Wednesday, 9 November 2016

The Confessional. Part 17.

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

When there is question in the confession of materia libera: —

1. The last two methods of general accusation are sufficient for the valid and licit administration of the Sacrament, whether the whole confession consist of such a general accusation or whether this general accusation be added to a confession of venial sins to make sure of contrition. The second method of accusation might perhaps be allowed; but if any one wished to make the whole confession by this second method of general accusation, embracing in this manner sins already confessed without some sort of a special mention of venial sins lately committed, the confessor might well object and could not easily give absolution unless in case of some pressing necessity. If, however, sins not yet explicitly confessed are declared, and a general accusation is added of the second kind for the sake of security, this may be considered as sufficient both quoad valorem and quoad liceitatem. For the accusation, "I have sinned mortally," is not quite vague, as it expresses a certain degree of sinfulness which may very well be (and at times is all that can be obtained) the object of a judicial sentence.

2. An entirely vague accusation, although there be necessary matter, may be accepted as being sufficient in cases of extreme necessity — when a detailed accusation is impossible and absolution must be given. For instance: —

(a) At the time of death, when the dying man can no longer speak or is unconscious, and has already shown signs of a desire for absolution; for, according to the Roman Ritual, such a man is to be absolved (absolvendus est), and this official book of the Church suggests nothing about making the absolution conditional.

(b) In other cases of impending death, when the desire for absolution is expressed by any sort of sign; e.g. in a shipwreck where there is not time to make a full accusation.

(c) If a penitent is too ignorant or too weak-headed, even with the help of the confessor's questions, to render an accurate account, at least absolution may at times be given to such a penitent if he has not had it for a long period.

3. When it is a question of venial sins only (on the supposition that these either alone or in conjunction with other doubtful matter have been confessed), the confessor may not give absolution for an accusation which is quite vague, for such an accusation offers no entirely certain matter for absolution, and from what is allowed in danger of death we may not conclude that the same will suffice for the validity of absolution in cases where there is no urgency. A confession, for instance, delivered by a messenger is permissible only in the case of imminent death where no other means can be devised; this is clear from the propositions condemned by Clement VIII and Paul V. In any other case, the unanimous voice of theologians declares such a confession invalid. Hence if valid matter can be presented, it must be done if absolution is to be given.

This is clear, too, on the merits of the case itself. One may always presume that the desire which a dying man expresses for absolution is at least a hesitating, if not definite, acknowledgment of having committed mortal sin by the fact that he considers absolution necessary and desirable; but if a man, though able, accuses himself of no definite sins to his confessor, it is tantamount to a declaration that he has committed only venial sins. Now the confession of mortal sin in general contains something definite; whereas an accusation of venial sin in general is altogether vague; hence the causa judicialis in this case is quite unknown, and no sentence can be passed where the charge is unknown and undetermined.