QUAERITUR: no words of absolution during penance service

From a reader:

I went to confession last evening at my parish after the Advent Penance Service, and one of the visiting priests (there were several), after hearing my sins, said something like "Your sins are forgiven, go in peace." No absolution, no penance, no Act of Contrition… no Sacrament as far as I can see. So I went to our pastor in the confessional, told him what happened, and he gave me absolution, had me say the Act of Contrition, and gave me penance.

Isn’t the Sacrament invalid if the words are not there? Was I right to go to the pastor to receive a real absolution? I feel like our pastor, who is very spiritual and holy and traditional, in inviting other priests into the parish, opened the door to at least one wolf, who came in and attacked the sheep by sabotaging their confessions… and some of those who suffered this were children making their first confessions.


First, don’t be too tough on the pastor.  He is trying to offer the sacrament of penance and took the effort to invite priests to hear confessions.  Also, it might not be entirely fair to paint the priest in that light, since you have no idea what happened with the other people who went to him.

Second, the words of absolution must be pronounced by the priest.  Also, the priest should be assured that there is true remorse and firm purpose of amendment, which is partly what the Act of Contrition is for.  Also, there must be some kind of penance.

Thus, you were right to go to the other priest and explain what happened.

We need a revitalization of the sacrament of penance.

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  1. Fr. BJ says:

    Fr. Zuhlsdorf:

    In that case, do you think the penitent would need to go through his entire confession again with the new priest, or do you think it is sufficient for them to go, explain that they had just confessed but were not given absolution, and then receive absolution without re-confessing the sins?

    I can’t recall covering a situation like this in my penance practicum when I was in seminary!

  2. Therese Z says:

    shoot. Our pastor (who BTW is an awesome penance-giver, very thoughtful and prayerful ones) *never* says the words of absolution or requires me to make an act of contrition, he too essentially says “go your sins are forgiven.

    I asked him once, lightly, if I could say it and then he could absolve me and I got an eye-roll (another reason not to go face-to-face). So I’ve never asked again and sometimes I just end up with him in the confessional. I had presumed it was valid – no?

    as I say, shoot.

  3. Flambeaux says:

    Ecclesia supplet?

  4. Since we’re reviving confession, can I put in an open request to offer the sacrament more often? Pretty much every parish’s Confession time is on Saturday afternoon.

    Which is like THE HARDEST time to ever go to Confession. It would be easier if it were at 3:00 AM on a Tuesday.

    I’m just saying that if priests want more people in the booth, they can do their part too.

    And save me your kind-spirited guff about making appointments. I doubt that I’m going to make an appointment unless I’ve just killed someone and changed my mind about it.

  5. Romulus says:

    Therese Z — Something like that happened to me once (an older fellow, the priest was past 70, I’d say). After a bit of gentle haggling I finally got the words of absolution.

    Having thought it over, I now know what I’ll say if it should ever come up again: “Father, don’t do it just for me. Embrace your priesthood, which gives you the power to say things the rest of us can’t. Your sacramental character was hard-won, so don’t treat it lightly.”

  6. Jacob says:

    Comment by WhollyRoaminCatholic — 2 December 2008 @ 4:57 pm

    I wish my parish did it in the afternoon on Saturday. The regular time is 10 am and that’s usually just too early for me without a whole lot of putting off medications and everything else I need in the morning.

  7. Geoffrey says:

    There’s one older priest where I go to confession who says something like “May our Lord Jesus forgive you your sins, and by his authority I absolve you, in the name of the Father… etc.” What words are necessary for valid absolution? Is it “I absolve you…”? I hope so! :-( [If he says the words of the form of absolution, it is valid.]

    P.S. This priest also never has you make an Act of Contrition, and his “penance” for everyone is to “go to Holy Communion.” [That doesn’t sound like a penance. Haven’t I answered this before? Hmmm… deja vu all over again.]

  8. dominic1962 says:

    Saturday afternoon/evening is basically the “traditional” time for parish confessions and aside from individual work schedules, I really fail to see why it is the hardest time to go. Personally, I don’t see a better time, aside from before and during Mass on Sunday.

  9. Charlotte says:

    There is a parish here in my town where the priest routinely never asks for an act of contrition or gives out penance. He also routinely gives counsel in the form of catch phrases and cliches straight from the AA and Alanon books. I am annoyed by this. He’s a nice priest and all, he truly wants to help me while in the confesssional. But there’s a part of me that also says: So what? There are so few people who go to confession in the first place (overall), that it should seem to be obvious that those who do come, they want the sacrament as it it’s supposed to be and has always been. I get the feeling from this priest that his laid-back and guilt-decreasing actions (or non-actions?) are meant to distinctly convey a message to the sinner that we should all just take a chill pill and not worry so much about God’s displeasure with our sins. (In fact, one time he flat out said that a certain sin – which trust me, it’s a sin – wasn’t a sin and why was I confessing it?) Thus, back to shopping around for a confessor.

  10. Aelric says:

    I do not believe that ecclesia supplet is applicable to this case. This principle has to do with provision of jurisdiction for an act, not for making an invalid act valid. I believe that Dr. Edward Peters (J.C.D.) has written on this subject at his blog. Any error(s) in my first two sentences are mine, however, not his.

    Seems that this should be simple: say the black and do the red just like at Mass. Priests do not have the authority to modify the words of absolution in the sacrament of confession beyond what is legitimately given: the laity have every right according to Canon Law to demand the same from their pastors. If we allow priests to shoo us away, we have only ourselves to blame.

    From: http://www.usccb.org/liturgy/penance.shtml
    Absolution by the Priest
    Following this prayer, the priest extends his hands, or at least his right hand, over the head of the penitent and pronounces the formula of absolution. As he says the final words he makes the sign of the cross over the head of the penitent:

    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.5

    The penitent answers, “Amen.”

  11. Astorg says:

    I think the situation here is pretty unfortunate. Christ not only declared that sins were forgiven, but really and actually forgave them; hence, the Apostles are empowered not merely to announce to the sinner that his sins are forgiven but to grant him forgiveness—”whose sins you shall forgive”. If their power were limited to the declaration “God pardons you”, they would need a special revelation in each case to make the declaration valid.

    According to St. Thomas (Summa Theologiæ III.74.2) “the acts of the penitent are the proximate matter of this sacrament”. This is also the teaching of Eugenius IV in the “Decretum pro Armenis” (Council of Florence, 1439) which calls the act’s “quasi materia” of penance and enumerates them as contrition, confession, and satisfaction (Denzinger-Bannwart, “Enchir.”, 699).

    According to Scotus (In IV Sent., d. 16, q. 1, n. 7) “the Sacrament of Penance is the absolution imparted with certain words” while the acts of the penitent are required for the worthy reception of the sacrament. The absolution as an external ceremony is the matter, and, as possessing significant force, also the form. Among the advocates of this theory are St. Bonaventure, Capreolus, Andreas Vega, and Maldonatus. The Council of Trent (Sess. XIV, c. 3) declares: “the acts of the penitent, namely contrition, confession, and satisfaction, are the quasi materia of this sacrament”. The Roman Catechism used in 1913 (II, v, 13) says: “These actions are called by the Council quasi materia not because they have not the nature of true matter, but because they are not the sort of matter which is employed externally as water in baptism and chrism in confirmation”.

