QUAERITUR: about what a priest said for absolution

From a reader:

This past weekend I went to a nearby church for confession.  When I was done confessing, the priest didn’t start out with the customary "God the Father of mercies…"  He went into an alternate prayer that concluded with: "and therefore Jesus extends to you His absolution for sin, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." <sic>

I thought the formula for absolution had to be a fairly accurate translation of ego te absolvo (I absolve you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."

Am I being too scrupulous or too precise?  This has been troubling me, as my wife was told the same thing.

Another example of a priest doing something stupid.

If… if… the priest didn’t also pronounce the proper form for absolution, then what he said was invalid.

If… if… this priest is doing this regularly, he ought to be reported to his bishop or religious superior.  If that doesn’t produced results, then write to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

At the same time, God knows your heart.  Fine a good confessor.

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41 Responses to QUAERITUR: about what a priest said for absolution

  1. cheekypinkgirl says:

    This happens to me ALL the time – it’s like a merry go round of priests in my area to try and find one who can do confession properly. Although more often, I experience that no act of contrition is asked for. It drives me NUTS!!!!!

  2. MargaretMN says:

    OK, I have a related question. What is the deal with the act of contrition? I was taught that you do it PRIVATELY before confession, after you do your examination of conscience but before you enter the confessional. In fact, at my school parish there were little signs posted on the confessional door, with a copy of the prayer. Since I moved to MN, there is this expectation that you say it, AFTER your confession, in the confessional before the priest gives you absolution. I am not being critical and I comply with the local standard, but when did this change and what were the reasons? Also, there seem to be different American versions of this prayer floating around now, when I was growing up, there was only one and the priests I’ve gone to confession with don’t seem to have a problem with the one I use.

  3. jesusthroughmary says:

    Margaret, I believe you were taught incorrectly. As far as I know, the standard did not change – the act of contrition has always been a part of the Rite proper, and has been placed after confession and immediately before absolution. That certainly is the proper order as the rite is currently on the books:

    http://www.usccb.org/liturgy/penance.shtml

  4. ssoldie says:

    For us Traditional Latin Mass Catholics, at confession we say the Act of Contrition as Fr. is giving us absolution, it has been like that for as long as I can remember going, but it has been much different for the N.O.M.at reconciliation, I have found absolution to be that, each priest composes his own words of absolution. I once wrote to the Bishop of our Diocese and asked him about the wording of absolution (as the priest’s were using different words) and he assured me that the Church”s absolution words were, “I absolve thee from thy sins in the name of the Father and of the son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen” As I have said so often, Ah! the fruits of the last 50 years of modernism in our Catholic Church. Pastoral fabricated novelties and innovations. [It entirely possible that priests before the Council were screwing up too. Be fair.]

  5. Rob Cartusciello says:

    That’s bad news, since I can recall at least one confession (in 1995) where the formula of absolution was completely wrong (“I forgive you of my sins” – from an otherwise reliable priest).

    Another (in 1993/4) was of questionable validity.

    What does one do in this case?

  6. Ralph says:

    Father,

    When you say invalid, does that mean the lay person involved does not actually receive absolution from sin? If so, what does that mean for the lay person?

    If I think that my confessor didn’t say the correct absolution should I return to the confessional and refrain from communion until doing so?

    Kind of scary. I have to admit I am usually so nervous at confession that I couldn’t tell you exactly what the Priest said the last time!!

  7. Ralph: what does that mean for the lay person?

    I don’t know what that means insofar as graces are concerned. God knows the heart and knows what the penitent needs. We cannot place limits on God.

    However, sacramental absolution is the ordinary means Our Savior Himself intended for the forgiveness of sins.

    Furthermore, penitents have a right not to have to doubt whether or not the priest gave absolution properly!

    I would simply say, if I were that penitent I would go make my confession again to another priest … one with his head screwed on the correct direction.

  8. Jack Hughes says:

    This along with the fact that MOST NOT all N.O priests I’ve gone to for confession either treat the sacrament as ‘gooy gooy God loves you now I absolve you’ without giving any advice (one priest at Westminster Cathedral was more concerned that I had to resist the urge to overhear the louder penitents than with the more serious sins) or simply say try not to do it again is why I only use traditional priests who I know will give me a hard time, advice and a decent pennance.

  9. Ralph says:

    I am an adult convert. As such, I did not grow up with this sacrament. So for me it’s very special (although 6 years later I am still very self conscience when I go!)

