General absolution experience


#1

I had my first, surprising experience of a communal reconciliation service with general absolution last night, and I thought I'd share what happened and see what people's thoughts are on the topic.

I arrived for my parish's usual Advent reconciliation service last night, a little before the start of the service at 7pm. This would be the first such service since our regular priest was reassigned and not replaced, and the first time reconciliation was offered in any way since June (hence my strong desire to participate).

The regular number of people had arrived: about a dozen out of a parish of several hundred. A single priest had arrived, rather than the usual two or three, and he was dressed in a violet cope with an ornate clasp.

The priest walked in front of the alter and introduced himself, expressing his pleasure at the excellent turnout (I'm not making this stuff up; he must have had past experiences with worse turnouts elsewhere) and explaining that we would be celebrating a communal reconciliation service with a general absolution. He went on to give a history of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, "that we used to call the Sacrament of Penance", which as far as I could tell was accurate but misleading. He then gave an apologia for the use of general absolution. His essential point was that one of the two circumstances in which the Church allows general absolution is in the case of a shortage of priests. Since we've been hearing that we have a shortage of priests since the 1970's, he had been offering general absolution all this time. He mentioned that some fellow priests disapprove of what he does, to which he gives the reply "if the Church doesn't like what I do, it should change the law." He wrapped up this part by saying that if anyone had sins that they felt were so serious that they needed "to be brought into the public forum, so to speak" he would stay after the service to hear those individual confessions.

There's no space to describe the rest of the service in detail. There was a homily of sorts on sin (better than I had expected, though it would have been improved by the use of such terms as "mortal" and "venial"), a long responsive reflection on different kinds of sins, a cheesy song played on a boom-box, an Our Father and Hail Mary, and part of a Compline service. Then, after enough time had probably past for all our individual confessions to have been heard, he asked if we were sorry for all the sins of our lives, and we responded "yes" or "I am" or something along those lines. Then he gave general absolution, followed by (not preceded by) an act of contrition that we were to say silently in our heads. No penance was given, though I perhaps that is typical of general absolution.

After this most people left, but I and three others stayed behind. I was going to get my individual confession if I could, especially since it's unlikely I'll have another chance until Lent. I thanked the priest for offering this, and he responded that he would not, of course, force any form of the sacrament on anyone. The rest of the confession proceeded as normal, except that at the end the priest said, with what I thought was a tone of sarcasm (I hope I imagined it), "so those are the sins you felt you needed to bring into the public forum?" I just said "yes", and he gave me an individual absolution and a penance (do something nice for my family).

I'd be interested in people's thoughts on this whole episode, including whether you have experienced anything similar. In particular, I have questions about the double absolution.

Not knowing whether individual absolution or only confession of absolved sins would be offered afterwards, I intended the general absolution to apply to the sins I was about to confess. When I did confess those sins, it was only those I'd had in mind before, and I did not know whether another absolution would be given. In fact it was given, for sins that I assume were already forgiven. Is this standard practice after a penitent confesses sins already forgiven through general absolution? Might the second absolution even have been objectively sacrilegious, since it was not to absolve any new sin (the only new sin I was aware of was lack of due charity to the priest, and I could hardly confess that to him)? My intention during the second absolution was that it absolve me if for whatever reason the general absolution had been invalid. I can't say what the priest's intention was, of course.


#2

Thankfully, I have never encountered such a thing. But if I did, I would have done exactly as you did. That is frustrating.

Is general absolution valid when administered illicitly? I don't know.

In any case, this is what Canon Law states:

Can. 963 Without prejudice to the obligation mentioned in can. 989, a person whose grave sins are remitted by general absolution is to approach individual confession as soon as possible, given the opportunity, before receiving another general absolution, unless a just cause intervenes.

As it turned out for you, "as soon as possible" was immediately following. :o

I would recommend looking at JPII's Misericordia Dei. That was designed to correct these sorts of abuses.


#3

That sound like an Altar Call!:eek:

Our parish has a short service to help people examine their conscience then priests from neighboring parishes along with our pastors are available to hear everyone's individual confession. Your situation sounds a bit perplexing as general absolution was never intended to replace private auricular confession of personal sins to a priest.


