Physical presence in confession

Is a physical presence essential for the sacraments to take place?

Please only answer if you have sources

Primarily concerning confession. The matter are the sins, contrition, and penance. the form is absolution. Aquinas mentions the following:

Thus the imposition of hands are not essential. Considering essential elements, do the priest and penitent need to be proximate to each other for the sacrament to take place? Is a physical/moral presence under the authority of the binding and loosing authority of the Church, or is it something essential for the sacrament to take place?

Latin Canon Law (CIC)

Can. 960 Individual and integral confession and absolution constitute the only ordinary means by which a member of the faithful conscious of grave sin is reconciled with God and the Church. Only physical or moral impossibility excuses from confession of this type; in such a case reconciliation can be obtained by other means.


This demonstrates the danger of taking snippets and attempting to divine one’s own doctrine. When isolated from the entirety of the document, and context is lost, we see how easily we become confused. Church fathers - even doctors of the Church, are neither Pope nor council.

Questions to ponder: Do we have an authoritative Church? Canon law? Does it have power on earth and in heaven?

Yes to all three.


Christ is not confined or limited by physical proximity. I have never found a spiritual or supernatural reason to prohibit the sacrament from being performed over the phone or other remote means of communication.

I believe the Church’s requirements are based upon natural considerations such as; privacy, preventing 800/con-fess, and the like.

Christ isn’t limited to His priests either. By that logic we don’t need them either.

Christ may not be limited, but His Sacraments are limited insofar as to what they do and require to be valid what He prescribed. Baptism must use water. A penitent must be at least somewhat close to the priest to receive absolution.


True that Christ is not limited in any way. He doesn’t need priests to forgive sins.

A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ. The Church defines the requirements which include matter and form. The matter and form can be achieved without physical constraints. The other requirements are based upon natural concerns.

What? There most certainly are physical constraints. The Church does not define the matter and form. The Church could not change the matter of baptism to be maple syrup or sand. Christ used water, Christ prescribed water, so the Church must use water.


Whether Christ or the Church defined the matter and form is merely semantics. They are the same. The matter is the sins. The form is the words of absolution. Neither require that the priest and penitent are in close proximity.

It’s not semantics. For one, the Church is not Christ. Christ established the Church. Christ instituted the Sacraments. Not the Church. There are things the Church can and cannot change, and the matter and form of a Sacrament are two such things. It cannot change the form and matter no more than it can declare murder to no longer be a sin.


The Church is the living continuance of Christ on earth.

The sacrament cannot be validly performed over the phone because the Church/Christ does not allow it. I speculate the reason is natural not supernatural.

The priest in the video is using the word matter by secular definition, not in terms as it relates to sacraments.

The Church is the body and bride of Christ. It is not Christ.

Are you saying Fr. Mike Schmitz doesn’t know what he’s talking about? That he doesn’t know as basic a concept as matter in relation to the Sacraments? The matter for baptism is water. The matter for confirmation is chrism. The matter for the Eucharist is wine and bread. The Sacraments do not separate the physical and the spiritual. Rather, God interacts with us through the physical. We can see this at Mass: sacred images for the eyes, sacred music for the ears, incense for the nose, the Eucharist for taste, etc. Even Christ Himself dispensed blessings and grace as a human with a physical body. The matter isn’t because Christ needs it. The matter is there for us.


We are not in total disagreement. The Church is many things. You seem to claim that the body of Christ is not Christ.

I am not saying that Fr. doesn’t know what he is talking about. He used the word matter and tapped his own chest, indicating that he is matter. That is in accordance with a secular definition. When the Church speaks of sacramental requirements of matter and form, She means something different.

And what of his explanation afterwards? Is physical matter not important? Is physical presence not important to the Sacraments? If so, why do we bother to show up to Mass then? Why do we bother telling people to get water poured over their head for baptism? Can I be married to someone I’ve only ever interacted with online and never see in person?

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The discussion is devolving to straw man arguments. Mass, Baptism and online dating are off topic.

Physical presence during confession is important because the Church requires it.

I’m mentioning it because it seems to you that physical presence is important in those Sacraments, but not confession.

Where in the New Testament did Jesus ever forgive the sins of someone not physically there? Where did He say the words “Your sins are forgiven” for someone not present?

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He probably did not forgive a person’s sins remotely, although he could, because the matter was not present. The matter being the confessed sins.

Something you might also find interesting in listing only the confessed sins as the matter of the Sacrament:

“The Council of Trent (Sess. XIV, c. 3) declares: “the acts of the penitent, namely contrition, confession, and satisfaction, are the quasi materia of this sacrament”. The Roman Catechismused in 1913 (II, v, 13) says: “These actions are called by the Council quasi materia not because they have not the nature of true matter, but because they are not the sort of matter which is employed externally as water in baptism and chrism in confirmation”.”

So there appears to be more to the Sacrament than just confessed sins. And this makes sense, of course, given that if a penitent has no contrition, the confession is invalid, and if a penitent deliberately does not confess a mortal sin, the confession is valid and the sin of sacrilege is incurred.

You are right. I referred the confession as the matter because it is outoud and therefore tangible.

Alright, next question. Is there a difference between absolution and forgiveness?

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Forgiveness (Modern Catholic Dictionary)

Pardon or remission of an offense. The Catholic Church believes that sins forgiven are actually removed from the soul (John 20) and not merely covered over by the merits of Christ. Only God can forgive sins.

Absolution (Modern Catholic Dictionary)

In the sacrament of penance, the act by which a qualified priest, having the necessary jurisdiction, remits the guilt and penalty due to sin.

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