    With that being said, I am often amazed at how overlooked and underappreciated this sacrament is by catholics. Based on my admitidly limited travels, I would say the average parish in my area offers confession 1/2 hour or so once per week. (My home parish offers it before every Mass and by appointment. Our pastor is awesome!)

    So is this “absolution freedom” shown by priests a symptom of post vat. II catholics not taking the sacrament, or the need for it, seriously? Is it a form of the protestent rejection of the priesthood’s role in absolution?

    This brings to mind a conversation I once had a middle aged Religious Sister (a 60ish Dominican, no habit). She laughed when I mentioned mortal sin. She said that she hadn’t heard that term in years. When I asked her about confession, she said the penitential part of Mass takes care of all that. Confession was just an antiquated ritual to her, much like the all male priesthood.

  10. MargaretMN says:

    Maybe the Act of Contrition before entering the confessional was a temporary and practical response to large numbers of penitents waiting in line. That no longer seems to be a problem. The worst concession I saw to that was when I lived in Texas, at the Student chapel at UT. A communal penance service before Easter where we stood in line as if for communion, said our sins out loud to one of the three priests distributing “confession” and were absolved. Oh, and we were asked to limit our sins to only three so as not to hold up the line. Kind of like the express line at the grocery store or a cross between mass absolution and private confession. Those Paulists sure were creative.

  11. frjim4321 says:

    The confusion about the Act of Contrition before vs. during vs. after auricular confession may be coming from the confusion between the various forms of the sacrament. During a Communal Penance Service (not to be confused with General Absolution which is rarely justified) the rite does stipulate that the Act of Contrition is recited communally, prior to individual confession. This does not seem to be the case with regard to the form of Individual Confession. The Act of Contrition suggests that the party is indeed sorry for their sins, which is necessary for the forgiveness of sins. If a priest gives absolution without being confident that the pentitent is sorry for his/her sins, he’s doing them a disservice.

  12. I hope that anyone coming into the confessional will have the forthrightness to gently ask – or even insist on if necessary – the priest for the proper formula. While this case it seems deliberate, it is sometimes the case that the priest will accidentally say the formula incorrectly – most of us say it from memory and we can slip too.

    I would welcome the reminder; it is heartening that penitents take the sacrament seriously throughout.

    Peace,
    Fr. Maurer

  13. JosephMary says:

    I know that in my former town, where I had an 86 year old confessor, finding a confessor who would absolve according to norm became pretty much non-existant! One astute newcomer pulled me aside and asked if there was a Catholic priest who knew how to administer the sacraments in town. I directed him to my ‘retired’ confessor. Naturally no Mass followed the GIRM entirely.

    It happened to my cousin who is a priest that he was visiting a relative and went to confession and the priest had some made up thing in place of the words of absolution. My cousin asked him to please use the proper words and the confessor refused! He said that was the way he always did it. My cousin, the priest, went and found another confessor who knew how to properly administer the sacrament. Just think==this can happen to a priest too! The laity are not the only ones as the mercy of the clergy in this instance.

  14. Nathan says:

    Fr. Maurer: “I hope that anyone coming into the confessional will have the forthrightness to gently ask – or even insist on if necessary – the priest for the proper formula.”

    God bless you, Father, you are a fine shepherd of souls! I would be afraid to gently ask, however. I’ve been through instances in the confessional where even the mildest of requests for following traditional practices were met with an icy response. Twenty-five years ago, at college, I went in to the confessional and Father had put aside the screen. When I asked, “May I confess with the curtain closed?” you would have thought by his response that I had asked the most awful thing in the world.

    In general, I’ve found that when a priest decides he’s going to disobey or do his own thing regarding sacramental or liturgical practices, he’s not going to be open to lay questioning of the abuse, even put in requests aimed to be especially mild.

    May Our Blessed Lord pour out grace and mercy to melt the hearts of all His priests who have been led to give illicit or invalid absolutions, as well as on the penitents involved.

    In Christ,

  15. MikeM says:

    I’ve usually had very good Confession experiences, even with more “liberal” priests. They have usually done the sacrament properly (at least, as far as I noticed) and they provided good advice along with it.

    Over the summer, though, I went to a priest with what was in a close race for my most serious confession. I had a pretty hefty list of sins. And… the priest told me to chill out (I’m not exactly an uptight guy), not to worry about it, and then used a shortened form of the absolution without my saying an Act of Contrition. To top it all off, my penance was to “Say a Hail Mary as you pull out of the parking lot.”

