QUAERITUR: “forgive” rather than “absolve”

From a reader:

Recently, a friend who goes to the same parish as me told me that he goes to Fr. So-and-so instead of the pastor, since the pastor uses “I forgive you of your sins, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
I have searched your blog for this particular wording, and I couldn’t find the answer. Can the priest use “forgive” in place of “absolve”?
I have always assumed this was okay, but now I want to hear “absolved.” Because of my friend, when I last made my confession, I gently asked the priest if he could use the “regular” words. He seemed a bit taken aback (upset, even), and I added “could you use the word ‘absolve'” and he said he DID use those words. I went to pray my penance, but felt compelled to go back in line to wait for the other priest to make my confession again. Please tell me “I forgive you your sins (or sometimes ‘all your sins’)” is valid and complete!

Yes, your sins were forgiven.

Here is another example of how the faithful are disturbed by the variations priests decide to adopt.

BISHOPS… and lots of you are reading…. think about this.

BISHOPS… people are going back to other priests because YOUR PRIESTS don’t seem to be able to give the words of absolution as they are in the book.

JUST READ THE DAMN WORDS.

One day you bishops, you priests, will face the DREAD KING OF MAJESTY.

Do you want to go to hell because of your neglect?

Are you not ashamed that YOUR PEOPLE think they have to go to a BLOG to have the security that their sins were forgiven?

I beg you, bishops.  Have some sort of workshop for priests, just to review the basics of the sacramental form.  Even just… send a letter.   Do something.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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31 Responses to QUAERITUR: “forgive” rather than “absolve”

  1. Animadversor says:

    Why do they toy with this stuff? It seems so arrogant, so narcissistic. How can they toy with someone’s soul like that? Thank God sacraments are hard things to break, since it sure seems as though some priests are trying to see just how far they can go. This guy should write to his bishop.

  2. Andy F. says:

    Can we get a coffee mug that says “JUST READ THE DAMN WORDS.” I think it would be a lovely home for a mug of mystic monk.

  3. I don’t think most of the time this is arrogance.

    Most of the time this is ignorance and bad habit.

    Both of those can be corrected.

  4. Kevin B. says:

    I once went to confession and the priest gave absolution by saying, “Jesus forgives you all of your sins, and I do too.” I spent the rest of that day frantically doing google searches trying to determine if that absolution was valid or not. Eventually, to give myself peace of mind, I made the same confession to another priest the next day and he clearly enunciated “Ego te absolvo” much to my relief.

    To any seminarians, priests, or bishops who may read this, I beg of you, in the name of God, say the words exactly as they are written.

  5. AmyR says:

    I would most definitely buy that mug!!!

  6. Gaz says:

    Yes, I had an ‘absolve vs forgive’ argument in a confessional once. Leaves a nasty taste in the mouth really. I’m there to confess my sins (including sins against charity) not to commit them.

  7. joanofarcfan says:

    “Can we get a coffee mug that says ‘JUST READ THE DAMN WORDS’?”
    Oh, I would certainly buy one of these. Maybe two.

  8. gluon says:

    One thing I’ve always noticed among the Jesuits is (in my experience) – no matter how wacky their personal pastoral outlook may be – they always use the correct words of absolution.

  9. Fr Matthew says:

    Inspired by this post and the “Seusscharist” in your other post:
    Say the black, and do the red;
    don’t turn the sacraments on their head!
    the faithful want to know it’s done right,
    don’t keep them wondering, up all night.
    Don’t try to make it cute, or rhyme,
    or leave things out just to save time.
    Fuzzy feelings are all very well,
    but they won’t help us to stay out of hell.
    You don’t need to dance, or ham it up,
    or use a crystal or wooden cup.
    Remember, you’ll face the all-knowing Judge,
    and liturgy isn’t something you can fudge!
    Just say the black and do the red,
    and that’s the way our souls are fed –
    Or, “Just read the damn words!”, as some would say,
    and that would help us all on our way.
    —————
    Maybe I should not read blogs before breakfast…

  10. Gail F says:

    I third the motion: Coffee mugs that say “JUST READ THE DAMN WORDS.”

    My pastor changes words all the time. Partly it’s a love for “inclusive language” — that’s another issue — but partly I think he is just that kind of guy. Lots of people are loose with things, or want to give them their own stamp. But liturgy is not the place to do that.

  11. Bryan Boyle says:

    @Fr. Matthew:

    Priceless. You are a poet.

  12. ray from mn says:

    Fr. Z: “Most of the time this is ignorance and bad habit.”

    I think there is some scrupulosity here, too. Please trust in the Divine Mercy of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

  13. C. says:

    The two times I’ve asked the priest to correct his formula, he did so.

    The times I did not ask the priest to correct his formula, I can still get angry about, even though the sun has gone down. Shame on me.

  14. glennbcnu says:

    That should be “JUST READ THE UNDAMNING WORDS”

  15. Miriam says:

    Question:

    I have read that the words we should use in confession are:

    Bless me Father for I have sinned.

    I have also read:

    Forgive me Father for I have sinned.

    Which is it and does it matter? I prefer the Bless me Father but that’s just me.

  16. catoholic says:

    Is “Your sins are forgiven you” also equally valid?

    To Gluon: The priest who takes English-language confessions at my church is a lovely old Jesuit but the above is what he always says… to be fair he is Spanish, so maybe it’s a translation thing.

  17. TomG says:

    Once again, as with Holy Mass, if the words were spoken in Latin, there.would.be.no.problem.

  18. Scott W. says:

    Which is it and does it matter?

