DAILY CATHOLIC for December 12-14
Vatican II
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vol, 8
no. 51

     There have many misconceptions that Vatican II changed many things in the Church and "we don't do it that way anymore" has become the refrain in all too many parishes throughout the world. However, surprise! It hasn't changed that much! To prove this, we go to the source: the Vatican Council Postconciliar Documents, expertly compiled by the revered Dominican Austin P. Flannery in two volumes.

      Our fifth "bone to pick" with dissenters is on the the nature and procedure for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, tying in with our topic over this week and next in "Catechism Capsules." There has been a misconception that Vatican II changed regulations regarding Confession, downplaying the need to confess directly to a priest and that it could be done in a group while we just confess directly to God within ourselves. Wrong! In fact the Vatican II documents make it very clear that we need to go to a priest in a confessional (the nature and specifics of the confessional can of course be accepted as wherever a priest is available), but there is still the need for individual absolution and a priest's general absolution to a group does not suffice for the Sacrament of Reconciliation except for very specific circumstances that would require a necessity such as disasters, etc. It does specify, however, that group reconciliation (where groups gather such as in Lent and Advent for a mission-like program and numerous priests come to hear confessions while the rest of the faithful listen to the Word of God and words from the pulpit along with prayer) carried out in specific ritual can do much to help us examine our conscience and bring us fully to the meaning of the Sacrament whereby we celebrate ridding ourselves of sin and resolve firmly to sin no more. Below are the few paragraphs on this taken from VATICAN COUNCIL II, VOLUME II, More Postconciliar Documents; General Editor Austin Flannery, O.P. Costello Publishing Company, page 41-42 on the Celebration of the Sacrament of Penance.

The Place of the Celebration

(12) The sacrament of penance is to be administered in a confessional located as prescribed by law." (44)

The Time of the Celebration

(13) The reconciliation of penitents may take place on any day and at any season. A suitable arrangement, however, is for the priest to be in attendance for the exercise of this ministry at a set time on a set day, previously advertised to the faithful. The faithful should be encouraged to develop the habit of approaching this sacrament outside of the celebration of Mass, especially at set times." (45)

The season of Lent is especially suitable for the celebration of the sacrament of penance, for on Ash Wednesday the faithful are admonished: ĎRepent and believe the Gospel.í It is appropriate, therefore, to arrange for frequent penitential services during Lent, so that all the faithful might be offered the opportunity of being reconciled to God and their brothers and celebrating the paschal mystery with renewed heart during holy triduum.

(b)Order for the Reconciliation of a Number of Penitents, but With Individual Confession and Absolution:

(22) When a number of penitents are gathered together to receive sacramental reconciliation, it will be helpful to prepare them for this by the celebration of the word of God.

Others, however, who intend approaching the sacrament at another time, may share in the celebration.

A common celebration manifests more clearly the ecclesial nature of penance. For the faithful together listen to the word of God which proclaims Godís mercy and invites them to conversion. Together, they compare their own lives with Godís word and they help one another by mutual prayer. After each one has confessed his sins and has been absolved, all together praise God because of the wonderful things he has done for the good of the people whom he acquired by the blood of his Son.

There should be enough priests present who, if necessary, can hear and reconcile individual penitents in appropriate locations.

(27) Then, at the invitation of the deacon or another Minster, all kneel down, or bow, and recite a formula of general confession - the Confiteor, for example. They then stand and recite a litany-type prayer or sing a suitable hymn, both however expressing the confession of sins, sorrow, prayer for forgiveness and trust in Godís mercy. The Lordís prayer is said at the end and is never omitted.

(28) At the end of the Lordís prayer the priests go to the confessionals. Penitents who wish to confess go to the confessors of their choice and when they have been given their penances they are absolved with the formula for reconciling individual penitents.

(29) When the confessions have ceased, the priests return to the sanctuary. The person in charge of the celebration invites all to give thanks and to profess Godís mercy. This can be done by a psalm, a hymn or a litany-type prayer. Then the priest concludes the celebration with a prayer, praising God for is great love for us.

c. The Order for Reconciliation of Penitents with Communal Confession and Absolution.

(31) Individual and integral confession and absolution remains the only ordinary way by which the faithful may be reconciled with God and with the Church, except when this is physically or morally impossible.

It can happen that, because of a particular combination of circumstances, absolution may be, or even ought to be, given to a number of people together, without individual confession of sins.

Aside from danger of death, it is permissible, in a case of grave necessity, to absolve a number of people together, even though they have confessed only in general terms, if they are truly repentant. This can happen when the number of penitents is too great for the number of confessors present to hear their confessions properly, individually, in the time available, with the result that the penitents through no fault of their own would be compelled to remain without sacramental grace of holy communion for a long time.

This can happen on the missions especially, but also in other places, in any gathering where the need arises. If enough confessors are available, the mere presence of a large crowd of penitents - as on a great festival or at a pilgrimage - does not justify communal confession and absolution. (47)

(32) It is for the bishop of the diocese to judge whether the conditions are such as to justify communal sacramental absolution, after he has taken counsel with the other members of the episcopal conference.

Apart from the instances laid down by the bishop of the diocese, if on other occasions there should arise grave need for communal sacramental absolution, the priest should, for legality, apply to the local ordinary beforehand, if this is possible. But if it is not possible to approach the bishop beforehand, he should, at the earliest opportunity inform him of the necessity which arose and that he had administered communal absolution. (48)

(34) Those whose grave sins are forgiven by communal absolution ought to make an auricular confession before they receive another such absolution, unless a just cause prevent them. They should certainly, unless it be morally impossible, go to confession within the year. They too are subject to the precept which obliges all the faithful to confess, individually, to a priest, at least once a year all the sins, certainly their grave sins, which they have not hitherto confessed singly. (50)


Nature and Structure

(36) Penitential services are gatherings of Godís people to hear Godís word through which they are invited to conversion and renewal of life and through which our liberation from sin by the death and resurrection of Christ is announced. They are structured after the fashion of bible services, (52), as outlined in the Order of the reconciliation of a number of penitents.

December 12, 1997 volume 8, no. 51
Vatican II Verifications

November 1997