  16. Father S. says:

    Sometimes when I go to priests while traveling, I want to say, “Father, now raise your right hand and repeat after me.” It is helpful to bear in mind that some priests were poorly educated. This is not an excuse for their actions because if they have been functioning as a priest for any length of time, their ignorance becomes willful after a certain point. It is certainly worthwhile to let a priest know in a non-confrontational way what the Church asks him to do. If you can reasonably cite what is necessary, he ought to listen unless he is utterly intractable on this point.

    It is important also to note something further. In the case that a person is truly ignorant of the words of absolution and has confessed their sins integrally and auricularly with proper contrition and have accepted their penance, (i.e, they have fulfilled the acts of the penitent) if they receive Most Holy Communion, they are not then guilty of the sin of sacrilege. However, (ceteris paribus) if a person knowing the formula received an attempted absolution by an improper formula and they are in the state of grave sin, they are still not free to receive Most Holy Communion. Here we see the damage that the improper form can inflict.

    This may arouse some righteous anger, and justly so. Priests have the obligation to do what the Church asks them to do. The same, by the way, applies for any of the Sacraments. If a priest baptizes without the Trinitarian formula, there is no Baptism. If a priest anoints with his own words, there is no anointing. If a priest offers Holy Mass and makes up his own words of institution, no one is free to receive the bread which the priest has attempted to consecrate. The Sacraments are real and effective. As such, we take them seriously.

  17. my kidz mom says:

    For my most recent confession, the visiting priest gave absolution in Latin – a first for me! Valid, yes?

  18. my kidz mom: Absolution in Latin? Valid! Sure! As long as it was the right form.

    Kidding.

    Just kidding.

  19. Penta says:

    I hate to ask, but…With importing priests becoming a growing phenomenon, what if the formula is given in…English so broken our grandmothers speak better English?

  20. Francisco Cojuanco says:

    “For us Traditional Latin Mass Catholics, at confession we say the Act of Contrition as Fr. is giving us absolution, it has been like that for as long as I can remember going, but it has been much different for the N.O.M.at reconciliation, I have found absolution to be that, each priest composes his own words of absolution. I once wrote to the Bishop of our Diocese and asked him about the wording of absolution (as the priest’s were using different words) and he assured me that the Church”s absolution words were, “I absolve thee from thy sins in the name of the Father and of the son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen” As I have said so often, Ah! the fruits of the last 50 years of modernism in our Catholic Church. Pastoral fabricated novelties and innovations.”

    We’re also expected to say the Act during the absolution at my NO parish. And the priest always uses the correct form of absolution – then again, he spent quite a while working for the Vatican in Rome and an in mission countries where folks actually take the sacrament very seriously, so maybe it’s because he’s “imported”.

    Pray for our priests and our confessors especially – they need it.

  21. sirlouis says:

    Father Z and Ralph,

    I think the Angelic Doctor has the answer. [The Angelic Doctor doesn't determine the validity of sacraments.] In the third part of the Summa Theologica, in Articles 1 and 2 of Question 84, he teaches that the matter of the sacrament is the sinner’s interior act of repentance, or contrition, and the form, which perfects the sacrament, is absolution by a priest. Further, in Article 1 of the fifth question in the supplement to the third part, he says that contrition blots out sin (peccatum contritio delet).

    Thomas [who is not the equivalent of the Church's Magisterium or the one who decides how sacraments are to be celebrated] is saying that God forgives the sin the very instant in which the sinner repents of, i.e., has genuine contrition for, his sin and determines to confess it to a priest. This does not mean, however, that the person can approach the Eucharist before being formally absolved. As Thomas explains in his reply to the third objection in Article 1 of Question 5 in the supplement, because the dispensing or distribution of the Eucharist is the God-given role of the Church’s appointed ministers, it is necessary to approach one of them for the perfection or completion of the sacrament of penance before approaching them for the Eucharist, even though a person’s sin may already have been remitted by God (quamvis sit sibi culpa quoad Deum remissa).

    So there is no need to be scared if the form of absolution is defective, because the only thing that is frightening is the possibility of dying unforgiven. The penitent need not worry about that. [I think the penitent has every right to be concerned if the minister of the sacrament is not doing the right thing.] But it is still true that he must refrain from the Holy Communion until he has been absolved according to the form set down by the Church. If absolution is delayed by a defect in form, it should be a matter for sorrow, but not for fright. [No one suggested that they should be frightened.]