    Regarding the form of the sacrament, both the Council of Florence and the Council of Trent teach that it consists in the words of absolution. “The form of the Sacrament of penance, wherein its force principally consists, is placed in those words of the minister: “I absolve thee, etc.”; to these words indeed, in accordance with the usage of Holy Church, certain prayers are laudably added, but they do not pertain to the essence of the form nor are they necessary for the administration of the sacrament” (Council of Trent, Sess. XIV, c. 3).

    As stated above, the absolution given by the priest to a penitent who confesses his sins with the proper dispositions remits both the guilt and the eternal punishment (of mortal sin). There remains, however, some indebtedness to Divine justice which must be cancelled here or hereafter. In order to have it cancelled here, the penitent receives from his confessor what is usually called his “penance”. This is defined, in the words of St. Thomas: “The payment of the temporal punishment due on account of the offence committed against God by sin” (Summa Theologicæ Supplement.12.3). The Catholic doctrine on this point is set forth by the Council of Trent, which condemns the proposition: “That the entire punishment is always remitted by God together with the guilt, and the satisfaction required of penitents is no other than faith whereby they believe that Christ has satisfied for them”.

    It is therefore with good reason that the earlier councils — e.g., Laodicaea (A.D. 372) and Carthage IV (397) — teach that satisfaction is to be imposed on penitents; and the Council of Trent but reiterates the traditional belief and practice when it makes the giving of “penance” obligatory on the confessor.

    Finally, it ought to be remembered (although this is not relevant in this particular case) that for valid administration, a twofold power is necessary: the power of order and the power of jurisdiction. The former is conferred by ordination, the latter by ecclesiastical authority.

  12. Stephen says:


    I like the research, but I am confused is it valid or invalid? thank you

  13. magdalene says:

    Our parish priests hear confessions after every daily Mass and again on Saturday afternoon. They just added 3 noon Masses during the week so our faithful have 9, no 10–there is an hour during Tuesday evening Adoration– times to receive the Sacrament at my parish. This makes for holy people and holy priests. They use the proper form for absolution.

    In my former ‘amchurch’ parish, the priests did not like the sacrament and the retired priests were paid to come in. The parish priests did not use the proper absolution and some did not ask for n acto of contrition either. I avoided them and chose an 85 year old retired priest for my confessor; he administered the Sacrament correctly. I recall when one young doctor moved to town and after a couple of weeks asked if there was a Catholic priest in town because none of the ones he had gone to knew how to administer the Sacrament of Confession. I recommended my confessor and that is who he went to from then on.

    Such a HUGE disservice to the faithful when a priest refuses to properly administer the Sacrament.

    My own spiritual director had an instance in his home town when visiting when a chosen confessor pulled the stunt of improper form and my father gently asked him to use the proper form and the priest refused because this is how he always did it. My director left and sought out another priest so he could receive the Sacrament.

  14. Fr. Gary says:

    Aelric is partially correct. The Church only supplies the the power of jurisdiction in certain limited circumstances. The supply is extended to the faculty to hear confessions in certain circumstances as well.
    So there are limited circumstances where otherwise invalid confessions would be validated by the Church’s supply of the faculty to hear confessions to a priest who was otherwise lacking that faculty.

    However, as Aelric says, this is not one of those situations. The Church does not supply the power of orders (i.e., the minister must be a validly ordained priest) or what is lacking in either the matter or the form of the sacrament. In terms of form, along with the intention to absolve, the priest must say the words of absolution. He should say the entire form of the prescribed prayer (while making the sign of the cross over the penitent), but must minimally (and we should strive to be more than minimalists) say “I absolve you.” (“Ego Absolvo te” or “Ego te absolvo” or, perhaps even, “Absolvo te”) Without speaking the works in the active form, there is no absolution.

    The active form of speech is mandated in the Latin Church for validity by ecclesiastical law. The validity of the Eastern discipline is not an issue.

  15. A Random Friar says:

    Part of the principle that the laity have a right to receive the sacraments (in a reasonable manner — i.e., don’t call me at 3 AM if it can wait until office hours) is that they be done properly, in this case with the correct formula for the respective rite. As far as this priest is concerned, you have every right to ask for a proper absolution.

    The old Catholic Encyclopedia has a good article on Greek vs Latin (deprecatory vs. indicative). See: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01061a.htm

  16. Rouxfus says:

    Zenit recently published a Q&A article on this very subject and it is not a matter to be taken lightly. According to the Zenit article, it may be a “very grave crime of simulating a sacrament.”

    I had a personal experience with this issue in September. I realized after I’d left the confessional that Father had not used the formula when he gave absolution. He said “Your sins are forgiven…” instead of “I absolve you…”. I returned to the confessional after the penitent who followed me had left, and told Father I’d come back for seconds. He laughed, and then I explained that I’d come back in humility and respect, but had left before feeling that I hadn’t been absolved. He said, no, that he’d given me the words, and he said them again and they weren’t the required formula. I pointed out to him in an examination of conscience booklet an instruction that says “The words required for absolution are…” He looked at me sheepisly and said “I have a confession to make – I don’t believe I have the power to absolve you – only God has that power.” I suggested that if he could act in persona Christi and by his sacred hands transform bread and wine into the Holy Eucharist then the same powers conferred by the Bishop in the sacrament of Holy Orders applied to the sacrament of Reconciliation, and that the Holy Church had provided the explicit form and matter for the proper application of the sacrament it should be used. He relented, finally, and gave me the words according to the formula.

    I saw the priest later and he said that what I’d said to him affected him and he’d modified the formula, but even then the formula he recited wasn’t the one laid out in the Catechism:

    God, the Father of mercies,
    through the death and the 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


    Here is the Zenit Q&A:

    ROME, OCT. 28, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

    Q: What would be the consequences of a priest who did not use the formula of absolution during a confession — maybe no formula, much less the correct one? If this invalidates the sacrament, what should the penitent do? Would it be necessary to repeat the confession in the case of mortal sin? What about a “devotional” confession or one where only venial sin was confessed? — B.H., Iron Mountain, Michigan

    A: A slight lapse or omission in reciting the formula of absolution would not affect its validity, provided that the words “I absolve you from your sins” are said. While a priest should always recite the complete formula of absolution, in urgent cases, especially when there is imminent danger of death, the above essential words would be sufficient for validity.

    Of course, here we are dealing with the Roman rite. Eastern Catholic Churches have other valid formulas, most of which do not contain the “I absolve you” expression.

    It is a liturgical abuse to shorten the absolution formula because there are many penitents awaiting confession. It is legitimate in such cases, however, to encourage the faithful to use one of the brief acts of contrition found in the rite of penance.

