Confession Lite

The Curt Jester discusses an important question today in his post Pick a sin, any sin. The title is a good parody of "Confession Lite" where a priest invites the congregation at a Communal Penance service to go to an individual priest but says that people only need to confess one sin.

The website of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops gave a good short answer to this one. The text reads:
[Question] When the Reconciliation of Several Penitents is celebrated, is it allowable for each penitent to confess just one sin?

[Answer] No. In recent years the practice has grown in which, in consideration of a large number of penitents, each penitent is asked to approach a priest and confess only one sin. Such a practice does not allow for an integral confession as required by the Rite of Penance. In order for a valid confession to take place, a full and integral confession must be provided for in every instance. Canon 988 §1 refers to the obligation to confess all serious sins in “kind and in number.”
Jeff also mentions the question of General Absolution. In this connection, it is worth recalling that it is the defined doctrine of the Council of Trent that the three acts of the penitent: confession, contrition and satisfaction are essential to the sacrament. The Church simply does not have the power to dispense from one of these. In the case of General Absolution, the obligation to confess any mortal sins remains. This is made quite clear in the preamble to the new rite of Penance:
Those for whom grave sins are remitted by general absolution should go to auricular confession before they receive another absolution of this sort unless they are impeded by a just cause. Unless impeded by a moral impossibility, they are entirely obliged to go to confession within the year. For the precept is also in force for them, by which all the Christian faithful must confess alone, to the priest, once a year, all their sins (that is, grave sins) which have not yet been singly confessed. (Ordo Paenitentiae 1974 Praenotanda n.34)
The easiest way to understand what is going on in General Absolution is to think of it as an alteration in the order in which the essential parts of the sacrament are celebrated. In the ancient celebration of public Penance, the order was
Confession (and contrition)
Penance (or "satisfaction")
In private confession which developed from the missionary activity of the Celtic monks, the order was (and still is)
Confession (and contrition)
In General Absolution, the order is
(contrition and) Absolution
then - when possible - Confession
General Absolution was given by chaplains during the first World War before a battle in which it was very likely that a large number would be killed. That was appropriate. The occasion of a Penance Service and "Oh my, aren't there a lot of you today!" is not. Rome has spoken on this. The case should be finished. Sadly it is not.

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