QUAERITUR: yet another absolution formula variation

From a reader:

I went to confession yesterday and the priest used the form "I absolve you of all your sins" instead of "I absolve you of your sins". I asked the priest and he said this was the approved English translation (I speak Swedish, my priest often uses English in the confessional since he is more familiar with that language). I read your post on the use of "forgive" instead of "absolve" and from what I gathered there I suspect that you would conclude that I received a valid sacrament (HERE). I just want to check whether I should go back to my priest or if I’m just having another attack of scruples.


What you describe does not invalidate the absolution.  Your sins are forgiven, provided the other conditions pertain.

Still, your question raises a deeper question about discipline of the sacraments in these modern times. 

Priests should not change the words of the form of absolution.  Changing the words can raise doubts in people’s minds precisely in the moment in which they are most sensitive and, at times, vulnerable to worry for the state of their immortal soul.

As far as I know, the only approved English translation – at least in the USA – for the modern form of absolution is (with my emphasis):


"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."


If you hear it in English, this is what you should hear… at least the end part.


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  1. Gabriella says:

    My priest just says:
    Ego te absolvo in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.

    [Perhaps you noticed that this entry is about the English language form?]

  2. FrCharles says:

    I’ve wondered about the ‘all’ question for a long time, both as a penitent and more recently as a confessor. I put up a post about it a few weeks ago, and was taken aback by the amount of discussion it engendered. You were quoted, Fr. Z., almost immediately in the comments. Since then I have studiously avoided the ‘all.’

  3. FrCharles: Thanks for that!

  4. TJM says:

    Isn’t it a sin for the priest who knowingly changes the sacramental formulas? Tom

  5. Jordanes says:

    One priest confessor I went to always liked to say, “Now listen carefully. What I am about to say will apply to the sins you’ve told me about and to any other sin you may have ever committed in your life.” He would then proceed to say the abovequoted approved English translation of the Absolution.

    When I first heard him say that, I thought, “No it won’t!”

    I went to him two more times after that first time. Each time he said that the Absolution will count for every sin I’ve ever committed (I guess my Baptism didn’t count for anything??). I stopped going to him after that, but a few other members of my family occasionally went to him before he was transferred elsewhere, and they told me he’d say the same thing to them.

    [My first reaction is that you are being too hard on this priest. First, he was trying to get across the fact that when the priest gives you absolution, provided you did your best in that confession, all your sins are indeed forgiven. Second, if you were baptized at some later point in life (not as an infant) yes, that baptism forgave your previous sins. However, his psychic powers might have been a little weak that day and, not knowing that you were a later baptizatus went with the reasonable assumption that you were baptized as an infant. Third, perhaps you were just too picky. It sounds like the priest was trying to assure you that your sins, even those forgotten, were absolved.]

  6. Thomas G. says:

    I have always found those words among the most moving I have ever heard or ever will hear, even more than the words of consecration.

  7. Query: Must a penitent make his act of contrition in the presence of the priest before absolution is granted?

    A handful of local priests ask penitents to make it/say it outside the confessional (and not in their presence) after absolution is granted.

    These are not circumstances in which there are long lines of penitents; they do it as a matter of course.

  8. Rob Cartusciello says:

    I must agree with Thomas G on this one. On one particular occassion I found the “long form” to be particularly efficacious:

    May the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of all the Saints, what good you have done or what evil you have suffered be to you for the remission of (your) sins, growth in grace and the reward of everlasting life. Amen.

    One of my great regrets is not having taken greater advantage of this sacrament in the past.

  9. Rich: No, I don’t think so. The priest must have a reasonable, moral certitude that the penitent is indeed that: a penitent and ready to change his ways. Once he is reasonably sure of that, the priest shouldn’t delay absolution unduly. The Act of Contrition makes that sorrow for sins and purpose of amendment explicit.

