Friday, 18 November 2016

The Confessional. Part 25.

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

6. In doubt whether the necessary dispositions with regard to mortal sin are present conditional absolution may sometimes, though not always, be given; it must be given when urgent reasons counsel such a step. For instance: —

(a) To those who are in danger of death, from whatever cause.

(b) When the penitent honestly thinks he is well disposed, and when the confessor fears that if absolution be refused or put off, the penitent may fall into worse ways or be frightened away from the Sacraments, or that he will certainly receive some other Sacrament, as, for instance, Marriage or Confirmation, in an unworthy state.

Finally, conditional absolution may be given to children and others of whom it is doubtful whether they possess sufficient use of reason or the necessary knowledge of the truths of faith. These may receive conditional absolution not only when in danger of death, but also when they have to fulfill the law of the Church, and especially if they have confessed a sin which is doubtfully or probably mortal; they must be so absolved even if they are relapsing sinners, for while in doubtfully disposed penitents who have the full use of reason absolution must be delayed, since hopes may be entertained that they will return better disposed later, in the case of children or feeble minded no such hope can be well entertained. Indeed, according to a probable view such penitents may receive conditional absolution at intervals of two or three months, when they confess only venial sins, that they may not go for any considerable time without the grace of the Sacrament. The confessor is, however, obliged to instruct children and feeble-minded persons and to dispose them for absolution.

We answer some objections urged against the doctrine that in the cases mentioned absolution may be given conditionally.

1. This practice is full of danger and is the cause of many sins. The practice is full of danger, it is true, if absolution is given indiscriminately without necessity or some special reason; if, however, the rules given above are observed, it is no longer dangerous or harmful.

2. It is further objected that a penitent conditionally absolved will approach the altar and make a sacrilegious communion, a risk not to be incurred lightly.

The confession of such a penitent is not sacrilegious, hence the communion is not; for, by supposition, the penitent is in good faith. At the worst the communion would be without fruit or profit; nor can we say that the communion is quite useless, for its reception is an occasion for eliciting different acts of virtue. Indeed, according to the common teaching on this subject, the communicant who receives in mortal sin and with imperfect contrition, yet in good faith, is placed thereby in a state of grace. To make an act of imperfect contrition should not be a great difficulty, since holy communion usually arouses pious emotions of love and sorrow in those who approach in good

3. It is likewise objected that a conditionally absolved penitent will never confess his sins again, and if he is not rightly disposed will die in his sins.

It may be replied that doubtfully absolved sins are remitted (a) by the reception of holy communion, as we have already shown; (b) indirectly in the following confession along with the other sins which he confesses, even if he were never again to submit them to the keys. If it be urged here that the penitent might never come to confession again, we should reply that such a case is extremely rare and to be treated as quite improbable. On the contrary, the penitent would be exposed to much graver risk of his salvation if, in a situation of such necessity as we postulate for the giving of conditional absolution, he were to be dismissed without it.

4. Another objection is drawn from the first of the propositions condemned by Innocent XI, whence it appears that no one may presume to follow a probable opinion in dispensing the Sacraments. The conclusion drawn is that no one may give an absolution which is doubtfully valid.

This practice is absolutely forbidden where the validity of the Sacrament and the welfare of the individual are endangered by such administration of the Sacrament; if, however, necessity or solid reasons demand such practice, it is allowed. Moreover, the proposition condemned by Innocent is concerned only with the essential portions of the Sacrament, the validity of matter and form in so far as these depend on the minister of the Sacrament. In our case the matter is presented by the penitent and is outside the control of the minister. Otherwise, indeed, penitents might often enough be dismissed without absolution, for frequently no certainty can be had as to their dispositions, but at most a greater or lesser probability.

5. Finally some would limit the use of conditional absolution to cases of the greatest rarity and of most pressing necessity — when, for instance, a dying man is quite unconscious or already in his agony; for in any other case it is entirely his own fault if he be doubtfully disposed. This is the view of the anonymous author of the Letters against the distinguished work of Cardinal Gousset: Justification de la doctrine de Saint Liguori. 1

This objection is based on several false premises: —

1. It is untrue that one who is doubtfully disposed is certainly indisposed; it is at least per se untrue, for it is a contradiction in terms.

2. It is untrue that the penitent is always responsible for not seeming certainly disposed; for he can be quite prepared without the confessor knowing about it; again, as long as he is not certainly unprepared, he may be actually in the proper dispositions.

3. Many considerations respecting the penitent's salvation may, as we have seen, urge the confessor to decide on giving rather than refusing absolution. At times the priest would be guilty of the gravest imprudence by putting off the absolution till extreme need should arise, when the penitent might be unable to avail himself of the Sacrament. " Do you wish to put off the reconciliation of the dying man to his God till the moment when he can no longer express his wishes? Will you, in order to make the absolution certain, wait till the penitent is at the last gasp, so that it is doubtful if he is capable of receiving the Sacrament? ... I repeat, the Sacraments are made for men, not men for the Sacraments. By pursuing such a course you would act in opposition to Him who out of His mercy gave us the Sacrament ; you would depart from the spirit of the Church which, like a tender mother, administers the Sacraments, when you maintain that we can only apply the principle of sacramenta propter homines in cases where the dying sinner cannot even by signs express what is going on in the recesses of his soul."

1 He says: " Necessity is but very seldom a ground for giving absolution to one who is doubtfully disposed; for a dying man, with only an instant to spare, and in the possession of his faculties, has only himself to blame if he cannot produce an act of perfect contrition; it is an article of faith that God never refuses the means of salvation if they are asked with confidence, and for such a soul perfect contrition is a most necessary condition for salvation. If, therefore, he has only doubtful contrition, it is his own fault, and in such case he is not merely doubtfully, but certainly, unworthy, and cannot in consequence be absolved. There remain, then, only the cases in which the dying man cannot express his sentiments even by signs, and then the principle holds: sacramenta propter homines,"