Regulation of the Sacrament

As we have seen, there is not a uniform practice of the sacrament among the Eastern Churches.  There is, however, the Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches (also known as the Eastern Code of Canon Law).  This was promulgated in 1990.  See canons 718 -736.

A few highlights of The Code include:

719: reception of the sacrament frequently, especially during periods of fasts and penance, and as soon as possible when in a state of serious sin.

720: general absolution is forbidden except in cases of grave necessity.

721: the faithful must be catechized on the right dispositions required to receive the sacrament.

722-726: the canons regulating the minister of the sacrament are the same here as in the Roman Catholic Church.

727-731: the canons regulating the reservation of absolution are the same here as in the Roman Catholic Church.

732: 1. The confessor is to offer a fitting cure for the illness by imposing appropriate works of penance in keeping with the quality, seriousness and number of the sins, and considering the condition of the penitent as well as his or her disposition for conversion. 2. The priest is to remember that he is placed by God as a minister of divine justice and mercy; as a spiritual father he should also offer appropriate counsel so that the penitent might progress in his or her vocation to sanctity.

In 1959, The Ukrainian (Ruthenian) Archeparchy of Philadelphia developed statutes of its own.  Here are a few highlights:

311. Priests: be prompt and zealous in hearing confessions.

312. Have regular times that are convenient.  Do not refuse to hear confessions.

313. Have times available each day before Divine Liturgy.

314-315. Allow for other priests to hear confessions in the parish, especially (316) when you are not there.

*318. Attire: cassock and epitrachelion when hearing confession in church.

*319. Confessionals: constructed so as to isolate confessor from penitent and also to safeguard the seal.

320. Do not hear confessions in the sacristy or the sanctuary.

321. Keep record of parishioners who have kept obligation of annual confession.  Christian burial denied to parishioners who do not keep this.

323. The Sacrament of Penance shall never be introduced in any joke or criticism, however innocuous.

331. May hear confessions everywhere (if granted faculties) except those of religious women.

335. Only Metropolitans can absolve censures (latae sententiae excommunication), premeditated murder.

336. Others in the Church hierarchy (eg, Judicial Vicar) may also forgive those sins—priests may do so during Advent and Easter.

* Statutes 318 and 319 are particularly interesting, because they evidence a “Romanization” of the sacrament in this Byzantine Church.

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2 Responses to Regulation of the Sacrament

  1. Weeder says:

    I find it interesting that according to EC 321, they are to “Keep record of parishioners who have kept obligation of annual confession.” I have noticed that in many of the Eastern Rites that you have mentioned here, they actually call the penitent by name and the confession takes place in the open where others can see who goes to confession. For the penitent this would be a humbling experience and would take more courage to go to confession. Did you find any cases where anonymity can occur? In any case, this concept is not the norm for the Latin Rite since the penitent can go to confession behind the screen; thus keeping anonymity. In any case, the anonymity of the penitent who goes to confession in the Eastern Rite does not seem to exist.

    Another concern is the seal of confession. In the Latin Rite according to C 984, one cannot make take any action upon who goes to confession and what is heard in the confessional. Therefore, keeping track of those who went to confession would not necessarily be breaking the seal, but would be acting upon the knowledge of those who did go to confession. Maybe anonymity of the penitent is not needed.

    • ajgerber says:

      From my research, it does not seem as though anonymity is something for which to take account. The only places where I’ve noticed anonymity are those churches (for example, the Maronites) who have thoroughly incorporated Roman practice. This “aversion to anonymity” might stem from an aspect of Eastern theology which stresses personalism and the senses.

      The EC canon that you quoted is not Canon Law, but a policy of one eparchy. The Canon (984) that you cite, I don’t think, is broken by keeping track of who is there and who is not. I think the problem is not with the seal, but with the difficulty that the priest will have in forgetting whom he saw and whatnot. And that’s the real issue here: without anonymity, there might be greater chance of the priest remembering things and, with that, a greater chance of breaking the seal.

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