Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Litany of Heresies #7

Claiming that the Sacrament of Penance is a communal healing for the ease of the penitent’s conscience, rather than the restoration of sanctifying grace and communion with God.

The true notion of sin was ignored for the duration of the RCIA instruction. There was no mention of sanctifying grace or the necessity of confession and penance subsequent to First Communion. The sacrament was expressed in a variety of ways, usually revolving around the need for a healing between the penitent and the Church community, with the priest acting as its representative. Even now, approaching the Easter Vigil, there are members of the ___ catechumenate who feel that confession is unnecessary and that it is proper for them to continue confessing their sins “directly to God.” This is entirely contrary to the Catholic faith.

Considering that Christ instituted the Sacrament by bequeathing to His Apostles the authority to forgive and retain sin,[1] it is clear that confession has always been a requirement of Catholics since the founding of the Church.[2] The sacrament is required via dogmatic mandate from at least three ecumenical councils.

The Fourth Lateran Council states that:

All the faithful of both sexes shall after they have reached the age of discretion faithfully confess all their sins at least once a year to their own (parish) priest and perform to the best of their ability the penance imposed, receiving reverently at least at Easter the sacrament of the Eucharist, unless perchance at the advice of their own priest they may for a good reason abstain for a time from its reception; otherwise they shall be cut off from the Church (excommunicated) during life and deprived of Christian burial in death.[3]

This requirement was further clarified in the Fourteenth Session of the Council of Trent:

Penitence was in deed at all times neccessary, in order to attain to grace and justice, for all men who had defiled themselves by any mortal sin, even for those who begged to be washed by the sacrament of Baptism ; that so, their perverseness renounced and amended, they might, with a hatred of sin and a godly sorrow of mind, detest so great an offence of God. . .

By which action so signal, and words so clear, the consent of all the Fathers has ever understood, that the power of forgiving and retaining sins was communicated to the apostles and their lawful successors, for the reconciling of the faithful who have fallen after baptism. . .

From the institution of the sacrament of Penance as already explained, the universal Church has always understood, that the entire confession of sins was also instituted by the Lord, and is of divine right necessary for all who have fallen after baptism; because that our Lord Jesus Christ, when about to ascend from earth to heaven, left priests His own vicars, as presidents and judges, unto whom all the mortal crimes, into which the faithful of Christ may have fallen, should be carried, in order that, in accordance with the power of the keys, they may pronounce the sentence of forgiveness or retention of sins.

If any one denieth, that, for the entire and perfect remission of sins, there are required three acts in the penitent, which are as it were the matter of the sacrament of Penance, to wit, contrition, confession, and satisfaction, which are called the three parts of penance; or saith that there are two parts only of penance, to wit, the terrors with which the conscience is smitten upon being convinced of sin, and the faith, generated by the gospel, or by the absolution, whereby one believes that his sins are forgiven him through Christ; let him be anathema.

If any one saith, that, in the sacrament of Penance, it is not necessary, of divine right, for the remission of sins, to confess all and singular the mortal sins which after due and diligent previous meditation are remembered, even those (mortal sins) which are secret, and those which are opposed to the two last commandments of the Decalogue, as also the circumstances which change the species of a sin; but (saith) that such confession is only useful to instruct and console the penitent, and that it was of old only observed in order to impose a canonical satisfaction; or saith that they, who strive to confess all their sins, wish to leave nothing to the divine mercy to pardon ; or, finally, that it is not lawful to confess venial sins ; let him be anathema.

And also at the Council of Florence:

But if through sin we incur an illness of the soul, we are cured spiritually by penance.

The fourth sacrament is penance. Its matter is the acts of the penitent, which are threefold. The first is contrition of heart, which includes sorrow for sin committed, with the resolve not to sin again. The second is oral confession, which implies integral confession to the priest of all sins that are remembered. The third is satisfaction for sins in accordance with the judgment of the priest which is ordinarily done by prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Pope John Paul II noted the lack of clear teaching on the necessity of confession and was dismayed. From his very first encyclical[9] and throughout the entirety of his pontificate, His Holiness constantly preached the need for confession for the remission of sins.

Individual and integral confession and absolution are the sole ordinary means by which the faithful, conscious of grave sin, are reconciled with God and the Church; only physical or moral impossibility excuses from such confession, in which case reconciliation can be obtained in other ways.[10]

The individual and integral confession of sins with individual absolution constitutes the only ordinary way in which the faithful who are conscious of serious sin are reconciled with God and with the church. From this confirmation of the church's teaching it is clear that every serious sin must always be stated, with its determining circumstances, in an individual confession.

For the sacrament of confession is indeed being undermined, on the one hand by the obscuring of the mortal and religious conscience, the lessening of a sense of sin, the distortion of the concept of repentance and the lack of effort to live an authentically Christian life. And on the other hand, it is being undermined by the sometimes widespread idea that one can obtain forgiveness directly from God, even in a habitual way, without approaching the sacrament of reconciliation. A further negative influence is the routine of a sacramental practice sometimes lacking in fervor and real spontaneity, deriving perhaps from a mistaken and distorted idea of the effects of the sacrament.

The numerous statements made by instructors that sins may be confessed “directly to God” without the provision of sacramental absolution are therefore erroneous.

[1] John 20:23.
[2] The Didache 4:14; St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1:22; St. Ambrose, On Penance 1:1; Pope Leo I, Epistle 108; St. John Chrystostom, On the Priesthood 3:5
[3] Fourth Lateran Council, Canon XXI.
[4] Council of Trent, Session XIV, Chapter I, On the Necessity, and on the Institution of the Sacrament of Penance.
[5] Id., Chapter V, On Confession.
[6] Id. at Canon IV.
[7] Id. at Canon VII.
[8] Council of Florence, Session VIII, Bull of Union with the Armenians.
[9] Pope John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis §20.
[10] Pope John Paul II, Motu Proprio Misericordia Dei.
[11] Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia.

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