FishEaters Traditional Catholic Forums

Full Version: Fulfilling Penance and the Validity of Confession
You're currently viewing a stripped down version of our content. View the full version with proper formatting.
This is one of those issues which a layperson can seemingly find endless opinions on. But I was hoping someone here might be able to help. Here is the question:

If during Confession a penitent, inwardly or outwardly and for a seemingly just reason, refuses to fulfill an assigned penance—let's say because the penance is too vague or difficult or judged to be far too unnecessary or just plain weird—is the subsequent absolution valid?

An example of this might be someone who was assigned something like seeking counseling for a penance, who tried to tell Father that they're not going to do such a thing because it's not a fitting penance, but who failed to ask him for another penance instead. What would you say to such a person?
The penance is not an intrinsic part of the sacrament. In many of the Byzantine rite Catholic churches, no penance is given.  If penance had any bearing on validity, none of the confessions that take place in these churches would be valid.
Sometimes a penance would require that a person disclose things discussed in confession outside of the confessional.  If I were in that situation, I would not do the penance.  Also, if they require a lengthy time commitment, I usually forget to do them. I don't think I'm especially unusual in that though. I find that the best confessors give very short, simple penances. The main work done in the sacrament is God's work in the penitent, through the priest.  Anyway, the greatest act of reparation for our sins is the Mass. More importantly than any private penitential prayers we say, we must be sure to privately offer the Masses we hear in reparation for our sins.
(08-07-2016, 01:39 AM)Credidi Propter Wrote: [ -> ]The main work done in the sacrament is God's work in the penitent, through the priest. 
Too many people do not realize this.
(08-06-2016, 05:24 PM)BenedicamDominum Wrote: [ -> ]This is one of those issues which a layperson can seemingly find endless opinions on. But I was hoping someone here might be able to help. Here is the question:

If during Confession a penitent, inwardly or outwardly and for a seemingly just reason, refuses to fulfill an assigned penance—let's say because the penance is too vague or difficult or judged to be far too unnecessary or just plain weird—is the subsequent absolution valid?

An example of this might be someone who was assigned something like seeking counseling for a penance, who tried to tell Father that they're not going to do such a thing because it's not a fitting penance, but who failed to ask him for another penance instead. What would you say to such a person?

A confessor may not licitly absolve if the penitent does not implicitly or explicitly accept the penance.

The penitent is bound to fulfill the penance in so far as he understands it and remembers it. If it is a grave penance (pertains to grave sins) the obligation to perform it is grave (it would be a mortal sin not to perform the penance out of spite, pride or negligence). If the penance is light, it would be a venial sin.

It does not directly affect the validity of the confession, per se, but could undermine the necessary sorrow that the penitent has for their sins, so could indirectly remove a necessary element for validity.

In the case where the penance is vague or not possible (without real difficulty), the penitent has to ask the confessor to change it to something which is concrete or is possible. If you find yourself in such a situation, interrupt the confessor and ask exactly what you must do or say what he asks is impossible.

Also, penances are meant to be spiritual works to repair for the temporal penalty (which is not a physical thing), so generally should be prayers or works of charity/mercy. A priest may require one to go to counselling (or to do some non-spiritual act) as part of the advice, or as a condition of absolution, but it's not properly speaking a "penance". He can oblige as a penance a natural act which is supposed to be a Work of Mercy or related action.

He can also forbid you to do certain things, but again, this is not properly a "penance" unless these things are legitimate. To say to a man who has confessed to looking at pornography online that he must not visit those sites, is not a penance, but advice on avoiding the sin.

Many priest do not make this clear, and indeed, it can be confusing.

So, in short, if it's not clear what you are being obliged to do as a penance, ask right away! Make sure your clear what is obliged. If it's not possible, say so immediately and ask Father to change it. If you've left the confessional and you didn't ask or it becomes impossible to do what was asked, then do what you can and go to another confessor when possible and ask him to commute the penance to something doable. In order to do that you may have to briefly describe what you confessed (though you were forgiven before).

Even shorter, don't ever implicitly refuse a penance, or decide to do something different. Ask for clarity, something doable, or go to another priest to make it clear or possible.