LIKE Helen Wood, I have been saddened by the instruction to reserve services of Reconciliation with General Absolution for emergencies.
I have found it very helpful in periods when 1 could not say precisely where I was at fault, but knew I was. Individual confession can be difficult when one is struggling with the idea that God prefers the more colourful sinners who have the vitality to do something obviously outrageous.
I do not know why so many other people have found these services appealing; but seeing the packed church that we get when they have been offered, and recognising many of the daily-Mass brigade among the congregation, it is obvious that many people do feel that here is something they need.
It does not seem that we can deduce anything about the way Jesus intended the Church to exercise the power of binding and loosing (Mt 16,19 18,18 & Jn 20,23) from the Gospel text, since the practice of individual converts used to postpone baptism in order to minimise the risk of falling into sin again before they died.
Surely this shows that ceremonial and disciplinary arrangements are wholly within the competence of church authorities legislating for current needs.
If it is argued that all sacraments are administered to individuals, we may reply that this does not seem to be true of the Eucharist. The convenience of using hosts as the form of bread at Mass may have obscured the fact that the breaking of the bread to be shared was, for the evangelist Luke, the action in which the faithful recognised the Lord (Lk 24,30-31). "We all share in the one bread" says Paul (1 Cor 10,17), and when we receive communion alone we are still uniting ourselves with the community.
It seems appropriate that the community dimension of sin (we harm each other and influence each other), should at least sometimes be acknowledged in a community rite.
AA Barton London WI4
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