From a reader…
I’ve heard you say that one of the cruelest things a priest can do is hear your confession and not (at least) say “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Now, if the priest or penitent were unaware of this mistake wouldn’t Canon 144 apply and thus make the absolution valid?
That’s not quite what I have said. I have said, and I’ll say it again, that one of the cruelest things that priests can do is leave someone in doubt about the validity of sacraments, such as penance or baptism. Fathers, say the words as they are in the book! Don’t fool around with the validity of sacraments by “improving” them with your own musings. You do not have the knowledge, wisdom or authority to do so. Say The Black and Do The Red when it comes to the sacramental forms. Better: use Latin.
Can. 144 says:
The Church supplies, in both the internal and external forum, the executive power of governance in common error, in positive and probable doubt, whether of fact or of law.
This is the famous ecclesia supplet.
Canon 144 only refers to the Church supplying “potestatem regiminis executivam”, the “executive power of governance”.
Keeping with confession as an example, and one that involves internal forum, can. 144 covers instances wherein a priest who lacks the faculty to hear confessions at all, or he just lacks them in a particular place or situation, nevertheless believes he has the faculty and the penitent also believes he does. Thus, it doesn’t quite cover the situation of SSPX priests, who know very what proper authority as instructed about their state: they lack faculties. They, however, do not obey proper authority. They might honestly believe that they can receive confessions because of some state of “emergency” that the Church is in, but, intellectually, they know that the Church has told them that they don’t. They aren’t ignorant of the facts, though they – even with sincerity – may not accept them. Some lay people are up to date on the controversy, though most are not.
Can. 144 is not meant to say that the Church supplies anything that is missing from a juridic or sacramental act, as it is often erroneously cited. Imagine a priest who, when presented a ciborium full of unconsecrated hosts at the Lamb of God, put in a few consecrated hosts, covered it and shook it up, saying, “ecclesia supplet”! Yes, that’s a true story.
Can. 144 would not supply validity to an invalid, or even to a doubtful, formula.
So in this situation, the formula of absolution is still doubtful. That said, the penitent’s sins are more than likely forgiven. Also to be considered is what God does in the soul of the penitent who is sincerely sorry and has done her very best in confession of her sins.
Lastly, it is rare indeed that the priest screws up the form of absolution so badly that he invalidates the sacrament. That’s a separate issue from causing wonder in the penitent, however.
GO TO CONFESSION!