    It seems to me if a person has a mere doubt about the form, ["mere" doubt?] that is, he only suspects that the form may have been defective, then he should not concern himself further. He should accept what it is that the duly appointed minister of the Church has done, as — adapting Thomas’ principle — it is up to the minister to manage the dispensing of absolution and the lay penitent has the right to rely on that management except when he is reasonably sure that there has been mismanagement, and that of a fatal kind and degree. [It seems to be that if the penitent has a doubt, he should put himself at ease especially by seeking absolution properly administered.]

  22. laurazim says:

    “For us Traditional Latin Mass Catholics, at confession we say the Act of Contrition as Fr. is giving us absolution, it has been like that for as long as I can remember going, but it has been much different for the N.O.M.at reconciliation, I have found absolution to be that, each priest composes his own words of absolution. I once wrote to the Bishop of our Diocese and asked him about the wording of absolution (as the priest’s were using different words) and he assured me that the Church”s absolution words were, “I absolve thee from thy sins in the name of the Father and of the son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen” As I have said so often, Ah! the fruits of the last 50 years of modernism in our Catholic Church. Pastoral fabricated novelties and innovations.”

    I think this must depend greatly, also, upon the diocese in which you are attending. Some NO priests are incredibly orthodox.

    I’ve never attended a Latin Mass, though I’ve wanted to. I must admit, I tend to smart a bit when this kind of remark is made. Just because we don’t reglarly attend TLM doesn’t mean that we’re sub-Catholic. I don’t necessarily think that this poster intends to offend, but perhaps could be more mindful of sounding “holier-than-thou” toward those who attend NO.

    I love going to confession. I love that my priests are eager to serve those who come, whether face to face or behind the screen. I’ve gone both ways, and in each case, the priest has been kind, sincere, and very willing to counsel, advise, admonish and bless. The correct form of absolution has always been used, and my penances have actually been penitential! Oh–and all but one have been NO priests….I pray with my husband and children daily for the sanctification of ALL priests; God knows which ones need it the most. +JMJ+

  23. MargaretMN says:

    I think one test could be, would you feel comfortable after this confession, that you’ve received this oddball absolution if you were to get hit by a car in the parking lot of the church and that that was your last confession. If there is any question in your mind, go again elsewhere. There is a saying in spanish which says something like, “even Luther’s best buddy got a Catholic Priest for his mother’s last rites.”

  24. Mary Bruno says:

    I always have said the Act of Contrition during the Absolution, it must be the norm in my Diocese and NO Parishes/communal services with individual confession.

  25. Here is the formula for absolution, from the Catechism:

    God, the Father of mercies, through the death and the resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

    Obviously, this is what the priest should say. But how much of this could you draw a line through and still have a valid sacrament? Or put another way: what part absolutely must be there for the sacrament to be valid? Suppose (as once happened to me) the priest strikes everything up to, but not including, “I absolve you”: invalid? (Fortunately, I did not have any mortal sins to confess.)

    Fathers, I beg you, please don’t mess with your flock’s peace of mind in the confessional.

  26. Mark of the Vine says:

    Once in Fatima, a priest gave me the following act of absolution: “Ok, go in peace; oh, and God be with you.” – no “I absolve you”, no nuthin’. I think it was the first time I ever had that happen to me.

  27. Mike says:

    I normally go to priests of Opus Dei for confession; usually absolution is in Latin; regardless of language, they ALWAYS follow the formula from the Catechism, with additional prayer about our sufferings and doings being offered up for our salvation.

    They are some of the gentlest, kindest confessors I have encountered.

  28. Bornacatholic says:

    God, the Father of mercies, through the death and the resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

    I have this typed-out and I carry it with me in my wallet. When (not if) I Confess to a Priest who does not say the Absolution correctly, I hand him the paper and and ask him to read it.

    No Priest has yet refused to read it for me – and one even asked me if he could keep it. [Perhaps keep a few copies in Latin? o{]:¬) ]

  29. lacrossecath says:

    the sinner’s interior act of repentance

    The only way the sins were absolved was if the penitents made an act of perfect contrition. Perfect contrition is not required to receive sacramental absolution.

    Technically speaking, Christ doesn’t absolve sins in confession, the priest does. The priest has personally been given the authority from Christ himself? No. Christ gave this authority to the Church, therefore in Her name sins are absolved. The Church in turn gives this authority to the priest and hence, the validity of Confession. That’s why schismatic groups have invalid Confessions, they do not have the authority of the Church. Fr. John Hardon, SJ had a great article on this but I cant find it. I’ll post if I find.

