Sacramentum Caritatis 21: Pastoral Concerns

One would expect bishops to double down on the tried and true where Reconciliation is concerned. Pope Benedict devotes some attention to Some pastoral concerns. These include the usual suspects: forms and place for the sacrament, catechesis for it, and indulgences. Let’s read:

21. The Synod recalled that Bishops have the pastoral duty of promoting within their Dioceses a reinvigorated catechesis on the conversion born of the Eucharist, and of encouraging frequent confession among the faithful.

If people aren’t going to confession, is it really a failure of catechesis? The suggestion that believers can be “educated” into orthopraxis is easy to repeat, but is it really the route ahead? I have doubts.

A Church with fewer priests and more sacramental penitents would dramatically alter the workload of many clergy, especially the ones serving large parishes. A colleague once lamented few confessions. I pointed out his ideal of monthly celebration for three thousand eligible parishioners meant about a hundred a day. Two or three minutes each meant four hours, about half a workday. It would be worthwhile for serious Catholics, but would he be ready for that level of generosity and commitment? Maybe it turned out to be an occasion of sin for him–wishing his people didn’t swarm his confessional.

Pope Benedict also counseled competency:

All priests should dedicate themselves with generosity, commitment and competency to administering the sacrament of Reconciliation. (Cf. Propositio 7)


In this regard, it is important that the confessionals in our churches should be clearly visible expressions of the importance of this sacrament.

In a few parishes where I served, well-appointed reconciliation chapels were easy to locate near the church entrance.

We have the oft-repeated caution against form III:

I ask pastors to be vigilant with regard to the celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation, and to limit the practice of general absolution exclusively to the cases permitted, (Cf. John Paul II, Motu Proprio Misericordia Dei (7 April 2002)) since individual absolution is the only form intended for ordinary use.

That said, there’s probably a wider place for the use of form III, even beyond the situation of a universal pandemic. Under the previous two popes, there was little interest in pursuing such avenues. And the caution against “cheap grace” is well taken.

(Together with the Synod Fathers I wish to note that the non-sacramental penitential services mentioned in the ritual of the sacrament of Reconciliation can be helpful for increasing the spirit of conversion and of communion in Christian communities, thereby preparing hearts for the celebration of the sacrament: cf. Propositio 7)

These liturgies of the Word are something to be considered, but many modern clergy across the ideological spectrum are skeptics when it comes to efforts that don’t “give” the people something. And many lay Catholics, too.

Given the need to rediscover sacramental forgiveness, there ought to be a Penitentiary in every Diocese. (Cf. Code of Canon Law 508)

Hyperlink mine. The canon reads:

508 §1. By virtue of office, the canon penitentiary of a cathedral church and of a collegial church has the ordinary faculty, which he cannot delegate to others, of absolving in the sacramental forum outsiders within the diocese and members of the diocese even outside the territory of the diocese from undeclared latae sentential censures not reserved to the Apostolic See.

§2. Where there is no chapter, the diocesan bishop is to appoint a priest to fulfill the same function.

And everyone’s favorite topic, indulgences:

Finally, a balanced and sound practice of gaining indulgences, whether for oneself or for the dead, can be helpful for a renewed appreciation of the relationship between the Eucharist and Reconciliation. By this means the faithful obtain “remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven.” (Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution Indulgentiarum Doctrina (1 January 1967), Norms, No. 1) The use of indulgences helps us to understand that by our efforts alone we would be incapable of making reparation for the wrong we have done, and that the sins of each individual harm the whole community. Furthermore, the practice of indulgences, which involves not only the doctrine of Christ’s infinite merits, but also that of the communion of the saints, reminds us “how closely we are united to each other in Christ … and how the supernatural life of each can help others.” (Ibid., 9) Since the conditions for gaining an indulgence include going to confession and receiving sacramental communion, this practice can effectively sustain the faithful on their journey of conversion and in rediscovering the centrality of the Eucharist in the Christian life.

Indulgences: it means overcoming a lot of misunderstanding and the popular perception that they contributed to disunity in the Church. Far deeper than the project of this blog post. Otherwise, comments?

This document is copyright © 2007 Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in post-conciliar catechetical documents, Sacramentum Caritatis. Bookmark the permalink.

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