Theory and practice of the confessional by Caspar Erich Schieler, Richard Frederick Clarke
"Since, then," concludes Lehmkuhl, "outside the cases of necessity or impossibility a vague cmatter is presented to him in this vague general assertion."
In consequence the following rules are recommended in practice: —
1. If, in order to secure unquestionably definite matter from the past life of the penitent, some sin or other is confessed in addition to those committed since the last confession, it ought to be done by mentioning the virtue or the commandment which was violated.
2. Some really grave sin ought to be mentioned.
3. It should not be mentioned out of mere routine, but with real sorrow of heart.
4. Since of late a number of writers defend the mere vague accusation on this free matter as valid and permissible even outside cases of necessity, the confessor when unable to get more definite matter may acquiesce and grant absolution.
5. If one desires to derive real spiritual profit from the confession of venial sins, too great minuteness as well as too great vagueness must be avoided; some particular venial sin which causes more uneasiness than the rest might be made a subject of more especial sorrow and more careful accusation, otherwise in many cases the sorrow as well as the accusation and purpose of amendment are likely to be too vague, if not completely absent. It has been pointed out previously that gross ignorance on the part of the penitent is a reason for taking a very general accusation as valid for absolution.
In practice the confessor should attend to the following rules: —
In the case of a penitent who accuses himself of no sin in particular, let the priest inquire whether this be due to the fact that the penitent has really not committed any mortal sin, or to invincible ignorance, or to a rooted habit of sin which has produced in the penitent a darkening of the intellect and a recklessness with regard to his salvation. If the penitent accuses himself of no sin in particular because he is really quite unconscious of grave trespass, the confessor might suggest to him a few lesser sins such as are usually committed by people in the same station of life, and ask if, since the last confession or in his past life, he has ever given way to such sins — if, for instance, he has offended his neighbor, or been violent, angry, disobedient, careless in prayer, etc. If the penitent answers in the affirmative to one or other of these questions, the confessor should excite him to repentance and purpose of amendment, so far as he sees it necessary, and then absolve him. If, however, the penitent answers all questions with a No, and cannot be induced to acknowledge any sin of his past life, further questioning should be avoided, and the penitent urged to make an act of sorrow for all the sins of his whole life, especially those committed against his neighbor, or against obedience, etc. If the penitent accede to this, as often happens, in spite of his former declaration that he is not conscious of any sin even in his past life, the priest should arouse him to sorrow and a firm resolution, and absolve him conditionally if the penitent has not received absolution for. a long time.
With such penitents there will be reason to suspect that their disposition comes from want of knowledge of the most necessary truths of salvation. If the priest discover this to be the case — as he may by a few judicious questions — he may not absolve him till after instruction in these necessary truths. Ordinarily it will be well to instruct him at once before leaving the confessional, for fear that he should neglect approaching the Sacraments —a consequence much to be apprehended — or take no pains to get instructed. If, however, the priest finds out that the cause of the ignorance is a rooted habit of sin, or the insensibility following on certain sins which have so fatal an effect in this matter —as, for instance, impurity or drunkenness — he must exercise great patience, putting before the penitent earnestly the awful consequences of his sinful life, instruct him, and in every possible way prepare him with true apostolic zeal to receive worthily the sacrament, either immediately or later, if the absolution be deferred, and to fulfill his resolutions of making an earnest amendment.
The form of the Sacrament, "in which its power principally lies," consists of the words which the priest utters over the penitent: Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, Amen. To these words the custom of the Church has added others which have become fixed in the ritual and are prescribed, though "they do not belong to the essence of the form and are not necessary for the conferring of the Sacrament."
There is no doubt that the words Ego te absolvo, or te absolvo simply (since the pronoun Ego is contained in the verb absolvo), belong to the essence of the form. These words are de essentia formæ, because, as St. Thomas says, they signify the virtus clavium et totum Sacramenti effectum.
According to most theologians the words a peccatis tuis do not belong to the essence and the validity of the Sacrament; for this view we may quote St. Thomas and the authority of the Roman catechism, which says: "The form is: Ego te absolvo." The words a peccatis tuis are sufficiently indicated by the accusation of the penitent and the act of the priest who gives absolution. Other theologians, however, maintain that these words are essential, arguing that since Christ in instituting the Sacrament used the words, " Whose sins you shall for-give," the remission of sins ought to be expressly mentioned. Though the first view is the more probable, the words ought not to be omitted in practice, since in the conferring of the Sacraments the safer opinion should be followed.