    As the formula of absolution is the form of the sacrament of reconciliation, the recitation of its essential part is required for validity and its complete omission would void the sacrament.

    In this case God would certainly restore a sincere penitent to the state of grace in spite of the priest’s omission. But this would not remove the obligation of confessing a mortal sin again and receiving absolution. It would not be necessary in the case of venial sin.

    If a penitent realizes that a priest has not granted absolution or has omitted the essential words, then the proper thing to do is to tell the priest immediately and request absolution before leaving the confessional. It is probable that such an omission is the result of a momentary distraction or fatigue and not some perverse theological or spiritual reason. In these cases the priest will more than likely apologize and grant absolution immediately.

    We must remember that the faithful have a right to receive the Church’s sacraments from the sacred ministers, and the ministers have a corresponding duty to provide that sacrament to any member of the faithful not impeded by law or censure.

    If, unfortunately, the absolution was skipped due to some personal difficulty of the priest (such as lack of faith in the sacrament) and he persists in his refusal after being remonstrated with by the penitent, then the penitent should inform the bishop so that he may take appropriate action in helping this minister to overcome this crisis and return to a truer vision of his sacred mission.

    If, as has sadly happened at least once, a priest undergoing a spiritual crisis deliberately attempts to deceive the faithful by reciting a blessing or some other formula instead of absolution, then he commits the very grave crime of simulating a sacrament.

    This particular case of simulation is extremely rare and so is not explicitly mentioned in canon law. However, if a priest doing so was sufficiently sane of mind to know what he was doing, then he could be punished with suspension and other just penalties.

    As an aside, the proper formula of the sacrament was asserted and proved by St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica, in Part III, Query 84, Article 3:


  17. Fr. Gary says:

    A Random Friar makes a good point regarding the right of the laity to receive the sacraments “done properly.” This should be clearly understood as a fundamental right of the faithful.

    Canon 214 states in part that, “The Christian faithful have the right to worship God according to the prescripts of their own right approved by the legitimate pastors of the Church.” While you or I may find a certain translation of a text horrific or, if we were king, revise a particular ritual to be more pleasing it doesn’t matter. The faithful have a RIGHT to the rite as it was approved. In this case, somebody’s “more meaningful” interpretation of how it should be done (or careless disregard for the ritual) has resulted in an invalid sacrament – one that has a potential impact on a person’s salvation. That is a serious act of malfeasance.

    Canon 846 §1 reads, “In celebrating the sacraments the liturgical books approved by competent authority are to be observed faithfully; accordingly, no one is to add, omit, or alter anything in them on one’s own authority.”

    To quote an often repeated phrase around here, “Say the Black, Do the Red!”

  18. Mitch says:

    It is sometimes terribly difficult to go to confession and confess a mortal sin and I think it would be a scandal for a Priest to omit Absolution or the “words”. I can not imagine having to do it all over again face to face…For many, the confessional makes it much less about the Priest on the other side and more about God. The imagery has a lot to do with the comfort of confession. Is is not difficult to imagine talking to God when you are not looking at eye color, hair color, unshaven or the multitude of details and distractions during the face to face encounters. It is Ok for those who want it or find it more “personal” but I will take the dark with my images anytime..Any omission I think, again, is the attempt by many to put their personal touch on things or impose their view of what is sufficient on others…Does the Vatican (St. Peter’s) have booths or are the confessions heard face to face???

  19. Fr. Gary says:

    Fr Z noted:

    First, don’t be too tough on the pastor. He is trying to offer the sacrament of penance and took the effort to invite priests to hear confessions. Also, it might not be entirely fair to paint the priest in that light, since you have no idea what happened with the other people who went to him.

    Rereading my post above, I do wish to say that my comments are made in principle. Of course, we should approach people in charity and understanding. People have bad days and make mistakes. Some priest may simply be tired and unmindful, while others were poorly educated in sacramental theology and liturgics. We are all period pieces of the time we were in formation. Some, because of their many pastoral concerns, have not kept up on their personal on-going formation and development. So, one should not presume to know what someone’s purpose or motivation is in these situations. However, people do have a right to the rites and liturgical errors and abuses need to be addressed in a kind but direct manner. So speak to you priest about your concerns when necessary, but please do so with a spirit of charity and fraternal affection.

  20. Fr. Gary says:


    As I recall the confessionals at St. Peters are typical in Europe. The priest sits in a booth and the people can kneel on kneelers on either side behind the screen. However, the penitent is in the open, not in a closed or curtained booth himself. The priests booth or closet is open fronted (half door?). I fondly remember watching an Italian fellow going to confession “face-to-face” at the half-door – all hands and gestures. So they were not the three closets of my youth, but they were confessions built for private confessions.

    The canonical norms call for churches always to have an option for private confession behind a fixed grill and the USCCB norms repeat this understanding while calling for there also to be confessionals for the faithful to go to confession face-to-face. However, the priest may always choose to allow only private confessions in a confessional with a fixed grill.

  21. Liz F. says:

    This post is making me realize how blessed my family is. We have the opportunity for confession before each and every mass.(Evenso the lines for confession can sometimes still be long.) Our priests give much more tough penances than I ever had growing up. It’s wonderful. Also, I was trying to get all of my children into confession before a trip last week, but was unsuccessful. The priest kindly heard the last two after mass. Then my 10-year old daughter went to confession in another diocese. She was so upset because she was given no penance and she said the whole thing felt weird (face to face etc.) and like she hadn’t been to confession.

  22. Just this week at our parish we will have Confessions two hours on Friday, two hours on Saturday and after each Mass on Sunday. Seems like Father is always in the Confessional. There were 40 hours of scheduled Confessions during Holy Week this year. He is the only priest at the parish.Here is the actual schedule

  23. NY Priest says:

    From what I understand, the priest is always bound to the integral prayer for liceity except in a grave emergency when a penitent is very imminently dying. Only then could he use the bare minimum of “Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis.”
    “ego te absolvo” is certainly always necessary. I believe that “ego te absolvo” without “a peccatis tuis” may be valid but is doubtfully so. Since we cannot play with probabilities in the sacrament, a priest should never omit those words.

  24. Crusader says:

    I am the one who e-mailed Fr. Z… and I just wanted to make it clear that I did not mean in any way to disparage my pastor, as he is a living saint. I should have said that he “inadvertantly” let in a wolf when he opened the door, [Yes… that would have been a bit better.] because I know he would never do anything that would be detrimental to our faith… he is very protective of his sheep… I’m sorry if it came across the wrong way.

  25. Sandy says:

    Gosh, after reading the whole formula that Fr. Gary posted, I realize that I haven’t heard the first part in years! Maybe I should be grateful that I at least hear the word “absolve”, considering some others’ experiences.

  26. Phillip says:

    At a church I commonly go to, the priest uses the old Latin formula. The great thing that this is in regular parish, not a “traditional” one or one where the EF is said. However, the priest just tells me to say the act of contrition when I leave, as part of my penance, not right before he gives me absolution. Is this licit. I would think so.

