From a reader:
I have a question about confession, …. When I went this morning, the priest heard my sins and then said, "I forgive you your sins in the name of…" instead of the usual "I absolve you from your sins…". I cringed a little when I heard that, and I automatically thought of your previous posts on absolution. Am I making too much out of this, or am I right to think that it was questionable? After all, he’s not the one who is forgiving the sins!
The priest does forgive your sins. The sacrament of Holy Orders brings the priest into such a close bond with Christ that he speaks in the first person in this moments. Christ is forgiving in the person of the priest. Christ is the true minister of the sacrament, but He does so in the person of the priest. He uses the word in the first person saying: "Ego te absolvo… I absolve you…". The priest at Mass says, "This is my body…". When the priest is absolving or consecrating he is alter Christus, "another Christ". He acts in persona Christi, "the the person of Christ".
As to the word "forgive" rather than "absolve"….
I suspect the priest is thinking that people will more immediately resonate with "forgive", a more common word, than "absolve". Surely he isn’t trying to do anything wrong.
However, absolvo is not quite the same as "forgive", but words such as "forgive", "remit", "absolve" are very close in English.
Absolvo is "loosen" or "acquit" or "declare innocent" of whatever the person had incurred. "Absolve" sounds to my ears to be more thorough. "Absolve" doesn’t merely "forgive" sins but also the effects of the sins. There is also a juridical subtext in absolvo, which could be a helpful point of consideration. I guess you could argue that for remit.
I don’t know if saying "forgive" instead of "absolve" makes the absolution invalid. I suspect it is still valid, but I don’t know that.
I know without a shadow of a doubt that "absolvo" and "I absolve" are valid.
There is a reason why Holy Church says absolvo instead of dimitto, ignosco, condono, remitto even though Holy Church speaks frequently about the "remission" of sins.
I think priests should use the words Holy Church designates for the forms of sacraments so that there isn’t any doubt in the minds of the faithful that the sacrament was valid.
Latin priests would not make a mistake simply to use the Latin form for their Latin Church penitents.
Why create unnecessary problems?
Just SAY THE BLACK WORDS in the text.
I think it is within a penitent’s rights to ask the confessor to use the proper form of absolution. This might create a moment of tension and great tact should be used, especially if this is your regular priest.
If the priest will not use the form of absolution in the approved text, it might be necessary to ask the local bishop if saying "I forgive" is valid or not.
A Final Idea: You might go back to that priest for confession again and put to him a question about a doubt you are having. You might say, "The last time I went to confession, the priest said ‘I forgive’ instead of "I absolve’. That raised a doubt in my mind and really bothered me, since that is not the approved form of absolution. Do I have to re-confess those sins?" Maybe the priest will get the hint.
UPDATE: I close the combox. I don’t see how all sort of people jumping in with advice will help at all. If people have something to contribute, you can e-mail it to me.