Monday, 31 October 2016

The Confessional. Part 11.

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

4. Forgiveness of Venial Sin.

Of Extreme Unction the Council of Trent, referring to James v. 15, teaches that it forgives the sins which defile the soul, and removes the remains of sin.

With respect to the Holy Eucharist the same Council declares that although the forgiveness of sin is certainly not the principal fruit of this Sacrament, yet, in accordance with our Lord's commands, we should receive it in order thereby to be freed from our daily trespasses and strengthened against mortal sin.

Hence there is no doubt that the Holy Eucharist removes venial sins. But theologians do not agree how it produces this effect — whether, as in the case of the three preceding Sacraments, immediately, ex opere operato, or only mediately, ex opere operantis. The champions of both views appeal to St. Thomas, who on the one hand teaches that the Holy Eucharist acts after the manner of bodily food, repairing what in the heat of concupiscence we have lost by venial sin, and on the other hand declares the peculiar grace (res sacramenti) of this Sacrament to be caritas, and that not only quantum ad habitum sed etiam quantum ad actum; in other words charity is elicited in this Sacrament, and through its operation venial sins are forgiven.

Suarez interprets St. Thomas as teaching that the Holy Eucharist effects the remission of venial sins ex opere operato, and this interpretation would seem to have the preference over that of theologians who, with St. Alphonsus, insisting on the words just quoted, hold that the Sacrament of the Eucharist works ex opere operantis.

The three remaining Sacraments, of Confirmation, Orders, and Marriage, do not so directly imply forgiveness of venial sin; still they pour into the soul of the recipient a new grace, and so they, too, must be considered as remitting venial sins when no obstacle is put in the way.  The range of this power varies according as the grace conferred in the Sacrament is more or less opposed to some particular sin or kind of sins. The most efficacious of the last-named Sacraments in eliminating venial sin is that of Confirmation, because its influence extends to the whole life of faith and grace, strengthening and bringing it to perfection. Holy Orders give grace to the recipient, so that he may attain the holiness and perfection that befit his state, and in consequence they also purify from sin. Finally, Matrimony remits venial sins because it confers the grace by which concupiscence is curbed and restrained, and by which the recipients are enabled to fulfil their duties of mutual sanctification.

(b) Venial sins are likewise removed by the holy sacrifice of the Mass, which of its own nature is a sacrifice of atonement, a sacrificium vere propitiatorium. It works this forgiveness, as theologians teach, per modum impetrationis, therefore mediately, by obtaining for the sinner from God the grace of contrition or other virtues, excluding affection for sin.

(c) The sacramentals also destroy venial sins. "By the use of the sacramentals the faithful confess and awaken their faith, hope, reverence for God, a longing for interior holiness and sinlessness, or a horror of sin, and sorrow for past offences. The symbols blessed or used by the Church confer a grace which produces or strengthens desires and acts of different virtues, which in turn destroy venial sin and atone for it."  Hence a sacramental possesses power of remitting sin in proportion as its character and the blessing of the Church cause it to excite or strengthen acts of virtue in the faithful. The Church has a sacramental especially designed for the remission of venial sins, and makes use of it on those occasions when the faithful need greatest purity of heart. It consists of the two prayers: Misereatur vestri, etc., and Indulgentiam, absolutionem, etc. To these we may add the use of holy water, which, in accordance with the intention and prayers of the Church when she blesses it, is designed to ward off the devil's influence from animate and inanimate creatures and to protect them from impurity, sickness, and harm. The effect of the other sacramentals in procuring remission of venial sins is not so direct. The more they are of their own nature suited to awaken contrition, and the more directly the intention in the use of them is directed to the cleansing from sin, so much the more effectual are they in this respect.