  27. Thomas Q. says:

    I also went to a communal penance service tonight. The priest didn’t start “In the name of the Father..” but just asked what I wanted to tell our Lord tonight. I confessed my sins and then we discussed them for a few minutes. The priest gave absolution in the proper form. But reading this post reminded me that he didn’t have me say an act of contrition and he didn’t give me a penance.

    Was my confession okay since the priest did say the words of absolution? I have no problem going back if necessary– it’s First Friday this week, after all. I just don’t want to be seen as making a big deal out of nothing. (If it is a problem, please don’t jump to any negative conclusions about this priest. I was the last one to confess and he did seem a bit tired.)

  28. Geoffrey says:

    Fr. Z said regarding receiving Holy Communion as penance: “That doesn’t sound like a penance. Haven’t I answered this before? Hmmm… deja vu all over again.”

    Yes you did! I had mentioned this in a previous post. Mea culpa! And yes, I don’t really consider it a penance, but I don’t complain or make a scene!

    Fr. Z also said: “We need a revitalization of the sacrament of penance.”

    At the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist a few years back, didn’t a bishop or two suggest a synod on the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation? At the time I thought it was an excellent idea, and I still do! Who decides the topic of a synod? How can we get this one on the books?

  29. Keep in mind that if you have “perfect contrition” in your heart — in other words, if your sorrow for your sins arises from your love for God, and not merely from lesser motives — then your sins are forgiven even without the formal sacrament.

    This should certainly not keep anyone away from this great sacrament! I personally think that none of us can ever know if our own contrition is perfect. St. Paul makes it clear that we are not to attempt to definitively pass judgment on our own heart! So I bring this up only to point out that if your confession turned out to be invalid, you can’t conclude that you are definitely not forgiven! Indeed, God showers his graces on his people even outside of the sacraments. At the same time, of course, the sacraments are the path instituted by Christ for us — so we must not let the abundance of God’s mercy become an excuse for us to think this path can be ignored!

    I’m not phrasing this very well (and if I have said anything that is technically incorrect I hope wiser folks will correct me). What I am trying to say is that if, due to an invalid or questionable sacrament, you are overwhelmed with a feeling of hopelessness, then that might mean you are flirting with despair — which is a sin against the virtue of Hope. On the other hand, if you were to say “I guess I don’t have to bother with questions of the validity of my sacraments, since my contrition is surely perfect,” then that would be presumption — which is the other sin against the virtue of Hope.

  30. mharangelo says:

    I went to confession one time and the priest did not impose penance to me. He was about to say Mass then (and I, serving) so I wasn’t able to tell him.

    Also, our pastor usually tells me to offer the succeeding Mass as penance, since when I go to confession, I usually go before serving at Mass.

    I would like to ask Father Z (and other priest readers) to comment on these.

  31. Fr. Gary says:

    I don’t wish to dominate this discussion, but I would like to respond to a couple of things.

    Thomas was concerned about the validity of his confession. The quasi-matter is contrition, confession and satisfaction (penance). The form is the words of absolution. As NY Priest notes, the entire formula should be used for liceity. The fact of the matter is that he was contrite (I assume); the “act of contrition” is recited as a manifestation of the penitent’s sorrow and resolution to begin anew in Christ. No specific form of the prayer or “act” is mandated. While some prayer should be said for liceity (i.e., to be true to the ritual form prescribed by the Church), the celebration would be valid if the penitent was contrite and no words were said (one can readily sense the contrition of most penitents). Satisfaction should be proposed by the priest and accepted by the penitent. In the case where the satisfaction is omitted, it seems that the sacrament is still valid, but illicit, as long as the penitent desires the completion of the conversion begun in his confession and strengthened in the priest’s absolution.
    As a penitent in this situation (I have never been in such a situation) I would ask for a penance if the priest failed to give me one. If it is too late, i.e., I had already left the confessional, I would impose some act of prayer or charity on myself which is consistent with the sins confessed (as judged in comparison with other penances received) as an means to help me amend my conduct and as an act of reparation for the damage caused by my sin. If I were to go again soon, I would mention to the priest that I hadn’t received a penance this time and whether I had attempted some act myself.

    In this case, what seems clear is that Thomas was contrite and willing to complete an act of satisfaction. That he did not receive a penance is illicit (for the removal of the effects of sin and reorientation toward God), but not invalidating, since he received valid absolution.

    As for perfect contrition, Lawrence is right, it does forgive our sins. However, we are still obliged to confess them when we are able to. I shutter to think we are even discussing this fact in the context of someone having gone to confession.

    Now, I am speculating as I have never thought this through before. I would like to hear what others may think. It seems to me that if someone has confessed grave matter in the context of confession, is truly contrite (especially if he has perfect contrition) and has made satisfaction (done his penance), he has done all that is required of him for the reception of the sacrament. In that case, should the absolution be invalid and he are unaware of it, the next time he receives the sacrament validly, these sins are forgiven. For in this case he is sorry for his sins (and all the sins of his past life) and has confessed all of the grave matter of which he is conscious. Thus not only has he received forgiveness through perfect contrition, but he has confessed grave matter of which he is conscious and received God’s forgiven in a visible and manifest way. Similarly, should someone be aware that he had not received valid absolution, he should repeat the grave matter as best he can remember along with any new sins. Does this sound right?

  32. Astorg says:


    It’s always difficult to make definitive statements about sacramental validity because an all-powerful God can always make good a defective form and/or matter. But the whole point of sacraments that conform to the Church’s prescriptions is that their validity is certain. In this instance, “”Your sins are forgiven, go in peace,” with no absolution, no penance, no act of contrition, the conditions for certain validity of thesacrament do not appear to be met. As others have pointed out in this thread, the form “ego te absolvo [a peccatis tuis]” is absolutely necessary for validity of the sacrament. Contrition is necessary too although if it is really there (something that the priest must establish before absolving) I do not believe it would need to be expressed in any particular form. And finally, if no penance is given and/or performed, the sin will be forgiven but the temporal punishment due on account of the offence will remain.

    Finally, as several people have pointed out above, if there is perfect contrition (but being certain that contrition is perfect is tricky) then the sin will be forgiven even without resorting to the sacrament of penance.

  33. Alessandro says:

    Sometimes reading the comment of this blog make me feel happy to live where I live. We open our confessional rooms at 6:20 in the morning and close at 6:30 pm (at sundays 7:30pm), every day of the year, 1 january included! Our first job is administering the sacrament of penance, so I tell you OF COURSE IS INVALID NOT TO SAY THE PROPER FORMULA (in latin or vernacular), no doubt! Would you take communion if a priest try to consecrate the body of Chist saying on the bread: “Take and eat this wafer” and nothing else? I have never heard anything like that: a priest that doesn’t say the absolution formula (at least the essential words). To be fair, we can have an exception: when the priest is obliged to refuse absolution because the penitent can’t receive it (for example: remarried after a divorce, or other cases) but if he is administering the sacrament in pubblic (not in a confessional box), after kindly explainig the situation to the penitent, he should just give a simple blessing, so that no one (apart from the penitent) can notice that he didn’t absolve the person.

