Saturday, 31 December 2016

The Confessional. Part 47.

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

III. The sorrow must coexist at least virtually with the absolution if it is to be sacramental. This virtual coexistence is secured if the sorrow is excited immediately before the accusation or the absolution, or even one, two, or four hours before confession; and St. Alphonsus admits that real sorrow may last one or two days and still be sufficient for absolution, when it comes from the desire of being reconciled with God, or when it urges a man to go to confession in order to avoid the sins along with the occasion of them. On the other hand, a sorrow removed by so long an interval would not be sufficient for valid absolution if the confession were made out of mere devotion, or in fulfilment of a vow, or for some similar reason. In these latter instances one or two hours is the widest limit which could be assigned for the virtual duration of the contrition. Hence we must condemn the teaching of some moralists that the act of sorrow endures over an unlimited time, and that it is quite sufficient if it is not retracted in the interval. Of course the act of contrition loses completely all its value for absolution by any retraction; and sorrow is retracted expressly by any new complacency in the sin or by any fresh mortal sin.

The reasons for the doctrine just given have already been laid down in the preceding paragraphs on the relation between contrition and absolution. The theologians fall back in particular on the analogy between the civil and sacramental tribunals. As in a civil process some time may elapse between the hearing of the case and the passing of the sentence without invalidating the sentence,, so some interval may elapse between the sorrow and the absolution by which sentence is pronounced; this delay, however, must not be too long. 

In practice the priest must teach the faithful and insist on their renewing the act of sorrow immediately before confession, if it is some time since they made it, and also on a due amount of time being given to eliciting contrition, since the fruit of the Sacrament is more abundant in proportion to the care taken in preparing for it.

In the case, however, where confession has been made with genuine sorrow but without the necessary reference to the Sacrament, the penitent should not be obliged to repeat the confession, for the other view with regard to the sorrow, that it is not materia sacramenti } but only a disposition on the part of the penitent, is not altogether without probability; besides it is scarcely probable that the former act of contrition has not been renewed when the man intended to confess, and that it has no sufficient coexistence with the confession, or at least with the intention to confess. Only when there is danger of death or any risk of the penitent dying before receiving absolution again, the safer course, as far as possible, should be adopted; for on such important occasions prudence counsels us to guard against even slight doubts, so as not to jeopardize our eternal salvation.

It is certain, as we remarked above, that the act of contrition " is retracted by a fresh mortal sin, and its effect, in consequence, no longer endures. It is not so easy to settle the question, with regard to venial sins, as to whether the sorrow for venial sin based on a universal motive is revoked by a fresh venial sin, or whether the sorrow continues. If it is conceded that the sorrow is revoked, scruples may easily arise if the sorrow has not been renewed immediately before confession. This practice is very good; but not necessary, if the fresh venial sin is less grievous than those which the penitent intended to confess when he made his act of sorrow. 

There is still another question to consider. An act of contrition is made, extending to all past sins, those which are forgotten as well as those which are remembered; must this be renewed if the penitent afterwards confesses the forgotten sins and desires a second absolution ?

A renewal of the sorrow in this case does not seem necessary, provided that the sorrow in the first confession extended to all past sins, even those which by chance had escaped the memory; for in this case the process was not objectively complete. The sorrow and the implicit intention of receiving absolution were applied to all sins, even those inculpably forgotten; and as the renewal of the sorrow would not be at all necessary if the penitent, after making an act of contrition on universal grounds, recalls just before the absolution some sins forgotten and confesses them before the absolution is pronounced, so it is not necessary in the case mentioned, since it is much the same whether one receives many particular absolutions or a general one embracing all the sins. .Such is the view of the greater number of the moralists. Lugo, St. Alphonsus, and Reuter may be mentioned particularly as favoring it; St. Alphonsus calls this teaching communis, Roncaglia moraliter certa, Sporer, Elbel, and many others probabilissima; it has been declared even indubitata apud omnes; pro ea stat, says Lugo, communis praxis. If in this case one or two confessors perhaps insist on the renewal of the sorrow, the greater number agree in acting differently or in suggesting it merely as a piece of advice.