Theory and practice of the confessional by Caspar Erich Schieler, Richard Frederick Clarke
2. There is, moreover, physical inability when there is imminent danger of death (a) on account of the penitent's condition being such that if he should try to make a complete confession he may die before receiving absolution; (b) in a common danger, such as shipwreck, before a battle, during a violent epidemic or a swift conflagration. If in such a case there is no time to hear the confession of each individual, it is enough for all to make a general confession of their sins in order to receive absolution, and the priest may give it, using for all the one formula: Ego vos absolvo. . . . Finally, (c) when the confessor himself is near death and no other priest is at hand.
The following instructions may be observed by confessors in actual practice: —
In case of extreme necessity the accusation of some specific sin must be made so far as it is possible, but in the case of a dying man who is still conscious the confessor should be more solicitous about exciting contrition than about securing a complete confession; in the case, however, of a penitent deprived of consciousness, especially if he gave no previous sign of repentance, the confessor may give absolution conditionally and then devote his care to the administration of Extreme Unction, which in such a case is more certainly valid and efficacious than the absolution itself; meanwhile, however, there would be no reason for not giving the absolution beforehand.
If only one confession has to be heard and there is imminent danger, say, from an attack by an enemy, the confessor should get the penitent to mention some one sin, to make an act of contrition, and he should then absolve him, when under the circumstances the absolution is a matter of necessity. If there are several who wish to make their peace with God, as before a battle or in a shipwreck, the following points are to be observed: —
If the danger is very pressing, the confessor must exhort all to make acts of contrition and purpose of amendment, or, still better, himself make along with them acts of contrition and amendment, and get them to give some sign of their sorrow and their self-accusation, as by raising their hands or striking their breasts; then he may give them absolution in a body.
If there is time enough for each one to approach the confessor, though not for making a complete confession, they should be admitted singly in order the better to secure the salvation of each one, in such numbers as the time will permit; and in order that as many as possible, if not all, may be heard, the accusation may be as short as possible; thus contrition will be more genuine. Of course the penitents will be told that in the event of their lives being spared they must make up what was wanting to the integrity of the confession.