THE Vatican has sent a “circular letter” to Australia’s bishops outlining the importance of individual confession and absolution in administering the Sacrament of Penance.
The letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments emphasises that “individual and integral confession and absolution” is “the sole, ordinary means by which (a person) conscious of mortal sin is reconciled with God and the Church”.
“Physical and moral impossibility alone excuses from such confession,” the congregation says in the letter on “the integrity of the Sacrament of Penance”.
The letter is dated March 21 but was released to The Catholic Leader in early May. It follows the bishops’ meeting with Vatican dicasteries during their ad limina visit to Rome in 1998, where the seasonal use in Australia of penitential rites and absolution without individual confession was an issue.
The letter says that “with respect to the administration of general absolution, the exclusive authority enjoyed by diocesan bishops to decide whether a grave necessity is truly present in a given case in their diocese does not permit them to change the required conditions, to substitute other conditions for those given or to determine grave necessity according to their personal criteria however worthy”.
Priests are called on to ensure there is “regular and frequent opportunities for individual and integral confession of sins in all parish churches and in so far as possible in other pastoral centres”.
The use of penitential celebrations during Mass is also ruled out. “Neither the Rite of Reconciliation of several penitents with individual confession and absolution, nor the aforementioned penitential celebrations may be integrated into the celebration of the Mass,” the letter says.
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