26 March 2014

A course at the Apostolic Penitentiary

The Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary is hosting a course on the internal forum this week in its offices in Rome. It is difficult to say how many priests (and a few transitional deacons) are following the course (as they say here in Italy), but I would guess between three and four hundred. When gathered together we fill both the large hall of the Penitentiary and a second large room where the conferences are streamed:

Happily, the course is accepted by the Pontifical Gregorian University as one of the two optional courses required to obtain the Licentiate in Canon Law.

Each afternoon typically begins with a lecture lasting about an hour. This is followed by a short break of about fifteen minutes, after which a second lecture is given. The afternoon concludes with a period to pose questions to some of the priests and Bishops who serve in the Apostolic Penitentiary.

In the New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law commissioned by the Canon Law Society of America, Thomas J. Green describes the purpose of the Apostolic Penitentiary:
From the early Middle Ages a cardinal has customarily been named to absolve from censures reserved to the pope. His competence was gradually restricted to the internal forum, and today he functions at the universal church level in many ways similar to the canon penitentiary at the diocesan level (c. 508). The Penitentiary grants various internal forum indulgences, favors, absolutions, dispensations, commutations, sanations, and condonations. In deciding such issues, the cardinal penitentiary is assisted by a regent, a theologian, a canonist, and other officials (486).

His Eminence Mauro Cardinal Piacenza, Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary, opened the week on Monday afternoon with a reflection stemming from Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium in which he wrote, "I I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ" (3).

Cardinal Piacenza proposed that the Sacrament of Penance "is possibly the most concrete and real way to renew one’s personal meeting with Jesus Christ." For this reason Pope Francis has called for the period of 24 Hours for the Lord to be observed this Friday and Saturday in at least one church in every Diocese throughout the world to remain open for the celebration of penance and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The course is aimed at helping priests be better confessors.

One of the unexpected blessings of the course is to look out upon the the priests who have gathered and to recognize in them the universality of the Church:

There are priests from every continent and who knows how many countries, all charged with the same mission: to be servants and stewards of the mysteries of God (cf. I Corinthians 4:10). This is why Cardinal Piacenza also urged us, saying, "The wisdom of the Church teaches us that [priests] should wait for penitents in the confessional, with that same patience that is typical of God."

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