| Year 2009 Canonical Studies
Sacrament of Penance
(Fr. David Bara)
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The Sacrament of Penance, one of the seven sacraments, is instituted by Christ. Its biblical foundations are found in Hb. 29:23 and Mt. 16-19, whereupon the powers of keys are given to the apostles. In order to understand the present legislation, it is appropriate to go down in history and trace the development of the practice of the sacrament.

1 Cor. 5:1-13 and Tim. 1:19 speak of an official segregation of sinners. The consequence of the commission of grave sins was a definite removal of sinners from the community. However, this commission was not final but remedial. Pastor Hermes in the 2nd century spoke of only one single reconciliation for grave sins after baptism. Tertullian also advocated ‘one penance only”. One single reconciliation implied a pedagogical severity and concern for holiness among the neophytes. Confessions of grave sins were made to the Bishop. The bishops were bound by secrecy. Sin remained secret but the penance was public. Sinners were inducted in the Order of Penitents by impositions of hands and warning. Penance varied in duration and severity, such as ban from military service, use of marriage etc. The rite of reconciliation was performed by the Bishop on Maundy Thursday. The idea of ‘one penance’ prevailed resulting in postponement until the time of death.

In the East as per the need the practice of confession sins started by monks to the Abbot. Gradually lay people started approaching monks for confession in spite of official protest. In the West still in 6th and 7th centuries the sacramental penance was delayed till the end of life. Penance was still very rigid. The new practice of going to the monks for confession was still condemned. However, the practice spread in the west through Celtic missionaries from Ireland. Gradually the grouping of penitents as a class disappeared and the monastic practice of confession was popularized. Private confessions increased. Absolution then started being granted without delay anticipating the completing of penance. From 8th century onwards the practice of confession even in the west was allowed three times a year. Confession gained prominence in the 12th century. Finally the Ecumenical Council Lateran IV (1215) made annual confession obligatory.

In the actual canonical legislation the sacramental penance demands the formal intervention of priests. Powers of Orders and jurisdiction are required to absolve sins. Jn. 20 indicated the jurisdictional character as it speaks of power of forgiving and retaining. After Lateran IV priests in order to absolve validly needed jurisdiction. The Council of Trent ruled that absolution without jurisdiction was invalid. With Lateran IV

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