Dear Fr. Z
I recently went to confession, the priest said everything correctly (atleast, im pretty sure he did anyway) up until the part where he is suppose to say “I absolve you of you’r sins.” but, all he said was “I
absolve you.” I know its really just 3 words…but is it enough to tamper with the validity?
This is another example of why priests should SAY THE BLACK and DO THE RED.
People should never have to doubt that they were validly absolved, even for a moment.
Why on earth do priests fool around with the words of absolution? Why? WHY
do they do something so abysmally stupid? WHY would they want to run even the slightest risk of leaving a penitent in doubt about being absolved? WHY?
If what you report is true, that was illicit as a form of absolution though probably it was a valid formula for absolution of sins. That said, it seems to me that the absolution should refer to what is being absolved. He isn’t absolving a censure, after all. The confessional is the place to confess, primarily, sins, though censures are also absolved. From this it can be argued that you don’t have to mention sins explicitly.
The formula in its short form is “Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis, in nomine Patris +, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti… I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father +, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This is the very last part of a longer formula, “God, the Father of Mercies, 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; 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. Amen.” The short version suffices by itself in a pinch. More priests these days are using the older, traditional form of absolution as well.
That said, St. Thomas Aquinas argues (though his opinions are not the equivalent of the Church’s Magisterium – never forget that) that “Ego te absolvo” is the form of the sacrament (ST III, Q. 84, Art. 3). If he is right, then that may suffice.
The Catechism of the Council of Trent, reliable and surely an expression of the Church’s Magisterium, and surely working from Aquinas has this:
Pastors should not neglect to explain the form of the Sacrament of Penance. A knowledge of it will excite the faithful to receive the grace of this Sacrament with the greatest possible devotion. Now the form is: I absolve thee, as may be inferred not only from the words, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth shall be bound also in heaven, but also from the teaching of Christ our Lord, handed down to us by the Apostles.
That said, it seems to me that these days the minimum form in the Latin Church (the Eastern Churches have their own somewhat different practices) is “Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis… I absolve you from your sins.” As far as I can tell, this is what most authors stand by. Because I am an Unreconstructed Ossified Manualist, I consulted several manuals (e.g., Tanquerey, Prümmer, Sabetti Barrett). They all come to the same basic conclusion. “Absolvo te a peccatis tus” is certainly valid, and “Absolvo te” is probably valid, but if possible the longer form should be repeated to be sure.
Part of the problem I see in this whole discussion – aside from the arrogance of priests who screw around with the form of absolution – is the notion of what the bare minimum is, as if to suggest that perhaps the rest is not so important.
Certainly we need to know what constitutes a valid absolution. In some cases of emergencies that can be important. In most cases, in most confessionals, there is no need to reduce the form of the sacrament to the bare minimum. If there is need to save some time because of long lines, etc, or even if he simply wants to adhere to the old stricture of not delaying absolution the priest can always start with the whole formula while the penitent is saying the Act of Contrition, reserving the core of the form of absolution for when the penitent is finished.
I caution against reduction of sacramental forms or the administration of sacraments with the bare minimum. It seems to me this leads to all manner of liturgical abuses over the past few decades. “So long as we do this minimum part right, its valid! The rest we can fool around with.”
If you confess to a priest who regularly does something dodgy with the form of absolution, I would politely bring it up. People are within their rights to have the form of absolution spoken as it is in the book. Ask the priest to give you absolution with the proper form. Do not be nasty or aggressive about this. If that doesn’t help, talk to the pastor of the parish and/or the local bishop. If that doesn’t produce results, send a copy of your correspondence to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (not Divine Worship) and seek a clarification.