Guidelines For The Sacrament Of Reconciliation
Revised August 1996
Table of Contents:
The whole Church, as a priestly people, acts in different ways in the work of reconciliation which has been entrusted to it by the Lord. Not only does the Church call sinners to repentance by preaching the Word of God, but it also intercedes for them and helps penitents with maternal care and solicitude to acknowledge and admit their sins and so obtain the mercy of God who alone can forgive sins. Furthermore, the Church becomes the instrument of the conversion and absolution of the penitent through the ministry entrusted by Christ to the Apostles and their successors. (RP n.8)
The Sacrament of Penance may be celebrated at any time on any day, but it should be publicized to the faithful (RP n. 13.).
The Sacrament of Penance is not to be celebrated in church during Mass (RP n.13).
The Lenten season is clearly penitential. Priests are to be generous in providing convenient times during Lent for parishioners to make a sacramental confession of their sins. Though some sacraments are not to be celebrated on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, the Sacraments of Penance and Anointing of the Sick are certainly allowed on these two days. (CDW 1/16/88, n.61 and 75)
Sufficient time should be allowed for Penance on Saturdays; in other words, one hour, and in the larger parishes, two hours. It is not helpful to schedule the Sacrament for a particular time and then for the priest to leave the Penance Room after a short time because no one has come. He should remain the entire time. It would be helpful for parishes to have Penance available on one other day of the week in addition to Saturday.
Communal celebrations with individual confessions are encouraged by the Rite of Penance. It is fitting to offer several of these celebrations during the season of Lent. (RP n.13)
Pastors of parishes and chapels are to take care to provide suitable rooms for the Sacrament of Penance, in which the penitent may exercise the right to anonymous or face to face celebration of the Sacrament (PLBT n.3). This right should also be preserved in communal penance celebrations.
The conditions for General Absolution do not ordinarily pertain within the diocese.
General Absolution, without prior individual confession, cannot be given to a number of penitents together, unless:
danger of death threatens and there is not time for the priest or priests to hear the confessions of the individual penitents;
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 feast day or pilgrimage.
It is for the diocesan Bishop to judge whether the conditions required in 1.a are present; mindful of the criteria agreed with the other members of the Episcopal Conference, he can determine the cases of such necessity.
Pastors are granted the habitual faculty to administer the Sacrament of Reconciliation (ipso iure). This same habitual faculty is extended to all parochial vicars and priests who have domicile in this diocese. This faculty may be exercised anywhere in the world, unless in a particular case the local Ordinary has restricted its exercise.
Confessors may remit an automatic (latae sententiae) penalty undeclared and not reserved for abortion, heresy, apostasy and schism. This faculty may be exercised only within the confines of the diocese and on behalf of any person, regardless of the person's residence or the place where the penalty was incurred. Leaving the Church by a formal act requires reconciliation in the external forum. (C. 1364.1).
The sacramental seal is inviolable. Accordingly, it is absolutely wrong for a confessor in any way to betray the penitent, for any reason whatsoever, whether by word or in any other fashion.
An interpreter, if there is one, is also obliged to observe the secret, as are all others who in any way whatever have come to a knowledge of sins from a confession.
Stress has been laid upon the actual ecclesiastical discipline concerning the time of First Confession which prescribes that children, once they have reached the use of reason, must be prepared to receive First Communion after sacramental confession. The basis for this observance, for children, is not so much the state of sin in which they may be, as the formative and pastoral aim: that is, to educate them, from a tender age, to the true Christian spirit of penance and conversion, to growth in self-knowledge and self-control, to the just sense of sin, even of venial sin, to the necessity of asking for pardon of God and, above all, to a loving and confident abandonment to the mercy of the Lord. Such an education is mainly the task of the parents, educators and priests.
First Penance is to be celebrated before First Communion, with an appropriate interval between catechesis and reception of each sacrament (C. 914, BCL 7/77). This First Penance celebration should be well prepared and well publicized. The child is to be prepared to celebrate this sacrament of Penance in Rite I and Rite II.
Children are to be prepared for First Penance and First Communion ordinarily within the same school year.
The readiness of each child for the reception of First Penance is to be determined by the child, the parent(s) of the child, and the pastor or his delegate.
The child/children preparing for the first reception of Communion cannot be forced to celebrate First Penance (Congregation for the Sacraments, Prot. No. 1400/86).
All parishes shall provide pre-sacramental programs for parents of children who are to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance.
Addenda: The Three Rites of Penance/Reconciliation
Form 1: Rite for Reconciliation of Individual Penitents
Reception of the Penitent
- Sign of the Cross
- Invitation to trust in God
Reading of the Word of God
("All the revised rites of the sacraments include a reading from Scripture. And, like every other sacrament, Reconciliation is to be a response to the Word of God." But pastoral circumstances may not always be appropriate for using a reading.)
Confession of Sins and Acceptance of Satisfaction
Prayer of the Penitent and Absolution
Proclamation of Praise of God and Dismissal
Form 2: Rite for Reconciliation of Several Penitents with Individual Confession and Absolution
- Opening Prayer
Celebration of the Word of God:
- (First Reading)
- (Responsorial Psalm [or time for silent prayer])
- (Second Reading)
- [Adaptations allow for using only a Gospel reading.]
- Gospel Acclamation
- Homily [and/or]
- Examination of Conscience
Rite of Reconciliation:
- General Confession of Sins [e.g. I confess... kneeling or bowing]
- Litany [or Song; intercessory litany preferred]
- The Lord's Prayer
- Individual Confession and Absolution
[Involves only the confession, designation of a penance, and giving of absolution--No lengthy dialogue between priest and penitent.] Quiet music interspersed with selected Scripture readings helps sustain the spirit of prayer during this time. If the group is very large and an insufficient number of priests makes this time inordinately long, the people may not be required to reassemble for communal praise and thanksgiving.]
- Proclamation of Praise
- Concluding Prayer of Thanksgiving
- [A recessional hymn is not necessary.]
Form 3: Rite for Reconciliation of Several Penitents with General Confession and Absolution
Paragraph 31 from the Introduction to the Rite of Penance:
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.
Particular, occasional circumstances may render it lawful and even necessary to give general absolution to a number of penitents without their previous individual confession.
In addition to cases involving danger of death, it is lawful to give sacramental absolution to several of the faithful at the same time, after they have made only a generic confession but have been suitably called to repentance, if there is grave need, namely when, in view of the number of penitents, sufficient confessors are not available to hear individual confessions within a suitable period of time, so that the penitents would,through no fault of their own, have to go without sacramental grace or holy communion for a long time. This may happen especially in mission territories but in other places as well and also in groups of persons when the need is established.
General absolution is not lawful, when confessors are available, for the sole reason of the large number of penitents, as may be on the occasion of some major feast or pilgrimage.
- Opening Prayer
Celebration of the Word of God:
- First Reading (See comments on Form 2 regarding this part.)
- Responsorial Psalm
- Second Reading
- Gospel Acclamation
- Sign of Peace
- General Confession of Sins
- Litany or Song (With song or hymn as part of the next section, an intercessory litany would be preferable here.)
- The Lord's Prayer
Proclamation of Praise and Conclusion:
- Song or Hymn