Tuesday, 15 November 2016

The Confessional. Part 22.

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

It is not, however, necessary that the words of absolution should be heard by the penitent or others; in fact it is recommended to say them in a low voice, so that, in case absolution is for some reason withheld from a penitent, others may not know of it.

The fact that the absolution should be pronounced in words requires as its complement that the penitent should be present, for the words Ego te absolvo are not such as we would address to a person when absent, but thus we speak to one who is nigh. The form must certainly be applied to the matter actually present; moreover, according to the Council of Trent the sinner should present himself before the tribunal as the accused. This is quite clear, too, from the constant tradition of the Church, in which all penitentials contain a form which is pronounced over one who is present, and either explicitly require the immediate presence of the penitent before the confessor or evidently suppose it; nor do we find in the whole of antiquity any clear instance of a sacramental absolution pronounced over an absent person.

A confession, therefore, made to a priest by writing or by messenger is invalid if the absolution is given to the penitent in his absence. Moreover, the absolution is illicit and invalid if given to an absent penitent even though the confession has been made by him in person to the priest. Further, too, the absolution is illicit and invalid which is given to a present penitent who has not confessed in person to the priest — if, for instance, the confession has been by letter; exception is made for the case where the penitent presents himself to the priest and for some good reason accuses himself only in general of sins about which he has informed the confessor by letter, if the latter at the time of the confession retains a knowledge of the sins in particular. 1

The præsentia moralis of the penitent is sufficient for absolution. This condition is satisfied if the priest and the penitent are sufficiently near to hear one another when they speak in an ordinary tone of voice, though cases may occur where the voice must be exerted a little more than is usual. In general greater proximity is required for valid absolution than is demanded for hearing a preacher or for satisfying the obligation of hearing Mass. 2

St. Alphonsus declares with respect to this subject that Tamburini is justified in rejecting the view of Leander, who holds that the moral presence is secured if the priest sees the penitent or is sensibly aware of his presence. A man may be seen at a distance at which it would be impossible to hold speech with him in the usual manner or even by raising the voice. If in case of necessity absolution must be given at a distance, it should be given sub conditione.

Hence to secure the validity of the absolution it is required (1) that the confessor and the penitent should not be in rooms which are in no way connected; and if (2) they are in the same room, they should not be too far apart, certainly not more than twenty paces; if the distance is notably less, there need be no misgiving about the validity of the absolution; finally (3) the required proximity is secured if the priest knows that the penitent is present.

(a) If the penitent has already left the confessional but is still close by the confessor, he may and ought to be absolved, even, according to Lugo, Tamburini, and others, if he be so merged in the crowd that he cannot be seen; the confessor must, however, be certain that he is not or cannot be far off; for the penitent is still morally present and has the desire of receiving absolution. The penitent ought, however, to be recalled if this can be done without causing disturbance or remark.

(6) If, through fear of infection or for other reasons, the priest cannot enter a sick-room, he may validly absolve the penitent from the window or the door. 3

(c) If at a distance a priest sees someone falling from a height or into the water, or if he knows that someone is buried under the ruins of a building, etc., he should give absolution conditionally. 4

Absolution must, under ordinary circumstances, be given absolutely; for weighty reasons it may and ought to be given conditionally (conditione).

1 With regard to this matter Clement VIII in Const, data d. 20 Jun. 1602 condemned the following proposition: It is permitted to confess one's sins to an absent confessor by means of a letter or a messenger, and to receive absolution from the same confessor though still absent. Moreover, he forbade under pain of excommunication any one to teach this doctrine or to make use of it as a probable opinion. The condemnation of this proposition by the Pope involves evidently an absolute command, and the conclusion is fairly drawn that the confession made to an absentee, as well as the absolution given to an absentee, are both illicit and invalid; otherwise one might in a case of extreme necessity allow the practice. The Clementine decree is to be taken not only collectively, that is, as legislating for the case where both confession and absolution are conveyed by absentees, but also disjunctively, that is, as legislating for the case where confession has been made to an absentee, the absolution being given when the penitent presents himself, and vice versa. This was decreed by Paul V, July 14, 1605.

2 Though all theologians agree in requiring the moral presence of the penitent for valid absolution, they vary in assigning the limits of that presence. Many theologians suppose that a penitent stationed at twenty paces from the priest may be regarded as morally present; this distance is thought by St. Alphonsus to be too great.

3 The priest is, however, strongly advised not to be too nervous in exercising his office for a penitent struck down by an infectious disease; confidence in God joined to a little prudent foresight and courage will be more useful to him than a cowardly nervousness.

4 In accordance with this teaching we must solve the question raised whether absolution given by telephone is valid. It is certain that the use of the telephone for giving absolution is extra casum necessitatis a grave sin because it introduces into the administration of the Sacraments a practice which is novel and liable to misuse. The case is limited to the question whether in urgent need the use of such a method can be tolerated — if, for instance, a member of a secret society, seized with a dangerous illness and anxious to be reconciled with the Church, but debarred by his associates from the sight of a priest, could make use of the telephone placed in his room to call up a friendly priest and make his confession to him and receive absolution through the telephone. Eschbach, in his work mentioned above, teaches that such an absolution is quite invalid. Sabetti acknowledges that the solution of the question involves many difficulties, and that it ought to be submitted to the decision of the Holy See; he appears, however, to incline to an affirmative answer. He says : Though it is true that moral presence and a connection between matter and form are necessary in every Sacrament, yet this exigency varies. Since Penance has been instituted on the lines of an earthly tribunal, in which judge and accused must be so far present to one another as to be able to speak together, the absolution in the given case cannot be said for certain to be invalid, since one might always argue that the priest and the penitent could speak together. Against this, it may be objected that the illustration of an earthly tribunal is not quite applicable, since here the presence of the accused is not necessary, for he may be condemned in contumaciam. To the question whether in casu extremæ necessitatis dari possit absolutio per telephonium ? the Pœnitentiaria replied, July 1, 1884: Nihil esse respondendum. — Bucceroni, Enchiridion Morale (Romæ, 1887), p. 110.