Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Posts Tagged ‘General Absolution’

Bishop Cunningham Clairifes Norms for General Absolution

November 13th, 2012, Promulgated by Gen

One of the trademark sacramental anomalies in the Diocese of Rochester is the practice of “general absolution” at communal penance services. Whereas a priest is enabled by God, His Church, and Her Law to grant a general absolution if a dire situation arise (see: Posseidon Adventure, The), several clerics in our Diocese misunderstand the rubrics, and often grant this general abs0lution when no imminent danger is to be had. This practice has been seen at the various Peace of Christ worship sites (St. Ambrose, St. James, St. John the Evangelist), as well as several suburban parishes, most notably Assumption. The Vatican has been very clear that the Sacrament of Penance be celebrated in such a way as not to diminish its efficacy and importance in the eyes of the faithful. Absolution essentially “wipes the slate clean” for us, and is therefore quite a gift from the Almighty. For this reason, it must be treated with dignity and reverence.

Unwarranted general absolution lessens the importance of the sacrament in two ways: primarily, it removes the individual’s literal and actual confession. There is no “Bless me, Father,” no “my last confession was…” Indeed, the only dialogue in a communal penance service can be found here. (Note that this is a program from a service in which individual confessions were heard.) The second diminution of the sacrament comes in the creation of the sense that absolution is easily-obtained, easily-given, and not really something to be worked for. While Our Lord, in His mercy, does freely forgive us should we come to Him with contrite hearts, it is this second bit that is a stumbling block in this instance. General absolution allows the “penitent” a guilt-free “out,” a way to put one’s foot in the Heavenly door, so-to-speak. Without belaboring the point, general absolution is not appropriate as the norm, and serves only to warp the faithful’s understanding of the Sacrament of Penance.

Our Apostolic Administrator, Bishop Cunningham, realizes this, and addressed the matter in a recent letter to all diocesan clergy. He reminded our priests, in no uncertain terms, that there is no need for general absolution, and that should such a need arise, the priest(s) must notify him in order that he might decide to allow such a thing. He refers the clergy to the relevant section of Canon Law, and reminds them that the local ordinary, not the individual priest, is the one to decide such matters. As the UK Liturgy office similarly reiterates:

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 confession 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 of holy communion for a lengthy 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 feast
day or pilgrimage.
It is for the Diocesan Bishop to judge whether the conditions required
in Canon 961, §1.2 are present.

It seems as if our Apostolic Administrator is beginning to reign in the more spastic clergy and administrators, and is doing so with gentleness and charity. He has, in this letter, demonstrated to the Diocese that we need to take seriously the Sacrament of Penance. This dimension of the Faith has been somewhat out of focus in this Diocese; it has not been wholly absent, but it has been far from actively promoted. In light of this, Bishop Cunningham has requested the following:

“…every priest on the Tuesday of Holy Week, March 26th, would help make the Sacrament of Penance available from 12:30 PM to 7:30 PM, in every parish church or cluster in the diocese. I heartily endorse this plan and ask that the details be worked out and communicated to you as soon as possible.”

Evidently, some priests are grumbling about “having to sit in the box” for such a long amount of time. It would seem that seven hours is an acceptable price to pay for the salvation of souls, but that’s just my opinion. After all, St. John Vianney would often spend more than sixteen hours hearing confessions.

Clarification of the possibilities for general sacramental absolution can be found in the “Pastoral Norms for General Sacramental Absolution.” I recommend giving it a read, in order that we might see the whole picture.