  34. Flambeaux says:


    I have myself met several priests who did not use the proper formula. When I was younger, I thought nothing of it so poor was my catechesis. In the last decade, since I began to take these things seriously, I have begun to challenge priests who don’t use it.

    Some have admitted ignorance, so poor was their formation.

    Others have stated, as one person above has already noted, that they did not believe they had the power to forgive sins. Many of these suffered from poor formation coupled with egalitarian ideas that are anathema to the Kingdom.

    But my experience has generally been positive, especially with priests under the age of 50 or over the age of 70. That is not to say there are not excellent priests between the ages of 50 and 70. But all the priests with whom I had sacramental difficulties here in the United States and in Rome would now be between those ages.

  35. Marie says:

    The traditional Saturday afternoon confession slot works well for retired people who can then stay for the vigil Mass, or for single folks who have control over their weekend schedules. But families with school-age children and teenagers often find themselves at birthday parties, soccer fields, basketball courts, weekend jobs, and other events during the appointed hour. And if making an appointment requires that one run the gauntlet of the gatekeeper in the parish office, it’s probably not going to happen.
    I know a priest in our diocese who was in the confessional every day after the early morning Mass, in part because he wanted to make himself available to penitents who were struggling with sins involving the Internet.

  36. my kidz mom says:

    Marie, we parents who put birthday parties, soccer practice, basketball games, weekend jobs and other events
    before spiritual joys and obligations send a clear message to our kids about our priorities.

  37. Daniel says:

    My confessor always say “In the name of Christ and His Church, I declare your sins are forgiven. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

    However there still an act of contrition and penance.

    I used thought that this was valid because the eastern also don’t have the “ego te absolve”. But now i doubt it….i am confused at now. (sorry for my bad english, english is not my first language)

  38. my kidz mom– save your sanctamony. Saturday afternoon confession is hard to attend.

  39. Flambeaux says:

    Thank you, WRC. It needs to be said. Saturday afternoons are for the convenience of the priest, not for the Faithful. Which is a way for our pastors to tell us they are indifferent to the state of our souls.

  40. Ohio Annie says:

    I am single with “control” over a lot of my time but I still often find myself having to make an appointment. Which is fine. The priests at our parish are delighted that the parisioners just line up for confession which is offered after every weekday Mass and before every weekend Mass. I am relatively new there but the parishioners appear to go to confession once a month or so, judging by the lines.

    I love going to confession. It is so freeing to know you are forgiven especially when sometimes I think I have done something “unforgiveable.”

    At my old parish of the fuzzy theology I often got weird penances (“take something you really like to do and do it as a prayer”) but I think the form was okay. Though the priest used the old form in English (“there have been so many changes”). Yes, changes, sigh…

  41. Michael UK says:

    The parish Priest of the church where I was baptised, et l was so laid back when hearing confession, I was sorely tempted to confess to murder merely to find out his reaction. The Holy Name, Manchester, finds clergy in the confessional three tiems a day – every day except Sunday (I suppose). Early morning Masses are well atended. They saved the church from ne sold by The Jesuits for a conference centre.

    See http://www.holyname.co.uk for fabulous photography.

  42. Michael UK says:

    Mea Culpa for typos!

  43. my kidz mom says:

    WRC and Flambeaux, believe it or not, I agree with you.
    My church has 30 minutes once a week on Saturday afternoon.
    But if that’s what we have, then by gosh I’ll get there AFTER soccer practice.

    Not being sanctimonious. I’m just sayin’, priorities.

  44. Jayna says:

    Fr. Gary: Is it the norm to have literally “a confessional with a fixed grill” or is that simply saying you have to have a place in which there is something separating the priest from the penitent? My parish uses a small room that has a somewhat sheer curtain hung between the priest’s chair and the kneeler, but there is no fixed wall between as I believe that room doubles for a cry room during Masses (there’s a large window in there as well).

    While my priest has only ever asked me once to say the Act of Contrition, he always gives the proper form of Absolution. However, he has also only once worn his stole to hear my confession. Is this an issue and do I have a right to request that he wear it?

  45. A Random Friar says:

    I fear some may have erred on the side of presuming the worst about someone, namely the parish priests as a general rule. Saturday Confessions are NOT convenient for most of us, especially since we also have to try to get ready for the vigil Mass (I always review and re-review the homily, make sure everything is set ok, etc). I am often in the confessional until I by necessity have to tear myself away for Mass preparation. Don’t forget that often we have weddings (sometimes more than one), baptisms, sick calls and quinceaneras scheduled BEFORE the posted confession times. “Convenient” for me would be getting a break before vigil Mass, not Confessions. Convenient for me would be telling the faithful to come when my calendar is open, not vice versa, but I don’t do that, and no priest I know does that, because convenient for us would not serve the faithful. And I’m lucky — I live in a community. God bless the diocesans, working alone or with only one other.

    YMMV with individual priests, I agree. There are shepherds that can be lax. But if you feel your parish needs more time for Confessions, petition the pastor. Better yet, get a group together and make an appointment, and gently ask him on behalf of the parish. I’ve been at parishes where 30 minutes Saturday was sadly more than enough time, since there were only one or two people, but that’s probably a sign for greater emphasis needed on preaching the value of it. Just my 2 cents.

  46. my kidz mom says:

    Friar, thank you. As Fr. Z said, we need a revitalization of the sacrament of penance.

  47. IPK says:

    Of course, the words of absolution are neccessary but let us not pretend that anything short of “I absolve you” is invalid form.

    In the Latin church, up until the twelth century, the indicitive was rarely used (if ever). The priest would pronounce “You are absolved”, instead of “I absolve you”. This is still widely practiced in the Eastern Church. The Russian Church has since the 18th century used the Latin style formula, many Greek Orthodox claim that this a recent Latinization and has resulted in the decline of confession. Some forumulae in Russia do not use this Latin style.

  48. NY Priest says:

    Concerning confessions times…
    I agree with A Random Friar that it is a bit rough some Saturdays, especially when you as the celebrant of the 5 pm Mass have to hear the confessions from 4 pm and then have to rush out at 4:58 to make sure all is set and finish vesting. I think that Saturday afternoon time is a relic from the days before vigil masses.
    I feel we are at a stage when we must rethink this time, not only for the priest but to encourage others to go. The devout may still go at this time, but I believe that Saturday evening for many young adults is a time to get together with friends after a long week.
    I’ve also been at parishes where confessions are offered before Sunday Masses. It is no surprise that people go, even up until the consecration. The difficulty in some places is that you need more than one priest in the parish.

    Perhaps in the future each vicariate will get a plan together to offer penance at varying times and on varying days at varying parishes or one central parish so that penitents can come in anonymously and convenitently.