#4

From the catechism (emphasis mine):

1482 The sacrament of Penance can also take place in the framework of a communal celebration in which we prepare ourselves together for confession and give thanks together for the forgiveness received. Here, the personal confession of sins and individual absolution are inserted into a liturgy of the word of God with readings and a homily, an examination of conscience conducted in common, a communal request for forgiveness, the Our Father and a thanksgiving in common. This communal celebration expresses more clearly the ecclesial character of penance. However, regardless of its manner of celebration the sacrament of Penance is always, by its very nature, a liturgical action, and therefore an ecclesial and public action.91

91 Cf. SC 26-27.

In my understanding, the communal penance is used primarily under two circumstances: first, when individual confession is intended as a follow up, and second, in extreme cases, when no opportunity exists for individual confession/absolution (i.e. sinking ship, crashing aircraft). The form that you describe strikes me as a "quick and dirty" and frankly, lazy approach to the Sacrament. How is the Priest supposed to offer any sort of meaningful individual penance or spiritual direction so that the penitent may avoid sin, as we declare during the act of contrition? How is the penance intended to fit the sins confessed? Indeed, what about mortal sins? I see this as a liturgical abuse.


#5

Sadly, some of us grew up going to Confession in this manner.

Typically, the priest gave a short talk about forgiveness followed by General Absolution. We said an Act of Contrition communally, but I don't remember if it was before or after Absolution - no other prayers or an examen or anything like that.

The bishop instructed priests to use this form. Our then pastor read the letter from the Bishop, expressed his strong disapproval, and gave us a very stern warning about what constituted a mortal sin. He strongly encouraged each and every one of us to go to Confession. He stayed afterwards, and many people lined up including my mother.

When the Bishop wrote a similar letter requiring all persons to receive Communion in the Hand, this same priest said, "I will understand if you're not able to, and you won't be denied the Sacrament." He also said if we understood what we were receiving that we'd approach on our knees! (sorry for the tangent - he was such a great priest!)


#6

You know, several converts have mentioned that altar calls in their former communions struck them as a replacement for confession. They felt blessed to enter the Catholic Church, where they had recourse to the Sacrament of Penance.


#7

To be charitable: though woolly and fuzzy it seems that the priest offered pardon for venial sins, and made himself available for people in mortal sin.


#8

From all that you have said, it sounds to me that your priest was well-meaning. However, I'd try to speak to him some time later, and if this is fruitless, write the bishop.


#9

Following a general absolution, a Catholic must confess still these sins at his or her next private confession. You did correctly (and quite promptly too)!

Incidentally, one must also make a private confession before receiving a general absolution again.


#10

[quote="YoungTradCath, post:8, topic:308941"]
From all that you have said, it sounds to me that your priest was well-meaning. However, I'd try to speak to him some time later, and if this is fruitless, write the bishop.

[/quote]

I think he was more or less well-meaning, though a few things he said, including the "public forum" option, seemed deliberately disingenuous. Technically he covered his bases by inviting anyone who had committed a mortal sin to confess individually, but none but the best-informed Catholics would have been able to decipher that, knowing that the kind of sins so bad they needed to be brought "into the public forum, so to speak" are mortal sins. There were other accurate but possibly misleading statements, such as that neither the Council of Trent nor Vatican II stipulated any particular form of the sacrament and that individual private confession is originally a monastic practice for which there have always been alternatives.

Anyway, I had never met this priest before and if he is like other visiting priests, I may never meet him again. In my experience my bishop will side with a priest even in the case of egregious Eucharistic desecration (the incident I'm referring to was one with extremely crumbly bread which people simply brushed off their hands and walked upon after receiving. The bishop responded with great kindness and patience, explaining that this parish always uses that bread and the people know how to handle it) and so I have little optimism he will respond productively to this. Furthermore, from what he said this priest has been routinely doing this for decades, all under this same bishop, who is famous for his "liberalism."

If it happens again in Lent I may consider writing, or if it ever happens under our next bishop (the current one is very close to retirement age). Speaking to the priest first would of course be preferable, but difficult unless this was immediately after the service itself.


#11

To draw this out since it got rather buried, what do people think about the double absolution? Was this correct, leaving aside the (to me) obvious lack of proper occasion for general absolution?


#12

[quote="Aelred_Minor, post:11, topic:308941"]
To draw this out since it got rather buried, what do people think about the double absolution? Was this correct, leaving aside the (to me) obvious lack of proper occasion for general absolution?

[/quote]

It appears that the general absolution is proper if circumstances permit individual confession following (or perhaps the instructions regarding mortal sins and individual confession). By itself, I do not believe it is a valid absolution of mortal sin, and thus does a disservice to those who seek such absolution.


