When Pope John Paul II writes of the Forms of Celebration in section number 32, he has his first intent on the pastoral situation. He stresses what people need, not what clergy want to do. That orientation is important to keep in mind as we delve into the discussion. This is especially true if we want to understand why the Church clamped down on form III in the early 1980s. Let’s not forget that many advocates of what we often term “general absolution” also have an honest pastoral ministry in mind.
32. Following the suggestions of the Second Vatican Council, the Ordo Paenitentiae provided three rites which, while always keeping intact the essential elements, make it possible to adapt the celebration of the sacrament of penance to particular pastoral circumstances.
A basic summary of the three forms of the modern Rite of Penance:
The first form-reconciliation of individual penitents is the only normal and ordinary way of celebrating the sacrament, and it cannot and must not be allowed to fall into disuse or be neglected. The second form-reconciliation of a number of penitents with individual confession and absolution-even though in the preparatory acts it helps to give greater emphasis to the community aspects of the sacrament, is the same as the first form in the culminating sacramental act, namely individual confession and individual absolution of sins. It can thus be regarded as equal to the first form as regards the normality of the rite. The third form however- reconciliation of a number of penitents with general confession and absolution-is exceptional in character. It is therefore not left to free choice but is regulated by a special discipline.
Echoes of the current discussions over the Roman Missal. Not exactly the same stuff, but a situation not lacking in many sincere devotees.
When described here as “exceptional,” we can ask: are today’s circumstances satisfactorily in a kind of ordinary character, or are new approaches needed? Has trust returned to male, ordained confessors? Does sacramental practice evolve to address emerging needs?
This document is Copyright © 1984 – Libreria Editrice Vatican. The link on the Vatican site is here.
I would suggest that circumstances in that regard haven’t changed materially. I suspect you overestimate the difference between past and present circumstances. Catholics today are more like Catholics for much of the Church’s history.
It’s been my premise in this series that Pope John Paul II overestimated or misdiagnosed a lack of a sense of sin. We haven’t lost what we never had in fullness. So I can see your point.
On the other hand, considering the action of God’s grace, any form of the Rite has unlimited potential for accomplishing the purpose. Even form I can descend into a certain magicalism. The real effectiveness of any rite, and form, is not in particular situations where sins and absolution were heard in turn, but in a growing sanctity in the faithful. I wouldn’t discount the ability of form III to accomplish this. But JP2 would. In this soft science, neither of us has proof. But I don’t feel I need it–I’d prefer the openness to grace above some institutional statement of surety.
And the situation for today’s Catholics … but for the First World, I was thinking more of the deeper suspicion given to patriarchy and institutions. Not just women’s suffrage, women’s lib, and women’s ordination movements, but the increasing awareness of a callous disregard for the 99% by the aristocracy, probably going back two centuries. But I’m no sociologist, so I have nothing more to say other than nodding in partial assent to you and JP2 and keeping my senses awake in pastoral ministry.
I know Form III is one of your pet hobby horses. What was specially more reliably fruitful about it as compared to Form II (Over time, your comments concentrate on the negatives of the clamp-down on Form III without much detailed discussion of what was lost – understanding that individual confession with a priest being still being required in either Form for anyone with grave sin to confess and the proximate time to do so, but perhaps less easy to neglect in Form II.)
I never experienced Form III as such, as I never was in an emergency situation where it it would have come to mind to seek it. My experiences with Form II have been decidedly mixed due to unfortunate creative migration from the form on a few occasions. I’ve had occasional unfortunate experience with Form I in the more distant past, but the one-on-one nature of it allowed me space to deal with that immediately, whereas the group dynamic of Form II (including the ruddering of creativity-by-liturgy committee) made it much harder to address in real time without being disruptive to others.
PS: To be clear, I am only talking about Form II vs Form III in the forms they have existed and practiced. I am not talking about future evolution of forms designed for specific situations that are invite more than the general forms, whether being a form of the sacrament of penance properly speaking, or a sacramental flowing into and/or from it.
Good comments. I’ll sprinkle mine through the coming week and mop up with something in a few days.