Every time I post about the variations priests impose by their own self-centered authority on the celebration of sacraments, and the confusion it causes members of the faithful, questions multiply in my inbox.
"But Father! But Father!", some say. "This happened to me! Was it valid?"
My heart goes out to these people.
Catholics have the right to expect what the Church establishes as the rites of sacraments, especially in the form of the sacraments.
From a reader:
I have read about this on your blog, but this has never happened to me before.
The other day, I went to confession. I proceeded as normally and listened to the priest’s advice after confession. I made an Act of Contrition and then the priest said something so quickly, which ended ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen’ and then asked me to say a prayer for my penance. I was so doubtful about what he had said – partly because it was so quick, partly because I didn’t understand it – that I followed your advice and asked him to repeat the absolution. Then, the priest said ‘I absolve all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.’
I really wanted to ask again, since I know that the minimum correct form is ‘I absolve you of your sins etc.’, but I was actually so disorientated and confused by now – and did not want to cause offence – I just said thank you and left.
I would just throw in that the priest was not of my nationality and there were clearly some language issues.
I had really want to communicate at Mass, so after this confession I did so, but I had serious doubts about it.
Please could you answer, on balance, was my confession likely to have been valid? Did I do the right thing, with my doubts, in receiving holy communion? If I determine it probably was not valid, will I have to make the same confession again?
From what you wrote, it seems to me that the absolution was valid. I wouldn’t fret about that. I think you were okay in going to Communion. Avoid going to Communion when you know you are in the state of sin. In this case you had better than strong reason to believe that you were in the state of grace! Also, I do not think you have to make a confession of those sins again.
I want to add that just because you didn’t hear everything the priest said, that doesn’t mean he didn’t say it properly. Give the priest the benefit of the doubt in these situations. This wasn’t one of those blatant cases where the priest goes on his own little adventure to the zoo and winds up doing something obviously invalid.
Also, and this may be part of your point, you don’t always have to hear or understand everything for sacraments to be valid.
On the other hand, priests should do their best to be clear in the celebration of sacraments so that people never have to doubt for a moment that what they just experienced was licit and valid.
If the priest is having problems because of the language, then I would go – discretely – to talk to the pastor of the parish and explain your experience, not in a mean way, but an informative way. Perhaps all this needs is a two minute conversation between the pastor and the priest to clarify that, "In this parish, we use the words in the book… and here they are."
To priests and bishop who are reading this… and there are a lot of you… this doesn’t have to be hard.
Make it clear to people that you take what you are doing seriously. Do not give scandal to people. Do not provoke doubts. They are particularly sensitive in the sacrament of penance.
Say it correctly in the vernacular or in Latin.
From a priest reader:
I have gone to Confession in [different Western languages] to Indian priests and I have experienced on many – the majority – of occasions that they do not say the words of absolution. Instead there is often a sort of flowery prayer ending with the words "and so Jesus forgives you" or "God forgives you."
I think the problem is often that they do not know the formula. If corrected, it becomes clear that they do not know the form. I’ve tried telling it to them, but that doesn’t go over to well.
A fair number of the Indian priests serving in the U.S. are not even of the Latin rite, they’re Syro-Malabar – some have not celebrated a Roman Mass before coming here, thus they import from what they know, or they make it up as they go along.
It has come to the point that I avoid going to Indian priests for confession. Also, some priests may not know the form in English or Latin – perhaps a nice gift for parishes/priests would be a nicely framed card for the confessional with the necessary prayers.
An excellent suggestion! I would say in Latin and English in the newer and older forms!