RP 33-34: Form III, Penitents


The rite gives us important background to help the discussion on general absolution. The penitent has requirements, as we read:

33. With respect to the faithful, it is absolutely required for the reception of general sacramental absolution that they have the proper dispositions. This means that they repent individually of their sins, have the intention of refraining from them, are resolved to rectify scandal or injuries they may have caused, and intend to make an individual confession in due time of those serious sins they cannot at the present time confess. Priests are to take pains to instruct the faithful about these dispositions and conditions that are prerequisites for the sacrament to have its effect. [SCDF, Pastoral Norms for General Absolution, 16 June 1972, Norms VI and XI.]

Nothing here qualifies form III as an “emergency situation.” The penitent must approach form III with particular repentance for their sins, a desire to avoid these sins, and a resolution to make amends. Serious sin must be confessed directly. Venial sin is not mentioned. The rite is clear that these prerequisites are needed for the sacrament “to have its effect.”

34. Unless there is a good reason preventing it, those who receive pardon for serious sin through general absolution are to go to auricular confession before any further reception of general absolution. And unless a moral impossibility stands in the way, they are absolutely bound to go to a confessor within one year. For the precept binding every one of the faithful binds them as well, namely, to confess individually to a priest at least once a year all those grave sins not hitherto confessed one by one. [SCDF, Pastoral Norms for General Absolution, 16 June 1972, Norms VII and VIII.]

The framers of the modern Rite of Penance saw clearly that form III was not intended for serious sin. A valid question might be raised: is the form III liturgy adequate for bearing the gravity of the sacrament, even venial sin? I think the answer to that question impacts on the actual role of liturgy in form I. Form I survived for a long time in Catholic practice devoid of Scripture or much of liturgy. Does liturgy just lack the power? Is a better penance liturgy part of the answer for a return to a pre-conciliar sense of the practice?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to RP 33-34: Form III, Penitents

  1. John Heavrin says:

    ‘Nothing here qualifies form III as an “emergency situation.”’

    Nothing? How about the part requiring a penitent to go confession for “serious” sins? Does that mean the general absolution is contingent with regard to those serious sins? That, if the person never manages to get to confession, those sins are retrospectively not covered by the general absolution? If it doesn’t mean that, then what does it mean to say that confession is required for serious sins? Sounds to me like, unless it’s an emergency, you still need to go to confession if you’ve committed a serious sin.

    A good sincere Act of Contrition, a worthy reception of Holy Communion, even making the sign of the Cross with holy water: all of these will remit venial sins. That’s what this Form III sounds like. That, and a desire to manufacture some sort of communal experience for what is essentially an individual reality: the penitent acknowledging his sin, repenting of it, turning to the Lord and confessing, receiving absolution, and doing penance. The act of going to the priest, rather than simply “telling God I’m sorry” is the communal and the ecclesial dimension, and it doesn’t require a communal service beforehand. Unless, again, there is an emergency situation such as a danger of imminent death, when the penitent will never have the chance to do, therefore cannot be required to do, that which even Form III explicitly requires, an individual confession.

    “Is a better penance liturgy part of the answer for a return to a pre-conciliar sense of the practice?”

    Perhaps for some it would help; almost anything anybody anywhere could think of would probably help somebody in some way. But generally speaking, forcing an individual reality such as contrition and confession into a communal setting is not the answer, in my view. That is a post-conciliar mindset, and I fail to see how it could succeed in producing a “pre-conciliar sense” of anything.

    And I’m rather surprised you seem to desire this, as you’ve earlier described the “pre-concilar sense” of confession as defective.

  2. Todd says:

    “a desire to manufacture some sort of communal experience for what is essentially an individual reality”

    That would seem to be moving against Church teaching on the meaning and nature of sin as we’ve read for the other forms of Penance. Are you reading along, John, or just reacting when something rubs you the wrong way?

  3. Darwin says:

    The document has certainly underlined that the communal need of the faithful to receive forgiveness for their sins mirrors the fact that sin affects all of us in the body of Christ. However, it seems like perhaps what one chose to do do reflect this might to some extent be affected by the spirit of the age.

    If the stuff that I’ve read is accurate, in the early church, which has a pretty severe spirit at times, extended public penance and even public confession sins was used to reflect that reality. While not questioning the early Church’s understanding that sin affected the entire community, one might question whether their liturgical reflection of that was actually a good idea. (From what I’ve read, the severity sometimes served to cause people to avoid the sacrament and simply seek absolution right before death.)

    Similarly, I think one might legitimately question whether the creation of Form II and Form III was really the best choice for the sacrament, or perhaps was more of an experiment motivated by a desire to create a more visually communal experience of the sacrament.

  4. sacerdos says:


    I apologize. I should have read this post before posting to another post. Nevertheless, whatever we can make of the Fathers’ intentions with regard to highlighting the communal implications of sin and also the communal nature of reconciliation, I think we can all agree that in practice, we have (even when not employing form III) emphasized community and de-emphasized sin to the degree that very few folks actually go to confession anymore.

    A quick summary of my thoughts on this topic is that if its not broke, don’t fix it.

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