    Finally, I just want to thank the good friars out there. We are fortunate in NY to have you. Almost all our city parishes usually have daily confessions before the noon Mass. But, the Capuchins at St. John the Baptist and OFMs at St. Francis both on 31st near Penn Station alternate so confessions are available from 7 am to 7pm (I think these are the hours) throughout the weekdays. Travelers, businesspeople, and even convenient us priests who want to take advantage of the sacrament regularly find this convenient.

  49. Fr. Gary says:


    The relevant canon reads:

    Can. 964 §2. The conference of bishops is to establish norms regarding the confessional; it is to take care, however, that there are always confessionals with a fixed grate between the penitent and the confessor in an open place so that the faithful who wish to can use them freely.

    “Fixed grate/grill” translates “crate fixa” which means an “immovable lattice” or “fitted with a gridiron or screen.” Anyone who has been inside a traditional confessional knows what this looks like. It is important to try and understand why this is normative. Without delving into an entire history of confessionals, the screen has provided privacy, safety against false accusations against purity for both the priest and the penitent and, as some have mentioned, provided for a sense of talking to God. For some people, speaking their sins aloud is a humiliating and traumatic experience and every possibility should be made them to assure them that their confession will be absolutely secret. The penitent is never required to reveal himself. Thus, it is also important for parishes and other churches to have regularly scheduled times for confession where a penitent need not schedule an appointment or reveal himself to parish staff and clergy on the phone.

    Does a hanging drape suffice? Clearly it falls short of the intention of the canonical norm. However, in most circumstances, it does fulfill the purpose of the fixed grill. Ideally, a parish with this situation will be working towards providing for a better set up but we are all limited by space, time and money. A woman in know talked about her home parish being so small, confession was in that sacristy on a kneeler fitted with a small screen. Father sat on the other side and the other penitents waited at the door. Sometimes we do what we can.

    As for vesture, the Rite of Penance calls for priests to follow the regulations laid down by their local ordinary. So this will vary diocese to diocese. However, as it is a public sacrament in the Church and the priest is exercising the power to bind and loose granted to the Church as both judge and doctor of souls, it is fitting that he be properly vested. Traditionally, priests wore choir dress and most confessionals had a stole in them for the priest to put on. Even today when the cassock/habit and surplice is less common, priest wear albs and stoles at communal penance services. At the Church where I regularly assist (one that most here on this board would presume to be über-lefty; it really isn’t), there are multiple confessors hearing confessions three times a day. Even here, no one would dream of hearing confessions without wearing an alb and a stole. However, in many places, priest simply wear smaller confessional stoles over their clerics. (I’ve known some who have it with them folded over their knee. (This one is odd for me since it is apparently intended to be a sign of authority and they have it with them; they are just not wearing it.) In other circumstances, for a just cause, priests can hear confessions other places. Most often it is on sick calls, but occasionally someone stops a priest on the street and asks for confession. The priest ay be carrying a “pocket stole” but often he isn’t; the absolution is valid nevertheless. So can you demand it? Why start there. Why don’t you ask him to wear it or ask him why he doesn’t? Explain that you prefer it as a symbol of his acting as the agent of both God and the Church. There may be definitive legislation, but you’d have to check with the diocese.

    It constantly stuns me that folks on this board are so quick to call priests lazy and self-serving in every aspect of their ministry. Confessions aren’t scheduled on Saturday afternoon because priests are lazy. Confession are scheduled on Saturday afternoon because it is traditional. When people received communion infrequently, they were more dutiful about confessing their sins before attending the Mass at which they were going to receive. That Mass was usually Sunday morning and the closest time to provide absolution (to help ensure that they would still be in a state of grace) was Saturday afternoon. The time developed because it was pastorally advantageous for most penitents. That is is less so today may be true and many parishes and other churches, especially in more populated areas, provide other opportunities across the week. Maybe folks like WRC need to realize that the life of a Catholic requires them to give a little too. If the time of confessions isn’t particularly convenient, offer it up and make the effort. Surely, a half hour on a Saturday afternoon once a month isn’t that great a burden. If folks have games and birthday parties and family events that are more important than confession every Saturday of your life, than the problem isn’t really the priest, is it? Also, ask the priest about making more time available; most are willing but something else will have to give. Many priests are up for the 7 AM Mass and get to bed at midnight with the whole day taken up by pastoral work and parish affairs. While all can dicker about their prioritization of what’s important, the finance council and school board still has to meet, the sick have to be visited and the fourteen fires that flame up unexpectedly every day still need to be put out. And frankly, not every priest is the brilliant, organizer, orator, shepherd and friend that they would like to be. Sometimes, God love them, firing on three cylinders is all you get. Most are trying as hard as they can. Let’s not begin by assuming as a first principle that they are lazy. May people who assess you in your work be more charitable.

  50. Marie says:

    kidz mom,
    It’s impossible to be in two places at once. We parents who are struggling to live our faith while also living fully in the world (with its attendant soccer games, birthday parties, family visits, and weekend jobs) would have an easier time if our pastors would take seriously their obligation to make the sacrament of confession more generally available than it is at most parishes.

  51. my kidz mom says:

    Fr. Gary commented: “If the time of confessions isn’t particularly convenient, offer it up and make the effort. Surely, a half hour on a Saturday afternoon once a month isn’t that great a burden. If folks have games and birthday parties and family events that are more important than confession every Saturday of your life, than the problem isn’t really the priest, is it?”


  52. Jayna says:

    Fr. Gary,

    I remember fondly “the box” I did confession in as a child. I’m pretty sure my current parish has absolutely no intention of replacing the current setup they have (this is a parish without a single crucifix in the church proper).

    As to proper vestments, most of the time our priests don’t wear their clerics. They usually have them on on Sundays, but good luck the rest of the week. I think our pastor generally wears his on Wednesdays because of the staff meeting, but the rest of the week is usually casual (not jeans and t-shirts, mind, but slacks and polos and the like). I had planned on asking him to wear it next time I do confession (I can never make Saturdays due to my work schedule, but I have no problem scheduling appointments), I just wanted to make sure this was something I wasn’t over stepping my bounds by asking. He has enough on his plate as it is, I didn’t want to annoy him by being nitpicky about his habits.

    And thank you for the answer!

  53. Fr. Gary: Maybe folks like WRC need to realize that the life of a Catholic requires them to give a little too. If the time of confessions isn’t particularly convenient, offer it up and make the effort. Surely, a half hour on a Saturday afternoon once a month isn’t that great a burden.

    Kindly, Father– I think you miss the point. (Let the record show that I never asserted priests are lazy or that Saturday afternoon confession is for the luxury of the priest. I just said that it’s a bad time, that’s all. To which it seems, everyone is in agreement except dominic1962.)

    Why do parishes offer a Saturday vigil Mass and four Sunday morning Masses– even the noon Mass that isn’t attended by anyone other than the gentrifying gray-haired guitar folk band and their non-plused grandchildren? They do it because priests want to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to attend Holy Mass. And bully for that!

