QUAERITUR: During confession what was the priest saying?

From a reader:

Today, during Holy Mass, I went to confession. The priest told me to say my Act of contrition, then he would absolve me. So, as I started to say it, he began to whisper something in Latin. Hopefully it was the absolution, but I do not recall if he said Ego te absolve a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris et Filli, et Spiritus Sancti. I couldnt really tell because I was sating the act of contrition at the same time. When I finished, he was already done. Father, do you think he did say it. I pretty sure, because its at St. Margaret Mary in Oakland, and it is ran by ICKSP. Thank you for your time and consideration.  

First, any one reading this should not be surprise that a person could go to confession during Mass.  This is an old custom, and recently the Holy See said that it is not only permitted to hear confessions during Mass, it is at times a good idea.  We need to foster this sacrament.

Second, to the question:

For a priest to be able to give you absolution, he must be sure that you are properly disposed to be absolved.  You must display either attrition (sorrow for sin because you fear punishment) or contrition (sorrow because you offended God).  Once the priest is certain that you are adequately disposed, then the priest should not delay giving absolution.  Some priests take this very literally.

Thus, some older priests (and this priest too) begin to recite in a low voice or whisper the formula of absolution as soon as he has heard part of the act of contrition which expresses attrition ("I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell").

I am guessing that this is what the priest is doing.   However, I think he should probably say the sacramental form at the end more clearly when the pentitent has finished the act of contrition.

If in the confessional you are in doubt about whether the priest has absolved you, by all means respectfully ask the priest before you get out of the confessional.  Remember point #15 of Fr. Z’s 20 Tips For Making A Good Confession.

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  1. mike c says:

    There is yet another consideration. That the penitent has at least started his Act of Contrition indicates to the confessor were that the penitent has the right intention. There is the matter of time. Was the confessor also to assist distributing Communion. It has been my experience for 50 years that the confessor will start the absolution formula as the penitent begins his Act. It is always good to be wary, but don’t be so scrupulous. When there is a great line of people for Confession, it is practical to start the Absolution as the Act is begun. It saves time and moves the line along.

  2. Athanasius says:

    Yes, but it wouldn’t affect time very much if the priest waited until the penitent was finished with the act of contrition to say the ego te absolvo.

  3. MacBeth says:

    Our parish now has a priest in the confessional during Mass. Best of all, people go in!

  4. Gloria says:

    At St. Stephen’s in Sacramento there is confession a half hour before every Mass, weekdays, Sundays, Holy Days, and between 8-9 a.m. on Saturdays. Since our parishioners come from 17 counties in No. California, the Sunday lines for Confession are necessarily long. They do start the absolution as you say the Act of Contrition, having already given the penance. It’s a matter of time. Usually, two of our priests begin to hear confessions. One continues even after Mass has started and stays as long as necessary unless it will be a Solemn High Mass and all three of our priests are needed. We are fortunate to have a Carmelite priest who comes to help with Holy Communion on most Sundays. If he is not there the priest left in the confessional stops before Holy Communion because it takes three priests to distribute the Sacrament. I know it seems that I keep bragging about our parish. It isn’t so much that. I want to share what can be done with devoted priests who live their vocation to the fullest extent and care about their flock. I thank God every day for what we are blessed to have. These holy young men give their all to the point of exhaustion, I think, sometimes. Their days are full, even to teaching in our new 7-12 grade Academy. Besides caring and careful confessors, they are indeed teachers and preachers. The FSSP celebrate the 20th anniversary of their inception in Rome, October. Pray for the continued success of their apostolate for tradition.

  5. aeneas says:

    RE: “The priest told me to say my Act of contrition, then he would absolve me. So, as I started to say it, he began to whisper something in Latin. Hopefully it was the absolution, but I do not recall if he said Ego te absolve a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris et Filli, et Spiritus Sancti.”

    The priest was probably using the full form of absolution found in the Rituale Romanum. (Benziger Brothers, 1947 pp. 79-80)

    The full text is:

    Misereatur tui omnipotens Deus, et, dimissis peccatis tuis perducat te ad vitam aeternam. Amen
    Indulgentiam, absolutionem, et remissionem peccatorum tuorum, tribuat tibi omnipotens et misericors Dominus. Amen.
    Dominus noster Jesus Christus te absolvat: et ego auctoritate ipsius te absolvo ab omni vinculo excommunicationis, suspensionis, et interdicti, in quantum possum, et tu indiges. Deinde ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis, in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen

    Notice that the actual absolution comes at the end, thus giving the penitent time for an Act of Contrition.

