From a reader:
I went to Confession the other day before a Tridentine Mass, and the confessor said the prayers of absolution in Latin. I know this is permitted, but is it encouraged in the same way as Latin in the liturgy of the Mass? After all, it seems that the prayers in Confession are said to be heard by the penitent as much as by God.
When you say “hear” I assume you mean “understand” the words.
The best part of this was that you got to go to confession! Wasn’t that great? HURRAY! Right?
If this was before Mass in the Extraordinary Form then the priest probably said the words of absolution also in the Extraordinary Form. If you go to Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Form, it shouldn’t be a surprise that when confessions are heard the priest uses the EF also for the words of absolution… in Latin.
The Latin is so precise. The Latin is so clear. The Latin is so… Catholic.
It may be of a certain immediate comfort to “hear” the words of absolution and “understand” them because they are in English, but consider the following.
Because of the way some priests screw around with the form of absolution in English, when you hear Latin your first reaction ought to be “LATIN! Thanks be to God! I can relax!” When you hear Latin, you know the priest is dedicated to getting it right and you don’t have to doubt what is going to happen next.
Furthermore, Catholics know that they don’t have to see, hear or feel a sacrament take place. We don’t have to understand everything, we believe. In one apartment I had in Rome I had radiators. I never actually felt any heat from them. I assumed the heat was some sort of sacramental heat. The radiator was the outward sign, the clanking of the radiators a couple times a day was the form, and I, therefore, believed that I was warmer even though I didn’t feel warmer. I didn’t understand why things in Rome didn’t work the way they ought to, but I had faith and hope, though my love was defective when it came to building maintenance.
Okay, that’s a bad analogy, since the radiators didn’t do what they were supposed to do, which was heat my apartment. Seriously, sacraments work better than Roman radiators.
The matter of the Sacrament of Penance is the telling of your sins. The form is the formula of absolution spoken by the validly priest who has faculties. Even if you can’t hear Father say it, you have been absolved. If you were deaf, you would still be absolved. If the priest were speaking in, say, Tamil, you would still be absolved, provided he used the right form.
Even if the priest were to speak in Latin… imagine that, in the Latin Church… you are still absolved!
The fact that God forgives our hideous black sins, each one of which is worthy of eternal damnation and perpetual agony in the deep cinders of Hell, is a great and consoling mystery. Frankly, I must confess that when I hear the words spoken in English I am incapable of understanding – more than if they were in Latin or in Tamil – the mystery of Jesus’ Sacrifice, or God the Father’s mercy, or the return of the Holy Spirit to the ignominious temple which is my soul.
Let the words of absolution be mysterious. Let mystery be mystery. Seek encounters with mystery when our sacred rites are enacted.
I don’t want to underplay the dimension of immediate human comfort we can derive from hearing the words of absolution. Absolution is one of those moments in life when we are the most exposed and the most hopeful. Focus, therefore, on the fact of the absolution and the mystery you encounter in the moment.
The use of Latin should put you at ease that the right form was used. In a pinch, you can always follow the English translation.
But you asked “is it encouraged?”
Holy Church does, in fact, encourage the use of Latin. Latin is the language of our Latin Church. However, for pastoral reasons, the vernacular can be used as well. Therefore, I will assert that, yes, the Church encourages Latin, even for the Sacrament of Penance. That is, the Sacrament of Penance – properly celebrated – is encouraged, and in the Latin Church we Latins use Latin for our sacraments. Remember that the proper language of the Ordinary Form is unquestionably Latin.
Love the Latin. Need the Latin. Request the Latin.