    But it is an all-too-common issue for priests to bemoan the short lines for confession. And rightly so! Catholics need to go to Confession. So why hold it at a terribly inconvenient time? Just to prove that we’re Catholic enough for the sacrament? Consider me unconvinced.

    I am also quite unlikely to make an appointment for confession… for the same reason I’m not sitting on the couch with you in the “reconciliation room”. I’ll take a kneeler and a screen, thankyouverymuch. It’s my right as a penitent, unworthy as I am.

    Priests don’t like the time slot. The laity does not like the time slot. Let’s do something about it!

  54. A Random Friar says:

    WRC: At the parish councils and parish open halls I go to, we get requests for more Masses all the time, but never a request for more than one confession time (and our confessionals are usually full on Saturdays. We don’t lack penitents). Most layfolks I know are plenty busy weekdays with their kids’ stuff, work. Weekends work better. It’s not perfect, but no time is convenient for everyone. My convenient times (and most priests’ convenient times) would probably happen in the workday before lunch. Not too many takers then.

    Those who cannot make it often make appointments, and if we’re not with someone else, we’re happy to do “drop-ins.” BTW, you don’t have to leave your name with us for a confession. Unless it presents a security risk, most priests I know would show up a few minutes early in the confessional “box” for an anonymous appointment for a confession, and unlock the church if needed. No one I know has a problem with that.

    It would be great if we had extra priests to hear confessions before all Masses on Sunday, but that would also cause problems if everyone came then… there’s no way to hear a bunch of confessions before consecration, especially if at least one priest (if not two) are occupied offering/preaching at Mass.

  55. A Random Friar, your point is fair enough. I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree. You no doubt have more experience with people’s spiritual requests than I. But I maintain that Saturdays are lousy. A Thursday night would be lovely, and it probably would draw a different crowd. But I guess we’re not going to convince each other, so I’ll just politely decline to continue this debate here. God bless.

  56. KJW says:

    Thanks for this discussion.
    I became a convert in high school; I never went to confession. When I came back to the Church 3 years ago, I came back on fire for the faith and determined to “do it right” this time (it helps that I have a conservative priest for an older brother). I took the necessary steps to come back to the Church at the church closest to where we live. The first time I went to confession (which was offered, yes, for one hour on Saturday or by appt.), I was surprised to receive no penance. Okay, I thought, I’ve been away from the faith for some time, maybe things have changed. I was never given penance on subsequent occasions. So, I tried going to a different church. Bingo, there it was, actual penance! I have to wonder if some priests don’t prescribe (proscribe?) penance because they feel it is “mean” or just because it’s old fashioned.

  57. Charlotte says:

    About confession times:

    I live in a town of about 80,000 people that has 10 Catholic churches. Only ONE has morning confession, on Saturday. The rest are ALL Saturday afternoon at 3 or 3:30, before vigil mass. And unfortunately, that one Saturday morning confession time is at the church with the priest I spoke of earlier, the one who gives no penance, asks for no act of contrition, and uses AA as his playbook for counsel.

    Is it not ridiculous to expect that in a city of this size that EVERYONE will go to confession within the same timeslot? Of course it’s ridiculous. I’m not saying that all the Catholic churches in each town should band together to solve this problem. But on the otherhand, it would seem to make sense that someone recognize the problem and at least try to provide some diversity in confession times. As it is, if I want to go to confession on any day of the week outside of Saturday, I have to drive 30+ miles into downtown Milwaukee to a Catholic university. It shouldn’t have to be this way. (Yes, I do sometimes make appointments with my parish priest for confession, but that isn’t always practical.)

    People can argue and make accusations about the “we’re too busy on Saturday afternoon to go to confession” statement. But I, for one, agree that Saturday afternoon is the worst possible time. I value the family time I have with my husband on the weekends, and we use Saturdays not only to accomplish various tasks together as a FAMILY, but also to engage in actual family activities that aren’t errands. There is hardly a cluster of errands or a family outing that can be completed before 3 p.m. or start after 3 p.m. Confession interferes when it’s scheduled smack in the middle of the day, and it’s not because I don’t have my priorities straight.

    To me, Saturday morning confession is the best time. Either that or right before or after Sunday mass. But alas, the Sunday confession is something I’ve only heard of in REALLY big cities like Washington D.C. or Boston.

    And yes, I too have had my 3:30-on-Saturday-before-mass confession either cut short or not heard at all because there were either too many people there in line or the confessions took “too long.” Which is another reason I don’t want to go to Saturday afternoon confession. I want to make a GOOD confession. That takes at least 5 minutes, and usually more. Got more than 5 poeople in line for that one half-hour confession slot? It’s over.

    There has to be a better way.

  58. Stephen says:

    I went to Confession today, and the priest did not say the absolution prayer, I found this odd. I did not ask him to say it because I was intimidated (I previously asked him about the TLM and he made fun of it, I knew nothing at that time so i went away very confused)
    Was the confession legit, illicit, or not valid? After reading the above comments, I am very upset with the priest for not saying the formula.

  59. Rouxfus says:

    Lawrence King wrote: “Keep in mind that if you have “perfect contrition” in your heart—in other words, if your sorrow for your sins arises from your love for God, and not merely from lesser motives—then your sins are forgiven even without the formal sacrament.”

    I beg pardon for the correction , but I don’t believe this is true. The validity of any sacrament does not depend on the state of the soul of the priest (or others in the case of Baptism or Marriage) as long as the form and matter of the sacrament are proper. As the Zenit Q&A asserts quite clearly above:

    As the formula of absolution is the form of the sacrament of reconciliation, the recitation of its essential part is required for validity and its complete omission would void the sacrament.

    So, if you have a priest who is simulating the sacrament – leading penitents to believe they had received absolution for their sins, then these penitents may be in danger of compounding that issue by receiving communion invalidly. It wouldn’t be mortal since they were likely in ignorance that their confession was invalid, but they certainly might be deprived of the fruits of the sacrament if they are unwittingly receiving the sacrament while not in a state of grace.

    This poses an issue: I’d gone to confession probably a half-dozen times or more over the course of
    two years. I’d repented and confessed some heavy duty sins in that period and I didn’t realize till September that he was doing so invalidly.

    My question now is: do I need to go re-confess all those sins again, or is the deck cleared, so to speak, if I have subsequently received a valid absolution?

  60. Rouxfus:

    I think you misunderstood my statement — I should have phrased it more precisely. I am not claiming that if the penitent has perfect contrition, then an otherwise-invalid confession is rendered valid. Rather, I am claiming that when a person has perfect contrition and a desire for sacramental confession, their sins are forgiven, period.