  6. Dr. Ransom says:

    To whomever wrote in with this question: if your confession took place during the TLM, and you received the sacrament from a Polish priest with a somewhat thick accent, don’t worry; you were absolved. I’ve been to confession during Mass there several times, and when I’ve had occasion to listen, I’ve heard the Latin absolution each time.

    If this is an Ordinary Form Mass you’re talking about, I can’t be as sure. That said, in the time I’ve spent at St. Margaret Mary’s, I’ve (thankfully) never found any reason to distrusts the priests there.

  7. Dr. Ransom says:

    Oops, that should have been “distrust.”

  8. craig says:

    I have been getting a lot of priests in one particular order parish that are only saying:
    I absolve you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

    I was going to write the superior, until he started doing it. With my work schedule its hard to make it to other places for confession (gotta love everyone doing it at the same time).

  9. LG says:

    The TLM at St. Margaret Mary in Oakland is as solid as they come. In fact it’s certainly the best in the Bay Area. My experience with confession during the TLM has been just fine. The only complaint I have is that the confession line is long during the TLM, and sometimes not all penitents get through it before Mass ends. It would be nice if confession could start a little earlier. That TLM is often really crowded. Sometimes it’s not easy to find comfortable seating if you don’t get there right on time. Unfortunately there is only one Traditional Mass at St. Margaret Mary on Sunday. Another TLM is definitely needed. It’s a problem I wish they would correct soon.

  10. AlephGamma says:

    It was probably just the accent throwing whomever wrote the question. Latin when spoken by a non English speaker, whether from a German, Polish or Spanish priest may just sound different to persons who only hear Latin with an American English accent. “Dominus vobiscum” from an American English speaker to me sounds odd and sometimes sounds like “Dominic go frisk’em”

  11. I have been to confession at St. Margaret Mary with that same priest.

    (1) He recites the formula in Latin, and although I don’t have every word memorized, I know enough Latin to recognize that he is saying the correct prayer or something very close to it!

    (2) When I was a kid (1970s) the priest always listened to you make the act of contrition, and would even prompt you if you were forgetting it.

    But in recent years I have gone to confession at several different churches on the West Coast, and there is much more “diversity”. Sometimes the priest doesn’t mention the act of contrition at all, nor give me time to say it. Sometimes the priest asks me to say it, and listens. Sometimes (including this priest at St. Margaret Mary, as well as at a Church that has no TLM connection), the priest says “Make an act of contrition and I will give you absolution”, and then immediately begins his absolution without waiting for me.

    This confuses me, because until today it never occurred to me that the priest might actaually be asking me to pray one prayer while he prayed another at the same time! So what I have usually done has been to listen to his absolution, make the sign of the cross, say “Thank you, Father,” and then after I exit the confessional, pray the formal act of contrition before doing my penance.

  12. Jayna says:

    Has anyone experienced going to confession and not being asked to recite the act of contrition? The first time I went in my parish I thought it was just the one priest (he has a thing about not following rules), but since then I’ve been going to the pastor and he has not once asked me to say it. Am I right in thinking it would be a good idea to point this out to him?

  13. watermarks says:

    Jayna – I have the same question. The priest who usually hears Confession in my parish has never asked me to recite the act of contrition. He has also never given any penance. I’ve asked him about the penance before, but things haven’t changed.

    Silly, maybe, but perhaps “I am truly sorry” sounds contrite enough. It just doesn’t quite mean the same though.

  14. The only time I was given absolution while praying the Act of Contrition is when lines were incredibly long. I think it might have even been Divine Mercy Saturday.

  15. Jayna says:

    watermarks – I don’t even really get the chance to say “I’m sorry,” per se. I guess he figures that the fact that I’m even there is appearing contrite enough. As to penance, I’ve never really been given it in the traditional sense like I used to (say x Hail Mary’s, etc.), rather it’s more to the effect of telling me to keep the bishop in my prayers when he was sick and the like.

  16. A.T.S. says:

    Priests should take care to say the essential words – ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti – clearly and distinctly so that the penitent can hear them said. These are the precious words of Jesus to the penitent, and a great consolation to the repentant sinner.

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