SIX VOLUMES IN ONE
BY THE DISTINGUISHED EXPONENTS OF CATHOLICISM
REV. HENRY DODRIDGE, D. D.
REV. HENRY EDWARD MANNING, D. D.
REV. F. LEWIS, of Granada
REV. STEPHEN KEENAN
REV. BERNARD VAUGHAN, S. J.
REV. THOMAS N. BURKE, O. P.
A. Chiefly upon the following occasions, viz.: In danger of death: again, as often as we receive any of the sacraments, if we have not the convenience of confessing.
Q. Are we obliged to make so many distinct acts of contrition, according to the number of our sins ?
A. No; one true act of contrition extends to all, yet a diligent examen of every sin, is to be premised before we make our confession.
Q. What is confession, and how many sorts are there ?
A. Confession in general, is a declaration of a person's sins, which may be either general, or particular, public, or private, to God, or to man, by way of advice, or sacramental.
Q. What is sacramental confession ?
A. It is an accusation of our sins to a proper priest; that is to say, to a priest who is approved of by the bishop, etc., in order to receive absolution.
Q. Can you bring any Scripture, which recommends the confession of our sins to the ministers of God, and can you prove it to be commanded by Christ ?
A. In the first place, I can produce the precept of God in the Old Testament, where he expressly commands, that when a man or woman, shall commit any sin, that men commit, to do a trespass against the Lord, and that person be guilty, then they shall confess their sins, which they have done, etc.; Numbers v. 6, 7. Secondly, the example of the people, who hearkened to the preaching of St. John the Baptist, who were baptized by him, confessing their sins; St. Matt. iii. 6. Thirdly, the command of St. James, confess your sins one to another, chapter v. verse 16, that is, to the priests of the Church. Fourthly, the practice of the first Christians, many that believed came, and confessed, and declared their deeds, Acts, xix. 18. Now, as to. the command of Christ, for the confession of our sins to his ministers; I prove it from the commission which he gave to them, when he said to his Apostles, receive ye the Holy Ghost; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained; St. John xx. ver. 22, 23. Here he gave them, and their successors, viz.: The bishops and priests of his Church, commission or power to remit sin. Again, the Apostles and their successors, were made spiritual judges, by Christ our Lord, and had a power from him to bind and loose from sin, as we read in the 18th chapter of St. Matthew, verse 18. Amen, I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Here he made them judges and physicians of our souls: therefore it follows, by a necessary consequence, that the laity were obliged to confess their sins to them : for how could they exercise this power, and pronounce sentence, unless they first knew the state of the sinner's conscience, neither could they prescribe such remedies, and give such advice as was necessary for the penitent's cure, or amendment, unless they first knew the particular qualities and condition of the several sins the penitent commits, which cannot be without confession; so that we conclude with St. Augustine, that to pretend that it is enough to confess to God alone, is making void the power of the keys given to the Church, that is, contradicting the gospel, and making void the commission of Christ. Hom, xlix.; St. Matt. xvi. 19.
Q. Are Christians obliged to confess all their sins ?
A. Yes; all mortal sins that can be remembered after a diligent examen. Moreover, the penitent is to declare their number, species, and circumstances; not only the circumstances as alter the kind or nature of the sin, but also according to some divines, such as very much aggravate the guilt. Now, as to venial sins, there is no strict obligation to confess them; but if it be doubtful whether the sin be mortal or venial, he is to confess it under that doubt,
Q. By what rule shall a person be able to know whether his sins are mortal or venial ?
A. All those sins are to be esteemed mortal, which the word of God represents to us as hateful to God, against which it pronounces a wo, or of which it declares, that such as do those things shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Of these we have many instances, both in the Old and New Testament. See Isaiah v. Ezek. xviii. Romans i. 29, 30, 31. 1 Cor. vi. 9, 10. Galatians v. 19, 20, 21. Ephesians v. 5. Apoc. xxi. 8.
Q. In what cases is confession sacrilegious and void ?
A. If any mortal sin is wilfully omitted, or a diligent examen neglected, either as to number or species of the sins, or for want of a true sorrow for sin, or a firm purpose of amendment The confession is also invalid, if the priest to whom he made it, has not the necessary faculties and approbation. But, in case the penitent omits any sin, after a diligent examen, the confession is valid; however, if afterwards he calls to mind any sin he omitted, he is to confess it; if he remembers it before communion, it ought to be confessed before he goes to communion ; if he remember it after communion, he must confess it in his next confession.