    Here are some citations — I stole this from Wikipedia but I think the citations are valid:

    Regarding that contrition which has for its motive the love of God, the Council of Trent declares: “The Council further teaches that, though contrition may sometimes be made perfect by charity and may reconcile men to God before the actual reception of this sacrament, still the reconciliation is not to be ascribed to the contrition apart from the desire for the sacrament which it includes.” The following proposition (no. 32) taken from Baius was condemned by Gregory XIII: “That charity which is the fullness of the law is not always conjoined with forgiveness of sins.” Perfect contrition, with the desire of receiving the Sacrament of Penance, restores the sinner to grace at once. This is certainly the teaching of the Scholastic doctors (Peter Lombard in P.L., CXCII, 885; St. Thomas, In Lib. Sent. IV, ibid.; St. Bonaventure, In Lib. Sent. IV, ibid.). This doctrine they derived from Holy Writ.

    I can’t answer your final question. Logically, though, I suspect that a valid absolution wipes away all your past sins, including those that you confessed previously in an invalid confession you thought was valid. After all, a valid absolution wipes away sins you honestly forgot to confess. Can someone verify this?

  61. A Random Friar says:

    By the way, moms and dads, something that I’ve noticed that (mostly) hispanics will do, especially those that work long hours on Saturdays and can never make it: make an appointment for a family or group confession. Heck, I’ve even had a bunch of fishing and hunting buddies come in together. I.e., have everyone come and line up and wait his or her turn. I not only don’t have a problem with that, I LOVE that. I can then grab another priest if available, we give everyone some personal confession attention, and the whole family or group goes home forgiven, at a time that’s convenient for them.

    Try it! Your Saturdays are free for important family time (which I know many families lack), and you get more quality confession time.

  62. Flambeaux says:


    You are much more accommodating than many priests I have had the misfortune to know.

    I pray that, in the near future, there will be a preponderance of priests with your attitude and flexibility to offset the results of this disastrous period.

  63. Fr. Gary says:

    WRC: I apologize if it seems as if I misrepresented your comments, but I wrote one answer to several posts.

    Listen, I am not against parishes trying to address the needs of today’s Catholic. Of course, they should. The question is whether or not it is totally the responsibility of the priest. If people do not approach him to ask for different times in a polite and thoughtful way, he may not think that there is a need. I also stand by my comment that this is not all on the clergy. Sometimes an active faith life will cause all of us inconveniences to our otherwise full and busy schedules. it’s not simply the Church that needs to bend to our needs.

    But there are parishes that try to do something different. I know of one parish in the DC area that is near the interstate. Tuesday. Wednesday, and Thursday evening there is adoration and confessions. A deacon takes care of the exposition and benediction and one or two priests are in the confessionals. It is a wonderful opportunity for those who are commuting home to stop, adore, pray and reconcile. It is well attended and a great ministry. More Churches should try to meet the need of people; I wasn’t arguing against that. However, to state (as someone did) that this doesn’t happen because priests are lazy or indifferent is both wrong and unhelpful. They may be uncreative, overworked, unimaginative and afraid of change, but that doesn’t make them ill intended – merely human. However, if so much of the parish’s human (clerical) resources are tied up three nights a week that impacts other things. That will be fine as long as folks know that things like dinners with the clergy will be limited; his availability for early evening meetings (pre-cane sessions, counseling, parish committees, sacramental prep, etc.) are all now seriously limited, too. Perhaps this is as it should be, but it will mean a change. If Father is in the confessional, don’t grip when he’s not available to take your call about the lousy sixth grade teacher.

  64. Fr. Gary says:

    I do promise to stop writing.

    I forgot to mention that some priests, especially older priests, will say the absolution in a low voice – almost a whisper. Sometimes they offer the prayer when the penitent is making their act of contrition. It may be the case for some of you who are concerned that the valid absolution was prayed inaudibly.

    Have a good evening all and God bless.

  65. Jennifer says:

    Regarding other times for confessions….back immediately after John Paul II died, our Pastor instituted a daily holy hour to pray for the decision of our new Pope. He also heard confessions during this time. The lines were always long every night and sometimes he did not even finish confessions within the hour. It stayed like this until we got a new pastor last year who returned in to just Saturdays. I\’ve never understood this decision to not even keep it at least one or two days during the week. Obviously the opportunity was there and people were using it – there was a need. Actually I wish parishes would do rotating schedules of Holy Hours and confessions so that you could always find one if you needed one – this likely explains somewhat why ours was always so full – availability for the whole diocese. It seems that most are on Saturdays or Wednesdays. Perhaps we could all plan to sin on Tuesdays and Fridays. All right, just a little sarcasm. I know Priests are beyond busy and I know that we can schedule an appointment, but sometimes it just doesn\’t work out and you hate to inconvenience someone. Okay, really, I\’m done complaining. Thank God for all those holy priests who do offer the sacrament of Reconciliation on a schedule and for more than 30 minutes, knowing and expecting that the faithful will want to utilize this sacrament. We are truly grateful. And, in the vein of Field of Dreams….If you offer it, they will come.

  66. NY Priest says:

    Someone above said something about needing more than 5 minutes for a GOOD confession.
    As a priest, and also a penitent, I would disagree. If we are making use of the sacrament regularly, hopefully it doesn’t take a long time to confess all our sins.
    I am not saying the following was your meaning but want to stree that confession is not primarily meant to make us feel good, but is meant to put us right with God objectively -whether feelings follow or not. This fact is also helpful to ease our nerves before going into confession.

    We must also not think of confession as spiritual direction nor especially as a time to be chatty.

    I also think – and it is case by case- but in general we priests should hold back on advice unless necessary.
    It is not necessary to say something “personalized” to every penitent. Ideally, we only have to say the formula of absolution and assign a penance.

    On the penitent’s part – we can have a lot of compassion on other penitents and the priest by preparing well, knowing how to confess properly, and not forgetting the purpose of confession is simply to confess our sins with supernatural sorrow while resolving to avoid sin with the help of grace.
    If, God forbid, there are mortal sins to confess – it should be done simply saying the type of sin and how many times to the best of knowledge. [kind and number – we don’t have to give all the details unless they change the nature of the sin] If you can’t remember number of times a mortal sin was committed say frequency (ex: “maybe twice a week since my last confession.”) It’s also ok if you accidentally overestimate, but be careful of scrupulosity.
    Venial sins don’t have to be confessed as to number.
    If there is a something you’re not sure is a sin- say “Father, I’m not sure of this but I did this X.” If he needs to address it, he hopefully will.

    Regular confessions done purposefully and with preparation usually do not require a lot of time.
    If you envision you will need more time to make a confession, it is good to make an appointment.
    [That said, I add that I am speaking to people that confess regularly or may tend to be chatty in confession. If anyone reading this has not been in a long time – do not hesitate to take the opportunity. As penitents on line waiting we can also learn to exercise patience – knowing we ourselves do not have a right to forgiveness – and praying for the person confessing and the priest.]

    As to the act of contrition:
    Try to always say the act of contrition beforehand to rouse up your own sorrow. Sometimes we priests honestly forget to ask it. The reason we do ask it is so we can have verbal confirmation that your sorrow for sin is based at least on fear of hell and punishment as in the act of contrition.

    Finally, please, never hesitate to tell the priest “Father there are about X people on line behind me.” AFTER you make your confession. Some priests might not like it, but most of us will appreciate it.

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