  30. Sam Schmitt says:

    “If… if… the priest didn’t also pronounce the proper form for absolution, then what he said was invalid.”

    So the words have to be exact? I had a priest say: “I absolve you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

    Is this valid?

  31. Folks: Let’s not do the “What About This One?” thing.

    All of this underscores the importance of priests not confusing the faithful by doing something other than what the Church has authorized in the administration of the sacrament of penance, when people are at their very worst and therefore their very best.

  32. sirlouis says:

    Father Z,

    I take your correctives in good heart. I am always glad to have my theological understanding improved. It may well be I misinterpreted Ralph’s phrase “Kind of scary,” but the phrase seems on its face to allow of my thought that he had a fright of being in the situation of dying unforgiven before he could be properly absolved. Perhaps he just meant that it is scary to think that there are priests who are so poorly trained that they either don’t know or don’t bother to know what is needed for sacramental validity. If that’s the right interpretation, I agree with it wholeheartedly and confess that I was mistaken in taking the phrase as I did.

  33. frjim4321 says:

    “I abolve you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” is clearly valid, however it would not ordinarily be licit. Clearly in the danger of death or some other extreme circumstance it would be both valid and licit. However, such minimalism should be avoided. Shortening the form out of expediency is surely illicit. I doubt that “go in peace,” or “God be with you” are sufficient for validity, perhaps “I forgive you,” but why take a chance?

  34. I am very sympathetic with the laity and religious (and priests, I might add, myself being included) who have been subjected to a “doubtful”, if not, downright invalid absolution.
    “I forgive you…”; and all the other various “forms” are depriving the faithful of their right to the Sacrament of Penance according to the Roman Rite. I don’t care if there are other forms in other rites (Eastern Catholics, please understand that I am speaking here of the Roman Rite); we are given by the liturgical rite and Canon Law the right to be absolved according to the proper words of absolution in order to have moral certitude that we have, in fact, received the Sacrament of Penance.
    If you want to talk about a form of social/spiritual/liturgical injustice, these aberrations fit.

  35. we are given by the liturgical rite and Canon Law the right to be absolved according to the proper words of absolution in order to have moral certitude that we have, in fact, received the Sacrament of Penance.
    If you want to talk about a form of social/spiritual/liturgical injustice, these aberrations fit.

    A*M*E*N!!!!!

  36. JenB says:

    Two somewhat related questions/concerns about confession.
    1. If I know that a sin is serious and/or mortal, and my confessor brushes it off telling me that it wasn’t a sin, is the sacrament valid? Should I be concerned? (This is not an issue of scruples.)
    2. If I am told by my confessor that even Mary and Jesus probably felt the same/acted the same in relation to my confessed sins, again, should I be concerned?

    I assume that the sacrament is valid, the priest is less than orthodox, and I should attempt to find another confessor who will not suggest Mary sinned…

  37. robtbrown says:

    Two somewhat related questions/concerns about confession.
    1. If I know that a sin is serious and/or mortal, and my confessor brushes it off telling me that it wasn’t a sin, is the sacrament valid?

    Mostly likely, it is valid.

    2. If I am told by my confessor that even Mary and Jesus probably felt the same/acted the same in relation to my confessed sins, again, should I be concerned?

    You should be concerned–but not about the validity of the absolution.

    I assume that the sacrament is valid, the priest is less than orthodox, and I should attempt to find another confessor who will not suggest Mary sinned…
    Comment by JenB

    It depends on how important you think his advice is to you. We go to Confession for forgiveness of sin. Maybe the advice is good and maybe it’s not.

  38. robtbrown says:

    JenB,

    One other point re #1: I don’t pretend to know what the confessor is referring to, but an action might have grave matter without being a mortal sin. For example, certain factors like habit and antecedent passion mitigate culpability (cf sins of weakness).

  39. robtbrown says:

    sirlouis,

    It is very important when reading St Thomas that we do not impose our definitions on him. Thus:

    When St Thomas uses the word “contrition”, he means penitence informed by Charity. If not informed by Charity, then he uses “attrition”.

    And so contrition refers to someone in a state of grace, attrition not. When we are in a state of grace, our contrition can destroy sin, though by definition not moral sin. In fact, St Thomas says that “mortal” in “mortal sin” means that our capacity for contrition has been killed.

    NB: I had a post graduate course at the Angelicum on St Thomas’ theology of the Sacrament of Penance.

  40. robtbrown says:

    Should be: though by definition not morTal sin.