Sunday, December 18, 2005

Unfinished ideas to tie up

I've got a lot of good starts on ideas I would like to finished up sometime. To to recap:

  • The argument for the existence of God
  • The whole business of the love of God
  • The taxonomy of conservatives
  • The liturgical hierarchy of needs
Unfortunately, I'm too far behind on my work to handle these at the moment. Yet I would like to a little investigation regarding Confession. I asked some friends whether a line of would-be penitents who did not have enough time to confess their sins would have to abstain from Communion, in spite of the fact that they had a clear intention of confessing, and could be offered Communion immediately following Mass. The general response was that they would have to abstain, except in cases of dire emergency, in which case they could be given Communion after Mass when they confessed.

This leads to two other issues, which maybe I'll consider later--first, what shape the liturgy involved in Reconciliation would take when combined with a sort of "Communion service"; and second, how to prepare Catholics via catechesis and preaching to willingly abstain from Communion at Mass in spite of psychological and cultural pressures to the contrary.

But first I want to research the question of whether it would be necessary for them to abstain in the first place. First we'll start where any good bishop would start: the Catechism. (Personal note: I'm very proud of my highly abused-looking Catechism, complete with mildly torn or detached pages, dozens undone-dogears, and coffee stains). #1385 is very clear: "Anyone conscious of grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion."

A consideration of any exceptions, of course, would have to stem from the Church's teaching on perfect contrition, to be found in #1452-1453: "When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is caled "perfect" (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible." Contrary to 'imperfect contrition', "born of a consideration of sin's ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner (contrition of fear). Such a stirring of conscience can initiate an interior process which, under the prompting of grace, will be brought to completion by sacramental absolution. By itself, however, imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins, but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance."

Now, I'm going to be doing some linguistic hair-splitting, but I do so with the strict disclaimer that the Catechism, and moreso the English translation, has imprecisions and ambiguities that immediately hurt the credibility of analytic legalism.

Say a person has committed mortal sin, and for reasons out of his control has not has sacramental confession (i.e., he came, stood in line at the Confessional, but time ran out and he never got in). Whether this person could receive communion would be dependent on this one thing: whether he is conscious of grave sin. Now, I think we need to grant that, at least in some cases, a Catholic may be in a state in which he can not only make a perfect act of contrition, but also be fully and clearly aware that he has done so. In such cases, I think said Catholic would be blameless in receiving communion and going to confession at his first opportunity (i.e., asking the priest for confession immediately following the Mass, before he goes anywhere!)

However, before the sacrament of penance has taken place, knowledge of whether contrition is perfect or imperfect is accessible only to God, and sometimes to the Catholic. Moreover, perfect contrition seems to be difficult and rare; clear knowledge of it would be virtually impossible, since given the gravity of the stakes, a person would have to have no doubts that his perception of perfection contrition is not contaminated by any presumption.

Nevertheless, the Code of Canon Law appears to grant this possibility. "Can. 916 A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible."

Now, we have the "no opportunity to confess" thing down pat. No problem there. Yet what would constitute grave reason? One obvious case of a grave reason is when it concerns the priest himself. A country priest with no easy means to confess frequently cannot deny his parish the Mass because he is conscious of his own mortal sin. One concrete example is Blessed Damien of Molochai, the leper priest, who (if we believe the film) had to confess his sins in French to the bishop across boats because nobody would come near him.

Are there any such grave reasons for parishioners? If they are in no danger and can receive communion after Mass in the context of sacramental penance, I believe not. One may cite cultural pressures--I know that sometimes family members and others who are poorly taught can contemn those who remain sitting as being sanctimonious, and, in a wierd way, 'proud of their humility'. It's the same liberal disdain against those who genuflect before receiving communion, or who prefer attending the Ecclesia Dei Mass. Undoubtedly, sometimes people who abstain from communion can be sanctimonious about it--there is a temptation to preen oneself and think, "Hmph. I'll bet most people here are ignoring their mortal sin, unlike me." That's a sinful attitude which must be named and desperately avoided.

But that possibility is no excuse for those non-abstaining folks to be sanctimonious themselves. If people are afraid to abstain because they (correctly!) believe that others would look down on them, then perhaps a degree of guilt for the unworthy reception the Eucharist would be spread among all who fostered that stigma (especially the priest, if he did so). But it would not take it away fully from the person receiving under the cloud of mortal sin.

Since this is my blog, and is the one place I get to misbehave in writing, I'm going to do something obnoxious and quote myself: "The onus here is evidently on the priest, however, whose charism it is, not only to conduct and direct the liturgy, but also to help form his congregation in the virtues necessary to make the liturgy possible and fruitful."

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