Q. 1 What is the necessary Catholic Church condition for general absolution to be valid during the Sacrament of Confession?
A. 1 In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the application of general absolution during the Sacrament of Confession is defined as follows:
"In case of grave necessity recourse may be had to a communal celebration of reconciliation with general confession and general absolution. Grave necessity of this sort can arise when there is imminent danger of death without sufficient time for the priest or priests to hear each penitent's confession. Grave necessity can also exist when, given the number of penitents, there are not enough confessors to hear individual confessions properly in a reasonable time, so that the penitents through no fault of their own would be deprived of sacramental grace or Holy Communion for a long time. In this case, for the absolution to be valid the faithful must have the intention of individually confessing their sins in the time required.[Cf. CIC, can. 962 §1] The diocesan bishop is the judge of whether or not the conditions required for general absolution exist.[Cf. CIC, can 961 §2] A large gathering of the faithful on the occasion of major feasts or pilgrimages does not constitute a case of grave necessity." [Cf. CIC, can. 961 §1] (C.C.C. # 1483)
Further to the aforementioned, Church Canon Laws state:
Canon 961 §1 General absolution, without prior individual confession, cannot be given to a number of penitents together, unless:
Canon 961 §1.1 danger of death threatens and there is not time for the priest or priests to hear the confessions of the individual penitents;
Canon 961 §1.2 there exists a grave necessity, that is, given the number of penitents, there are not enough confessors available properly to hear the individual confessions within an appropriate time, so that without fault of their own the penitents are deprived of the sacramental grace or of holy communion for a lengthy period of time. A sufficient necessity is not, however, considered to exist when confessors cannot be available merely because of a great gathering of penitents, such as can occur on some major feast day or pilgrimage.
Canon 961 §2 It is for the diocesan Bishop to judge whether the conditions required in §1, n. 2 are present; mindful of the criteria agreed with the other members of the Episcopal Conference, he can determine the cases of such necessity.
Canon 962 §1 For a member of Christ's faithful to benefit validly from a sacramental absolution given to a number of people simultaneously, it is required not only that he or she be properly disposed, but be also at the same time personally resolved to confess in due time each of the grave sins which cannot for the moment be thus confessed.
Canon 962 §2 Christ's faithful are to be instructed about the requirements set out in §1, as far as possible even on the occasion of general absolution being received. An exhortation that each person should make an act of contrition is to precede a general absolution, even in the case of danger of death if there is time.
Canon 963 Without prejudice to the obligation mentioned in canon 989, a person whose grave sins are forgiven by a general absolution, is as soon as possible, when the opportunity occurs, to make an individual confession before receiving another general absolution, unless a just reason intervenes.
Q. 2 I live in a city that enjoys at least a dozen Catholic Churches. My parish does not have a full- time priest. When the priest comes on Sunday mornings to celebrate Mass, not having time to hear confession, he administers general absolution to everyone. Is this valid?
A. 2 Based on the information that you are providing, the circumstances under which the general absolution is administered does not constitute a grave necessity.
Under your circumstances, the parishioners have other options available to them. They can go to any of the other Catholic Churches within the city where they can have their confessions heard by a priest.
As such, contrary to the condition set in # 1483 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there are sufficient confessors available to hear the individual confessions of the parishioners within a reasonable time. Therefore, if the parishioners are deprived of the sacramental grace or Holy Communion for a long time, it is because of their own fault.
Q. 3 What does the following mean, "For the absolution to be valid the faithful must have the intention of individually confessing their sins in the time required?"
A. 3 It means that when someone receives a valid general absolution, the faithful is still obligated to go to confession and to confess his sins to a priest as soon as possible. Otherwise, the general absolution received during the Sacrament of Confession is not valid. It would be as if the faithful never went to confession.