We are now in Holy Week and a time for many people to fulfil their Easter duties and go to the sacrament of reconciliation. However, this is not as straight forward as it normally would be. If we can’t go to a priest for the sacrament, why can’t we phone them up and receive the sacrament that way? Alternatively, why can’t we use video calls via the internet? A Note from the Apostolic Penitentiary on the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the current pandemic, 20th March 2020 answers this question and many others. Furthermore an Update for Clergy issued by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales on 26th March 2020 has provided clarification on this issue too. Here is a summary of what the Apostolic Penitentiary and the bishops are saying:

During the time of the Covid-19 crisis, individual confession continues to be the ordinary manner of celebrating this sacrament.

In answer to the question of can we receive the sacrament of penace by telephone, videoconferencing, etc, the Apostolic Penitentiary has stated:

Even in the time of Covid-19, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is administered in accordance with universal canon law and with the provisions of the Ordo Paenitentiae.

The bishops of England and Wales have also reiterated that confessions cannot be heard over the telephone.

Factors to consider in this regard are:

  1. a) the proper nature of the sacrament, the fundamental structure of which has always involved the direct presence and encounter of two persons (namely, the penitent who personally confesses his or her sins, and the minister who not only listens, but also grants, in persona Christi, forgiveness of sins); and
  2. b) the lack of any absolute guarantee that the seal of confession will be fully protected through the use of such means.

Of course the possibility exists of making use of digital media to help the faithful prepare to receive sacramental absolution where possible, including helping them make a perfect act of contrition (see following point).

  1. Those faithful who find themselves in a position where it is impossible to receive sacramental absolution should bear in mind that perfect contrition – that is, contrition arising out of love of God above all things, expressed in a sincere request for forgiveness, and accompanied by the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible – obtains forgiveness for sins, including mortal sins (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1452).

For this reason, those who think they are in a state of mortal sin which has not yet been forgiven should turn to the Mercy of God, through the sincere expression of an act of perfect contrition. One can say a prayer such as:

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of your grace to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.

or:

My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin. Our Saviour Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In his name, my God, have mercy. Amen.

The common teaching of the Church (not simply in times of emergency) recommends that an act of perfect contrition be made in any case in which a mortal sin has been committed. Once this is done, the penitent can be confident that, through the divine Mercy, he or she has been restored to friendship with God. Sacramental absolution must be sought as soon as possible thereafter, and always before receiving holy communion.

On the question of collective absolution, the law remains that collective absolution without prior individual confession cannot be imparted except in the case of: a) imminent danger of death when there is no time to hear the confessions of individual penitents; or b) grave necessity. For collective absolution to be valid, the individual penitent must have the resolution to confess in due time the grave sins which at the moment he or she cannot confess. Without such a resolution, collective absolution is worthless.

At present the bishops in this country have declared that collective absolution is not an option, as it would involve bringing people together and thereby putting one another in danger of infection.

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