RP 31: Form III, General Absolution

mary-the-penitent.jpgLiturgists refer to it as “Form III.” It’s popularly known as “General Absolution,” but the full title of this form is “RITE FOR RECONCILIATION OF PENITENTS WITH GENERAL CONFESSION AND ABSOLUTION” 

First, the Church reiterates its teaching on “complete” confession:

31. An individual, complete confession and the receiving of absolution remain the only ordinary way for the faithful to obtain reconciliation with God and the Church, unless physical or moral impossibility excuses from this kind of confession.

Then it lays the groundwork for an extraordinary form, so to speak:

Special, occasional circumstances may render it lawful and even necessary to give general absolution to a number of penitents without their previous individual confession.

There are conditions beyond “danger of death” in which form II was envisioned for use:

In addition to the case of danger of death, general absolution for many of the faithful who have only confessed generically, but have been rightly disposed for penance, is lawful if there is a serious need. This means a case in which, given the number of penitents, not enough confessors are available to hear the individual confessions properly within a reasonable time, with the result that, through no fault of their own, the faithful would be forced to be for a long time without the grace of the sacrament or without communion. Such a situation may occur in mission lands particularly, but in other places as well and in groups of people to whom the serious need mentioned clearly applies.

When confessors can be made available, however, the procedure is not lawful solely on the basis of a large number of penitents, for example, at some great festival or pilgrimage. [SCDF, Pastoral Norms for General Absolution, 16 June 1972, Norm III.]

At present the Church and its confessors are not equipped for any return to monthly celebration of form I. In my parish of 7,000 members, if you took churchgoers alone and posited a three-minute monthly confession (which I think is pretty quick) for those of appropriate age, we’d be looking at twenty-five hours per week. Even divided up between our pastor and resident priest, that’s about as much time as they spend during the deanery’s “penance week” each Advent and Lent.

I don’t think that form III is the only solution, for we’ll see that the Church has held that with using this form an individual confession for serious sin is required later. The frequent point made about the laity’s supposed loss of a sense of sin is moot. The Church lacks the numbers of confessors for regular celebrations of the sacrament. The sinners who don’t show up to confess are merely masking the situation. If they came, we wouldn’t be ready. Not hardly.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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