  10. Jordanes says:

    Thanks, Father. I suppose that could have been what he meant to say. It’s not what he said, though . . . and knowing that his theological and doctrinal views are “lefty” if not dissenting, it seemed to me that he was trying to mess around with the sacrament of penance the way he liked to ad lib the liturgy of the Mass.

  11. ghp95134 says:

    When one is not contrite, but still wishes to confess a mortal sin, what may be expected from one’s Confessor?

    I anticipate Father will say he cannot give absolution — but what follows? Is one told to go away and only come back when contrite? Or, does one just keep returning to Confession — time after time — knowing one cannot receive absolution?


  12. Fr Martin Fox says:

    I confess I have added that “all” — but I no longer do that. I agree with Fr. Z about humility toward the prayers the Church gives us. So you may ask, why would I ever have slipped in an “all”?

    I can tell you that some folks come to confession, and they are burdened by sin, including sins they have already confessed — and as far as I know, already been absolved for. My heart aches for them! Absolution is so incredibly powerful! I realize many people will mention old sins in their confession, for various reasons, and I don’t want to mess with anyone’s devotion or pattern of spirituality; nonetheless, it is an important truth of our Faith that when the priest says, “I absolve you”…all sins are wiped away, gone, forgotten by God, absolutely, without reservation, never to come back, ever, world without end! The only qualification would be a sin which is deliberately withheld–sins that are merely forgotten — yes, including mortal sins! — are likewise absolved and forgiven, wiped away, gone!

    Now, what about temporal punishment due to sin? That’s another matter. Sin leaves its effect, just as a spill might leave a stain. If I am in the habit of a sin, even though I am forgiven for the guilt of it, I still must overcome the pattern of habit–that is a “trace” or effect of sin on my life. I need to be purified of the temporal “punishment”–or effects–of sin, which are real, and the purification or “cure” may be rather arduous. But those who are in Purgatory are saved–their eternal destiny is not in question.

    As a confessor, my heart goes out to folks who seem to be burdened by sins despite having been absolved. Thus it is so tempting to try to amplify the all-powerful mercy of absolution by the addition of all. Yet I agree with Father and others; do not change the words.

  13. Mariana says:

    I find the “long form” particularly moving.

  14. Thank you, Father. I was merely curious.

  15. Rouxfus says:

    Zenit published a Q&A article on this:

    ZE08102803 – 2008-10-28

    Permalink: http://web.zenit.org/article-24089?l=english


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

    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

    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.

  16. rahook says:

    What about “I forgive your sins?” A confessor used this form of absolution just a week ago. Do “forgive” and “absolve” mean the same thing? And if not, was the confession valid?


  17. JPG says:

    Recall an imperfect confession, alluded even in the act of contrition
    “because I fear the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell” .. absolution and the forgiveness that comes with it I would think never hinges on ones receptivity but on the boundless mercy of God and His grace. I may not be perfectly contrite but if I know what I did was wrong and I confess and am absolved I cannot see how this clinging to my sin by my affection would diminish the effect of the absolution. I cannot earn absolution. One can only hope by prayer and mortification of the flesh one can diminish ones affection for sin. This smashing that bond comes with prayer and further grace. The forgiveness cannot be earned but the destuction of the affection for sin , the lack of contrition and remorse comes truly only with prayer and diligent pursuit of the spiritual life. In this sense the mere recognition that the sin is mortal presupposes on some level a degree of contrition. If you recognize a sin as mortal flee to the confessional as to a vessel of rescue. Grab the saving rope or the outstretched hand He who walks on water offers.! Go now do not fear the confessor remember Who sent him and whose bidding the confessor does.

  18. ghp95134 says:


    Thank you so very, very much for your considered response and thoughtfulness.


  19. robtbrown says:

    When one is not contrite, but still wishes to confess a mortal sin, what may be expected from one’s Confessor?
    Comment by ghp95134

    If someone is not contrite, why would he wish to confess a mortal sin?

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