Friday, 30 December 2016

The Confessional. Part 46.

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

15. The Relation of Contrition to the Sacrament.

Finally, the sorrow must be sacramental, i.e. in connection with the Sacrament of Penance. For instance, in order that attrition along with the Sacrament may be able to restore a man to sanctifying grace, it must be joined with at least the implicit intention of receiving the Sacrament, and coexist virtually with the absolution.

A man who in preparing for confession bewails the sins which he has discovered in examining his conscience, makes an act of contrition ex intentione implicita of receiving the Sacrament. If, however, his sorrow is expressed without any intention of receiving the Sacrament or without any thought of confession, he must renew his act of sorrow in order to be sure of receiving absolution validly, unless he afterwards decides to go to confession in consequence of the still virtually enduring contrition, so that his confession proceeds from his sorrow. Hence the following conclusions are drawn: —

I. An act of contrition made without reference to the receiving of absolution makes the validity of the absolution doubtful.

II. It is not necessary, however, that the penitent should make the act of contrition in consequence of his resolution to go to confession. This is the usual practice, it is true, and certainly a very good one, but it is enough if by his contrition he be moved to make his confession, and if he thus unite his sorrow, still persevering, with the sacramental act. It is also sufficient if the penitent makes an act of sorrow in the interval between the confession of his sins and the giving of the absolution. 

The reason for making these demands upon the penitent is that the acts of the penitent are not only an interior preparation for, but they are the materia ex qua of, the Sacrament. The sorrow, therefore, must be brought into relation to the Sacrament; and since this doctrine is probable and is the common teaching, this relation must be established in practice at least ante factum, i.e. the confessor must before giving absolution take care that the penitent makes his act of sorrow with a view to the Sacrament.

Hence the question amounts really to this: What relation is demanded between the act of sorrow and the Sacrament? not whether such a relation be necessary; for, on the one hand, it cannot be defended with any probability that such relation is unnecessary, and, on the other hand, it is not in accordance with either truth or prudence that the penitent, before making the act of contrition, should establish its relation to the confession or be obliged to have the intention of receiving the Sacrament.

Some sort of bond, however, must exist between the contrition and the Sacrament. It is false to infer from the Catholic teaching of the Council of Trent that the eliciting of the act of sorrow or dolor in fieri, as it is called, is the materia proxima of the Sacrament; it is rather the sorrow already elicited or the dolor in facto esse, which is the matter of the Sacrament; it is not in or by itself proxima materia: it becomes so by means of the confession and in union with the confession. That sorrow is sufficient which coexists in any way with the will of receiving the Sacrament. In other words, the sorrow must inform the confession, i.e. make the accusation a penitent or sorrowful confession, and apt to effect a reconciliation with God. If then the sorrow coexists in any way with the confession and is referred to it, that sorrow constitutes proxime the matter of the Sacrament and there is no necessity for the penitent to have the intention of confessing before making the act of contrition. In a similar way water is the matter of Baptism; it is not necessary that the water should be procured with the intention of conferring the Sacrament; it is quite enough to take the water which comes to hand and to apply it to the sacramental use. Now there can be no doubt that the sorrow also, though not elicited with a view to the Sacrament, can remain present in some way in the soul, and while so present may later on be brought into contact with and applied to the Sacrament. A man, for instance, who under the influence of his contrition seeks an opportunity of going to confession, or makes use of the opportunity of going which presents itself, has certainly not lost his contrition; he has it rather in greater abundance, though he reflects no more on his sorrow, nor even retains any certain recollection of it afterwards.

Lacroix has no sufficient reason for demanding that sorrow must be aroused with the view of going to confession, saying that otherwise the sorrow would not be a sacramental act, just as the pouring of water made without the intention of baptizing, though referred immediately afterwards to the baptismal act and the form added, is not a sacramental function. The comparison, we answer, is not to the point, for the sorrow is not in et per se materia proxima as is the pouring of the water in Baptism. If, however, a man poured out the water with some other intention, and then still in the act of pouring formed the intention of baptizing, the Baptism would be valid. The same argument holds for penance; hence that sorrow is sufficient which coexists in any way with the wish to receive the Sacrament.

In the case quoted above where the penitent first confesses his sins and then makes his act of sorrow before receiving the Sacrament, or when he is moved to contrition by the words of his confessor, a difficulty may arise, since the confession must be a sorrowful one. Such an enumeration of the sins cannot, of course, be considered as informed by sorrow; the humble demand for absolution, however, takes up the accusation again and perfects it; and makes it materia proxima of the Sacrament.

If, on the contrary, the sorrow has been elicited with no idea at all of confessing the sin, there is reason for doubting whether an act so completely independent of the confession will become materia of the Sacrament. Absolution cannot be demanded in face of the probability of such an essential defect; yet one can hardly acquire sufficient certainty of the existence of such defect to make the repetition of the confession obligatory.