Theory and practice of the confessional by Caspar Erich Schieler, Richard Frederick Clarke
With respect to repeating confessions the following principles are accepted: —
I. If a confession is invalid, the sins mentioned in it must be repeated; otherwise, the ensuing confession is invalid, for those sins were never remitted by the power of the keys, and in consequence they must be again submitted to the tribunal.
II. The duty of repeating a confession urges as soon as there is a moral certainty that said confession was null; if, however, the confession has certainly been made and there is doubt only as to its validity, the presumption is in favour of its validity. It is, however, advisable to repeat a doubtfully valid confession.
There is no difficulty where the penitent has wilfully concealed or never intended to give up a mortal sin or never avoided a voluntary occasion of sin, and in other such cases, for the confession was unquestionably invalid and sacrilegious. It is more difficult, however, to determine at times on the validity of a confession when the penitent has frequently relapsed without being voluntarily and continually in the occasion of sin. If a penitent shortly after confession falls frequently into sin on the first occasion that offers, without making any resistance, the presumption is that the confession was deficient in the required contrition and purpose of amendment, and that in consequence it was invalid. If, however, after confession he usually makes some effort, the nullity of the confession is not certain, and the confessor may not force him to repeat the confession, but he will do well to counsel him to do so when his dispositions improve and he is earnest in his contrition and in his efforts to make a permanent reform.
III. Invalid confessions must be repeated in their entirety when new confession is made to another priest who has no knowledge of the sins contained in the preceding invalid confessions, for this knowledge is necessary in order to pronounce judgement; hence it is not enough for a penitent to accuse himself merely of having made one or more invalid confessions.
IV. If the confession is made to a priest who has heard the invalid confessions, and in consequence has already passed sentence on the individual sins and has at least a knowledge in confuso of the penitent's state, it is sufficient to summarise the accusation of previously confessed sins in the form, "I accuse myself of the sins already mentioned in . . . confession' mentioning if the previous confessions were invalid through want of integrity, and supplying this want by a distinct and separate accusation of the sin or sins omitted. The previous confessions were sacramental, since they were made with a view to obtain absolution, though deprived of their sacramental efficacy through the fault of the penitent; hence a general repetition of them in connection with the knowledge which the confessor had of the individual sins may be considered as sufficient to form a judgement. If a penitent wishes to make a general confession, the distinction between the usual confessor and any other is not of so great moment, except where the confessor or the penitent is intent upon the minimum necessarium; the usual confessor of the penitent may, however, be satisfied with less care, since he knows already the previous sins of his penitent. In this case, however, he must have notitiam saltem confusam status paenitentis; for this it is not necessary that he should be able to recall the number and circumstances of the sins in question: a remembrance of the different species and their number in general suffices.
The confessor will have acquired this notitia confusa from previous confessions and from the questions which he puts to the penitent. Such knowledge is sufficient in so far as it is connected with a knowledge of previous sins, and that will be the case where the general confession is made to the same priest.
If, however, the priest can only vaguely call to mind his past treatment of the penitent, he should put some questions to him in order to form an idea of the state of his conscience; but he may absolve without this precaution, if from the penances which he has been in the habit of giving to his penitent he can form a judgement as to the state of his soul.
The same plan may be adopted in the case in which a man after making his confession is sent away without absolution, and afterwards returns to receive it, the confessor in the meantime retaining no recollection of the sins. Undoubtedly in such a case a notitia confusa is sufficient, and on the strength of it absolution may be given. Nay, more: if the penitent's absolution had been delayed for some reason not connected with want of necessary dispositions, the confessor might be satisfied with the remembrance that the penitent was in right dispositions for absolution and had received a penance in proportion to the sin. Of course it is always understood that no fresh mortal sin has been committed in the interval between the confessions; otherwise it must be confessed and a new act of sorrow and resolution of amendment must be made.