The final section of the introduction to the Rite of Penance details “Adaptations of the Rite to Various Regions and Circumstances”
First, some adaptations are within the purview of national conferences, upon confirmation of Rome:
38. In preparing particular rituals, the conferences of bishops have the authority to adapt the rite of penance to the needs of individual regions so that, after confirmation of the conference’s decisions by the Apostolic See, the rituals may be used in the respective regions. It is the responsibility of the conferences of bishops in this matter:
a. to establish regulations for the discipline of the sacrament of penance, particularly those affecting the ministry of priests and the reservation of sins;
b. to determine more precisely regulations about the place proper for the ordinary celebration of the sacrament of penance and about the signs of repentance to be shown by the faithful before general absolution (see no. 35);
c. to prepare translations of texts adapted to the character and language of each people; also to compose new texts of prayers for use by the faithful and the minister, keeping the essential sacramental formulary intact.
This last one interests me. Does it still hold, given the retraction of compositions in the vernacular from the liturgy by the present CDWDS? Can one say the old prayers are sufficient, if they haven’t been in the past forty to fifty years?
Bishops have duties, too:
39. It is for the diocesan bishop:
a. to regulate the discipline of penance in his diocese, [See Lumen Gentium 26.] even to the extent of adapting the rite according to the rules proposed by the conference of bishops;
b. to determine, after consultation with the other members of the conference of bishops, when general sacramental absolution may be permitted under the conditions laid down by the Holy See. [See SCDF, Pastoral Norms for General Absolution, Norm V.]
And 39b, as has been noted before, has been taken back from the diocesan bishop and reserved to Rome.
Section 40 tells what the pastor may do in terms of adaptation:
40. It is for priests, and especially parish priests (pastors):
a. in celebrating reconciliation with individuals or with a community, to adapt the rite to the concrete circumstances of the penitents. They must preserve the essential structure and the entire form of absolution, but if necessary they may omit some parts of the rite for pastoral reasons or enlarge upon them, may select the texts of readings or prayers, and may choose a place more suitable for the celebration according to the regulations of the conference of bishops, so that the entire celebration may be enriching and effective;
This presupposes a liturgical sensibility and a spiritual awareness of the community, It goes a little bit beyond “What worked last year” or “What I did in my last parish.” It presumes that a community weak in Scripture would be urged forward to discern how to use the Word of God to develop a conscience. It presumes that a pastor plays to a community’s strengths to assist the effectiveness of the sacrament: music or preaching or other liturgical aspects.
I know that the dreaded “group penance” is much-derided among some Catholics. It’s not a favorite of mine, particularly. But given its mention for use in form III, I could see a thoughtful penance given to a parish community that might indeed enrich the sacramental experience. In theory, at least.
b. to schedule and prepare occasional penitential services during the year, especially in Lent.
Note that the rite says “especially” not “only.”
In order that the texts chosen and the order of the celebration may be adapted to the conditions and circumstances of the community or group (for example, children, sick persons, etc.), priests may be assisted by others, including the laity;
Again, this presumes a high level of liturgical and spiritual awareness in a parish’s laity.
c. to decide to give general sacramental absolution preceded by only a generic confession, when a grave need not provided for by the diocesan bishop arises and when recourse to him is not possible. They are obliged to notify the Ordinary as soon as possible of such a need and of the fact that absolution was given.
And of course, this last point is rather moot. These days, parish clergy are not likely to inform the diocesan bishop.
That finishes up the introduction. Any parting comments?