#13

[quote="Aelred_Minor, post:11, topic:308941"]
To draw this out since it got rather buried, what do people think about the double absolution? Was this correct, leaving aside the (to me) obvious lack of proper occasion for general absolution?

[/quote]

I think it was correct. General absolution requires an after-the-fact private confession anyway.


#14

catholicherald.com/stories/Straight-Answers-Is-General-Absolution-Allowed,6730

These types of absolutions are illicit and likely invalid. To knowingly participate in such services are grave sins. The bishop should be informed and I would see a different confessor asap to sort through this. it would be very easy to correct anything and it would give you peace of mind.


#15

[quote="YoungTradCath, post:13, topic:308941"]
I think it was correct. General absolution requires an after-the-fact private confession anyway.

[/quote]

I think that the main problem was a lack of teaching of the congregants. Fr. should have explained that only individual confession and absolution may remove mortal sin validly and licitly.

As well, I saw no reference to the examination of conscience.


#16

[quote="Aelred_Minor, post:1, topic:308941"]
I had my first, surprising experience of a communal reconciliation service with general absolution last night, and I thought I'd share what happened and see what people's thoughts are on the topic.

I arrived for my parish's usual Advent reconciliation service last night, a little before the start of the service at 7pm. This would be the first such service since our regular priest was reassigned and not replaced, and the first time reconciliation was offered in any way since June (hence my strong desire to participate).

The regular number of people had arrived: about a dozen out of a parish of several hundred. A single priest had arrived, rather than the usual two or three, and he was dressed in a violet cope with an ornate clasp.

The priest walked in front of the alter and introduced himself, expressing his pleasure at the excellent turnout (I'm not making this stuff up; he must have had past experiences with worse turnouts elsewhere) and explaining that we would be celebrating a communal reconciliation service with a general absolution. He went on to give a history of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, "that we used to call the Sacrament of Penance", which as far as I could tell was accurate but misleading. He then gave an apologia for the use of general absolution. His essential point was that one of the two circumstances in which the Church allows general absolution is in the case of a shortage of priests. Since we've been hearing that we have a shortage of priests since the 1970's, he had been offering general absolution all this time. He mentioned that some fellow priests disapprove of what he does, to which he gives the reply "if the Church doesn't like what I do, it should change the law." He wrapped up this part by saying that if anyone had sins that they felt were so serious that they needed "to be brought into the public forum, so to speak" he would stay after the service to hear those individual confessions.

There's no space to describe the rest of the service in detail. There was a homily of sorts on sin (better than I had expected, though it would have been improved by the use of such terms as "mortal" and "venial"), a long responsive reflection on different kinds of sins, a cheesy song played on a boom-box, an Our Father and Hail Mary, and part of a Compline service. Then, after enough time had probably past for all our individual confessions to have been heard, he asked if we were sorry for all the sins of our lives, and we responded "yes" or "I am" or something along those lines. Then he gave general absolution, followed by (not preceded by) an act of contrition that we were to say silently in our heads. No penance was given, though I perhaps that is typical of general absolution.

After this most people left, but I and three others stayed behind. I was going to get my individual confession if I could, especially since it's unlikely I'll have another chance until Lent. I thanked the priest for offering this, and he responded that he would not, of course, force any form of the sacrament on anyone. The rest of the confession proceeded as normal, except that at the end the priest said, with what I thought was a tone of sarcasm (I hope I imagined it), "so those are the sins you felt you needed to bring into the public forum?" I just said "yes", and he gave me an individual absolution and a penance (do something nice for my family).

I'd be interested in people's thoughts on this whole episode, including whether you have experienced anything similar. In particular, I have questions about the double absolution.

Not knowing whether individual absolution or only confession of absolved sins would be offered afterwards, I intended the general absolution to apply to the sins I was about to confess. When I did confess those sins, it was only those I'd had in mind before, and I did not know whether another absolution would be given. In fact it was given, for sins that I assume were already forgiven. Is this standard practice after a penitent confesses sins already forgiven through general absolution? Might the second absolution even have been objectively sacrilegious, since it was not to absolve any new sin (the only new sin I was aware of was lack of due charity to the priest, and I could hardly confess that to him)? My intention during the second absolution was that it absolve me if for whatever reason the general absolution had been invalid. I can't say what the priest's intention was, of course.

[/quote]

You are O.K.. The " second absolution " was valid but I wonder about the first!! Pretty sad. :thumbsup:


#17

[quote="Windmill, post:14, topic:308941"]
catholicherald.com/stories/Straight-Answers-Is-General-Absolution-Allowed,6730

These types of absolutions are illicit and likely invalid. To knowingly participate in such services are grave sins. The bishop should be informed and I would see a different confessor asap to sort through this. it would be very easy to correct anything and it would give you peace of mind.