Q. Is it a great sin to conceal, through shame or fear, any moral sin in confession ?
A. Yes; it is a grievous sin, because it is lying to the Holy Ghost, for which Annanias and Saphira were struck dead, by a just judgment of God; Acts v. James ii. 10. It is acting deceitfully with God, and that in a matter of the utmost consequence. It is a sacrilege, as being an abuse of the sacrament of penance, and is generally followed by another great sacrilege, in receiving unworthily the body and blood of Christ. And what is still more dreadful, such sinners seldom stop at the first bad confession, and communion but usually go on for a long time in these sins, and very often die in them. But, it is not only a great crime, but also, a great folly and madness to conceal one's sins, in confession; because, such offenders know very well that these sins must be confessed, or that they must burn for ever in the flames of hell for them ; and they cannot be ignorant, that these bad confessions, do but increase their burden, by adding to it the dreadful guilt of repeated sacrileges, which they will have far more difficulty of confessing, than these very sins of which they are now so much ashamed.
Q. But suppose the sinner has been so unfortunate as to make a bad confession, or perhaps a great many bad confessions; what must he do ta repair this fault, and to reinstate himself in God's grace ?
A. He must apply himself to God, by hearty prayer for his grace and mercy; and so prepare himself to make a general confession of all his sins, at least from the time he first made a bad confession ; because, all the confessions he has made, since he began to conceal his sins, were all sacrilegious; and consequently, null and void; and therefore, must be all repeated again.
Q. What observation do you make concerning the secrecy of confession, both in regard of the penitent and the confessor ?
A. In the first place, there is no obligation of a public confession of private sins. Again, we are not to discover other person's sins, but only our own. As to the confessor, he is obliged to perpetual secrecy, both by the law of nature, the law of God, and his Church ; so that whatever is declared in confession, the confessor can never discover it, either directly, or indirectly, to any one, upon any account whatsoever; nay, not even to save his own life. (See Deere. Inno. xi. 1682.) The violation of this secrecy, is punished with deposition and perpetual penance.
Q. Tell me now in short, how many, and what are the conditions necessary for the worthy receiving the sacrament of penance ?
A. There are five; first, to examine our consciences. Secondly, to conceive a hatred and detestation against sin, and a sorrow for having fallen into it, and incurred the displeasure and wrath of God. Thirdly, to make a firm resolution of sinning no more. Fourthly, to make a good confession of all our sins to a priest, who is approved by the Church. Fifthly, a resolution of making satisfaction to God and our neighbor, according to our ability.
Q. Who is the proper minister of penance, and qualified to hear confessions?
A. Only those, who are lawfully ordained to offer up the sacrifice of the mass, and have priest's orders.
Q. Has every priest power to absolve from sin ?
A. In answer to this, we are to observe, that there are two powers a priest is endowed with. One is a power of binding and loosing the soul, called the power of order: the other is a power, of exercising the power of binding and loosing, and is called the power of jurisdiction. The first power is given when a priest is ordained, and made capable of absolving : the other a priest does not receive, until subjects are allotted him, on whom he is to exercise that power, which is conferred upon him by the pope, bishop, or other prelates, who have jurisdiction. So that every priest has not the power of jurisdiction, and by consequence, every priest cannot absolve from sin. How much therefore does it behove all penitents, to be very careful to make use of a priest who has the power of jurisdiction, that is, of one who is rightly approved; because, if they confess to one who is not approved of by the bishop of the place, their confession is null, and the priest's absolution is of no force or value. As to what may be objected, that there are some priests who are exempt from the power and jurisdiction of the bishop, as having faculties from the superior of their own order, by virtue, of a privilege granted to them by the pope: to this I answer, that there are no such privileges and exemptions now in England ; for all such privileges and exemptions which have formerly been granted, are all recalled by Innocent the XII's decree, in the year 1695, as also by the decree of Benedict XIV, in the year 1745, which expressly obliges all regular priests, of what denomination soever here in England, to a strict submission and obedience to the bishops, in respect to the jurisdiction, or power of administering the sacraments.