Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The Confessional. Part 6.

Theory and practice of the confessional by Caspar Erich Schieler, Richard Frederick Clarke

3. Necessity of the Sacrament of Penance.

The divine precept of approaching the Sacrament of Penance does not urge immediately that a mortal sin has been committed, for it is an affirmative command, and affirmative precepts do not press of their own accord, but only at certain times and under given circumstances. Besides, the Church's precept of an annual confession for all the faithful, who have fallen into mortal sin, proves sufficiently that divine law does not enforce confession immediately after committing mortal sin.

The precept of the Church concerning the Sacrament of Penance binds only those who have sinned mortally. For the Church's intention is merely to define more clearly the extent of the divine command; so the ecclesiastical precept does not exceed the limits of the divine precept, and Christ commanded only that mortal sin should be confessed. Hence one who has committed no mortal sin is not subject to the law of the Church prescribing yearly confession. In practice, however, the question has no import; for which of the faithful, guilty only of venial sin, would omit to go to confession at least once a year, or would think of receiving holy Communion without previously having confessed? 1

He who has committed a mortal sin, but, forgetting all about it, confesses only venial sins, and some days later remembers again the mortal sin, is, according to a probable opinion, no longer subject to the precept of yearly confession; for, since the confession was valid, the mortal sin omitted by sheer forgetfulness is forgiven; and there only remains the obligation of submitting the forgotten sin to the power of the keys in the next confession. ( Suarez and Laymann teach the opposite. Cf. Scavini, I. c. n. 35, nota 1.)

For the same reason alleged above, the law of the Church extends only to those who have reached the age of discernment, and whose minds are sufficiently developed to render them capable of sin. It is impossible (Cf Decretum Lateran. Concilii IV. cp. 21.) to fix any definite limit of age in this matter. Much depends on the child's personal gifts, its training and education. In each individual case the moral maturity of the child must be gauged by its general accomplishments and its ways of acting. During the ordinary course of religious instruction, the pastor will find ample material on which to base a decision; in case of doubt, the testimony of the parents and the teachers may be taken into account. (See Sect 74, Children's Confessions.) Seven years is usually assigned as the age at which children of average ability and proper training have arrived at the period of discretion which enables them to understand the malice of mortal sin.

Hence it becomes a duty to instruct the children for confession when they have reached about the seventh or eighth year, or, according to circumstances, even earlier. But even children of an inferior age, if they seem to have sufficient understanding, should not be allowed to die without absolution, though it be pronounced only conditionally. Of course, the priest will help them to elicit the necessary acts of contrition and purpose of amendment. This should be done though it be doubtful that the child has committed a sin or if it has forgotten the sin committed.

It is not a good practice, therefore, to defer the instruction of children on this Sacrament to their ninth year or later; since it does an injustice to the more intelligent children. Moreover, in the case of those children who are sick, this lack of early preparation is apt to deprive them of both the Sacrament of Penance and Extreme Unction, which is a serious matter, if they have been capable of committing mortal sin. (Lehmkuhl, I. Tract VI. n. 1202, 3.)

1 Such is the teaching of nearly all the moralists; cf. S. Alph. Lib. VI. n. 667; Gury, I. n. 478; Scavini, De Sacram. Pœnit. n. 35. St. Thomas (Suppl. Q. 6. a. 3) teaches that he who has only venial sins to confess, satisfies the precept of the Church if he presents himself to the priest and declares that his conscience is free from mortal sin; this will be counted as a confession. This opinion of St. Thomas is, however, contradicted by a large number of eminent theologians, — St. Antoninus, Billuart, Laymann, Lugo, Suarez, etc., — who appeal to the Tridentine decree (Sess. 13. cp. 5), which says in respect to the Lateran decree that it is determinativum divini præcepti.