[/quote]

Well this is a rather extreme statement. Certainly there seem to be grounds to doubt the licitness of the general absolution, at least if the bishop did not approve it (if he did, then that's a difficult question: perhaps licit on the part of the priest but not on the part of the bishop?).

Why specifically do you say that (unless I misunderstand you) both absolutions were illicit rather than only the first, and why in any case would either be invalid?

Also why would a layperson, showing up to his only opportunity for confession in months and for months in the future, be guilty of a mortal sin for participating? Recall that I was uncertain whether the priest would give individual absolutions afterwards. Were general absolution the only option one had for months before and after, even if this was only due to disobedient clergy, then surely it was something to accept rather than refraining from the sacrament entirely, right?

There is no other confessor I could easily see until the Lent reconciliation service to sort this out, unless perhaps we are assigned a pastor between now and then. My transportation options do not allow me to easily get to any other parish.


#18

What I find the most interesting is that there is somewhere in New York State where there has been no access to confession since June, and that no access is expected again until Lent. Perhaps this is a scheduling issue with work and confession schedules? I would feel quite abandoned if there were literally no confessions available around me, even if I were to drive a bit, so that I would find myself unable to access the sacrament for long periods. :frowning:


#19

[quote="Pug, post:18, topic:308941"]
What I find the most interesting is that there is somewhere in New York State where there has been no access to confession since June, and that no access is expected again until Lent. Perhaps this is a scheduling issue with work and confession schedules? I would feel quite abandoned if there were literally no confessions available around me, even if I were to drive a bit, so that I would find myself unable to access the sacrament for long periods. :(

[/quote]

Since June there has been no pastor assigned to this rural parish, nor to the nearby (by local standards) sister parish that used to share a priest with us. I don't drive and while there is some public transportation around the county, this does not go to any place with a priest. I could try and arrange something in which my non-Catholic parents a half-hour's drive away would pick me up and bring me somewhere for confession, but this would be incredibly awkward. Possibly I'll have to work up the courage to try it if it looks like there will be no confession available between Lent and next Advent. That would be a heck of a long time to go without confession.

Once recently we had to have a liturgical celebration in the absence of a priest, but other than that priests have come from around the diocese and once from a neighboring one to provide Sunday masses. It's a different one nearly every week. They show up, and have to leave immediately to get to mass at the sister parish. Weekday masses and confession have been canceled until such time as we are assigned a priest. Fortunately the laypeople have stepped up and are arranging for Adoration once a month, starting next month, to try and fill the spiritual gap as well as we can.


#20

[quote="Aelred_Minor, post:19, topic:308941"]
Since June there has been no pastor assigned to this rural parish, nor to the nearby (by local standards) sister parish that used to share a priest with us. I don't drive and while there is some public transportation around the county, this does not go to any place with a priest. I could try and arrange something in which my non-Catholic parents a half-hour's drive away would pick me up and bring me somewhere for confession, but this would be incredibly awkward. Possibly I'll have to work up the courage to try it if it looks like there will be no confession available between Lent and next Advent. That would be a heck of a long time to go without confession.

Once recently we had to have a liturgical celebration in the absence of a priest, but other than that priests have come from around the diocese and once from a neighboring one to provide Sunday masses. It's a different one nearly every week. They show up, and have to leave immediately to get to mass at the sister parish. Weekday masses and confession have been canceled until such time as we are assigned a priest. Fortunately the laypeople have stepped up and are arranging for Adoration once a month, starting next month, to try and fill the spiritual gap as well as we can.

[/quote]

Oh, yes, the person tied to public transportation is up the proverbial creek in this country. I feel your pain on that. Especially if they have special transportation needs (wheelchair for example). Friends with cars are essential but there are only so many markers you can call in within a certain time period. I think I would call in a marker if it was going to be many months skipping communion because I needed to go to confession. But I say that in the freedom of owning a car. :o

Your diocese is able to dredge up a priest on Sunday every week, which not all dioceses in this country can do. One visit every two months for confession on some other day of the week seems plausible. I suppose I may not be grasping the emptiness of rural NY, though. If it takes a drive of 2 hours to get anyone there, I see why they are having trouble.

I'm glad you folks will have adoration! Maybe June will see the problem fixed, right after they ordain a new crop and reassign people. :bounce:


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