attitude. We should respect our leaders, those who have gone before us, and our pope. Our modern culture is so quick to throw out everything because we think we know better. 21st century western man is so blessed to be so much more enlightened than every other culture that's ever existed.

  9. gretchen says:

    Here in the East Greece/Charlotte planning group we have "community penance" services during Advent and Lent, but it's not general absolution.

    There are a multitude of priests scattered throughout the church and we go up individually for confession.

    The difference between the penance service and a regular Saturday afternoon confession is that the service begins with communal songs and prayers before the congregation scatters to the individual priests for confession.

  10. Ludwig says:

    For what it's worth – I have heard Fr. Horan describe the "communal penance" that occurs at SMM during Advent and Lent. They sound to be very much like what the first commenter described … still individual.

  11. Anonymous says:

    While individual confession to a priest is the ORDINARY means of confession, it is not the only means. Just as the Novus Ordo is the Ordinary form of the Mass does not invalidate other forms of the Mass, the fact that individual confession to a priest is the ordinary means, does not negate the validity (which was my qualm with your post) of Absolution given to many at once.

    I am guessing that you are not going to deny Anointing as a means of forgiveness of sin and reconciliation, nor would you deny the Eucharist as a means of forgiving venial sins. So why deny the VALIDITY of general absolution?

    Also, while citing Canon 961, I did notice that you (rather conveniently) left off section 2, which clearly states that:

    It belongs to the diocesan bishop to judge whether the conditions required according to the norm of ?1, n. 2 are present. He can determine the cases of such necessity, attentive to the criteria agreed upon with the other members of the conference of bishops.

    So it seems that Bishop Clark, and not Dr. K, is teh compenant authority to make such an assessment. This means that no matter how much Dr. K may whine and complain, he still will NEVER be the competent authority on whether these conditions are met. I highly doubt that Dr, K legitimately has a Mitre as he so often claims. In fact, one could call such an act to be claiming authority that he has not been granted (yes, I know you think it is cute and funny…I find it odd that you permit yourself to pretend to have authority that you do not have, while bashing others for this same quality).

  12. Dr. K says:

    I'm lost here, when did I claim to have a mitre? When? You do realize that there are four authors of this blog and that I'm just one of four writers, don't you? I am not the blog administrator, and I also am not the one you are accusing of claiming to have a mitre. Re-read through the posts of concern, and look at the bottom of the post. It will tell you who composed every post. Then come back and tell me where I have made claims that I have a miter, or episcopal authority. Tell me where there are posts saying "I have a miter, and I am a bishop" and tell me that it says "Dr. K" at the bottom of said posts. Provide links here. I am not a heretic. I am not pretending to be a bishop, or a priest, or anything other than a Catholic layman. I have not done what you are accusing me of doing.

    In response to your various comments on the communal celebration of Penance, did you read the link I provided? Click here and read this response from an expert on Canon Law:;=0&Experts;=0&Days;=2009&Author;=&Keyword;=communal+penance+service&pgnu;=1&groupnum;=0&record;_bookmark=2ℴ_BY_TXT=ORDER+BY+ReplyDate+DESC&start;_at=

    Are you an expert in Canon Law? No. Maybe you have a degree in Sacred Theology (bachelor, licentiate, or doctorate), but Canon Law is a different animal. Am I an expert? No, I also am not. I am quoting what the Church, and true experts on the law have to say about the topic. I am not denying that the sacrament can be administered in a communal celebration. My qualm, as I stated, is that such services are being employed in this diocese when they shouldn't be (per what the Church and the law and experts say on this topic).

    Has Bishop Clark authorized these communal celebrations of the Sacrament in this diocese? If he has, he hasn't told the rest of us. Please furnish a document of some sort where Bishop Clark states that the criteria have been met (danger of death, or that people will be deprived of Confession for a long period of time) and I will acknowledge that you are right on this matter. The bishop needs to authorize this, right? Please prove that he has. Maybe he has. I haven't heard of him doing so, and I don't see how the circumstances in this diocese would even suggest that he should. My former parish stopped holding these services long ago because of what the Church has said about the importance of private Confession.

    ~Dr. K

  13. Dr. K says:

    Here is the expert's response on General Absolution:

    "GENERAL ABSOLUTION is only valid when done (1) out of necessity, i.e., some emergency or crisis prevents a large number of penitents to get to confession, such as time of evacuation of a town during time of flood, tornado, hurricane, nuclear or biological incident, etc., or during time of war/battle when military personnel must deploy on a mission ASAP and (2) prior consent of the local bishop has been given. It is not sufficient for a priest to say, the confession line is too long today, so I can give general absolution. There must be some immanent danger that makes it urgent for a large number of people to be absolved.

    The PROVISO that EVERYONE who attends a General Absolution MUST make a private auricular confession as soon as possible (first chance available) must be announced and made clear. This is non-negotiable and not optional. Anyone going to general absolution must make a private confession AND confess all sins they WOULD have confessed had there not been a general absolution. Large crowds alone are not sufficient reason for General Absolution. There must be an emergency or immanent danger or at least a prolonged period of time (one month or more) where there would be no opportunity for private confession (as in the case when military troops are at sea or mobilized on the ground or in the air. The local bishop should be made aware of this abuse.

    There are valid and licit COMMUNAL PENANCE services however where many people come to church with several priest-confessors. There is a common praying of the act of contrition, a scripture reading, and then PRIVATE CONFESSIONS and PRIVATE ABSOLUTION. This is not General Absolution where there are NO private confessions and no private absolutions. "

Leave a Reply

Log in | Register

You must be logged in to post a comment.

-Return to main page-