Earlier in the document, John Paul II wrote in detail about the categorization of sin into venial and grave. Long explanations, plus a brief consideration of a third intermediate category. Consult section 17 if needed.
What about those venial sins? How important is it for a penitent to mention these acts in the celebration of the sacrament?
We shall also do well to recall that, for a balanced spiritual and pastoral orientation in this regard, great importance must continue to be given to teaching the faithful also to make use of the sacrament of penance for venial sins alone, as is borne out by a centuries-old doctrinal tradition and practice.
Well, we know venial sins are forgiven in other ways liturgically and spiritually. For people without regular access to a confessor, the centuries-old tradition is only occasionally possible, and for many Christians in history, such centuries were unknown–and not only in the first millennium.
Though the church knows and teaches that venial sins are forgiven in other ways too-for instance, by acts of sorrow, works of charity, prayer, penitential rites-she does not cease to remind everyone of the special usefulness of the sacramental moment for these sins too. The frequent use of the sacrament-to which some categories of the faithful are in fact held-strengthens the awareness that even minor sins offend God and harm the church, the body of Christ. Its celebration then becomes for the faithful “the occasion and the incentive to conform themselves more closely to Christ and to make themselves more docile to the voice of the Spirit.”(Order of Penance, 7b) Above all it should be emphasized that the grace proper to the sacramental celebration has a great remedial power and helps to remove the very roots of sin.
While this is all very true, the fact remains that other avenues might be fruitfully explored. That they have not been explored is part of the difficulty of the post-conciliar celebration of Penance. Not because reform happened. But possibly because it wasn’t sufficiently visionary.
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