    As far as licitness, it might. As far as validity, my completely unauthoritative layman’s understanding says no. That is, “_____ me Father, for I have sinned” is not part of the form of the sacrament.

  19. irishgirl says:

    Fr. Matthew-you are a poet! Love the ‘Seussical’ tone!
    Fr. Z-you are so right on the money!

  20. One of those TNCs says:

    Words have meanings. Isn’t that what WDTPRS is all about? In Father’s [in]famous line, the word “damn” is used as an adjective, describing “words.”
    “Oh, but you know what he means” does not cut it; WDTPRS constantly chops that argument to pieces.
    “Father, your children are watching you.” What example does a man – a priest – give his children when he publicly curses out priests and bishops? That’s what “JUST READ THE D*** WORDS” does.
    Angry? Understandable. But don’t forget the admonition to self-edit.
    And I am very saddened that cursing has become so ubiquitous and “meaningless” that we gleefully join in when it suits our mood. Surely children of God live up to a higher standard.
    I’m very sorry, but I would click on the “flag as offensive” option, were it given.

  21. robtbrown says:

    Animadversor says:

    Why do they toy with this stuff? It seems so arrogant, so narcissistic.

    They have been trained to try to be spontaneous and conversational in liturgy (which, IMHO, is itself anti-liturgical).

  22. Childermass says:

    Thanks, Father. This post is an encouragement to us who are let down by our priests. I, like almost everybody I know, has experienced shenanigans in the confessional. Regarding the words of absolution, in the past I have been sent out with no penance, mangled words of absolution, *no* words of absolution, or a combination of two.

    So I use discernment and go to priests who I’ve already “road-tested,” if you will.

    “I don’t think most of the time this is arrogance. Most of the time this is ignorance and bad habit.
    Both of those can be corrected.”

    Yes, I agree it is probably negligence in most cases. But in case of the Mass texts, it’s mostly arrogance.

  23. St. Louis IX says:

    Recently I went to confession. The Priest started with the original format but ended with God Absolves you of your sins. I uncomfortably asked him about that, and he told me God works through the Priest. I too emailed Father Z to ask if this was valid.

    Please; priests that read this site, as a penitent I ask, plead , The ears of the sinner desperately waits for the words of absolution, and the security of knowing that they were done as the Church prescribes.

  24. ipadre says:

    Another great post Fr. Z! I have people come to me all the time with complaints about the absolution, or of priests who say people are wasting their time because they have no mortal sins. I have received invalid absolutions myself on a few occasions and there is NO excuse for this. A priest who plays with the Sacraments deserves a severe reprimand.
    Liberals like to speak of the rights all the time – the rights of the laity, women, etc… all the time in the Church today. Well, the people have a RIGHT to the sacraments and the assurance of their validity without fear of it being invalid!!!

  25. lucy says:

    To “one of those TNC’s” comment about distasteful word use. “Damn” being the culprit.

    As a famous comedian once said, “What are you going to do when the anvil falls on your foot? Say “Spring is here!”

  26. Theodorus says:

    While it is quite understandable that the faithful are concerned about what words the priest uses at absolution, I would suggest that we should not be overly anxious about it. I was once quite scrupulous and have remade confessions many times because of various reasons. But now, I don’t. I made confession sincerely, and I have done my part, and I know God has accepted my confession and I have been forgiven. If the priest uses different words of absolution, that is his problem, not mine. As long as he has the intention to “absolve” or “forgive” my sins by the authority of Jesus, as intended by the Church, then I won’t be worried about the validity of my confession.

  27. This is such a “no brainer”…just say the damned words, idiot priests!
    Sheesh…to cause such painful anguish, doubt and spiritual distress to the faithful when it is so easy just to do what you are supposed to do.
    I’m at a loss to even comment further; I don’t get it.
    But I’m just a hopeless traditionalist, I guess.
    Too bad for me!

  28. EXCHIEF says:

    To some it may seem nothing more than semantics, but there is a subtle yet distinct difference between forgive and absolve. It is presumptious for a Priest to say he forgives our sins. Only God has the power to do that. A Priest absolves, or pardons, our sins. Pardon and forgive are NOT the same. The Priest absolves on behalf of a God who forgives.

  29. Papabile says:

    I hesitantly agree with EXCHIEF on this.

    When a Priest baptized my son, he stated: “I am now baptizing you”….. I was disturbed enough to seek clarification from the CDW and CDF. They conferred and I had a letter sent to me that the Baptism was valid, but illicit.

    The explanation in the letter said that, in general, for a sacrament, as long as the words conferred the same “meaning” and were done with the same intent, while not deviating largely from the actual words, it would be valid. (I’ll see if I can dig it up and scan it.)

    However, the words absolve and forgive have very different meanings. The word absolvo confers the meaning of “freeing” or a complete remission. Hence, the participle absolutus means complete, or perfect.

    Forgive is more formally conveyed by dimitto, dimittere — to leave behind/breakup, abandon etc.

    It is rare that I disagree with Father. But the word forgive does not seem to me to convey the same general meaning or intent.

  30. Harold says:

    I have not encountered this problem.

    I have encountered many priests who skip the first part of the absolution formula: “God the Father of mercy, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins” and just use the second part of the formula: “Through the ministry of the Church may God grant 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’ve always thought this very practical and a timesaver

  31. colospgs says:

    I once heard “God forgives you, and I forgive you.” That was it! I had to go to my FSSP priest the next day, and he advised me to re-confess because there was “some doubt” as to the validity. The Monsignor at the bishops office agreed with the FSSP priest. What a mess. But at least the first priest got a call from the Bishop’s office after that.