QUAERITUR: Can I make the Act of Contrition in Latin?

From a reader, edited:

Would it be acceptable, when in the confessional, to recite the Act of Contrition in Latin?

Over the past several years I have become proficient in a fair number of Latin prayers, including those of the Rosary, simply because I feel more reverent using that language for praying. However, those are personal prayers used in private with no one else hearing them. The Act of Contrition, in contrast, would of course be heard by the priest. So my concern is that it could be perceived as (or perhaps actually would be a sinful act of vanity and pride although that would certainly not be my intention.

I’m sure your first answer will be the obvious one: ask the priest before saying the prayer. I plan to do so but only if you think the question is even worth asking. If not, I will stick to the common English version….

My first response has nothing to do with the sensibilities of the priest.  In my opinion, the confessor – the priest – can just sit there and listen to which ever act of contrition you desire to say, so long as you make it clear to him that you

a) are sorry for your sins
b) you intend not to sin again
c) will amend your life.

Ask yourself: Is that more easily communicated to the priest in Latin or in English?

Is is “acceptable” to say the act of contrition in Latin?  Of course it is.  Latin Church Catholics can use the language of the Church for the celebration of their sacraments.

But there are some considerations.

While the form spoken by the priest has a stronger impact on the validity of the absolution, your act of contrition also plays its role.

The confessional is like a tribunal,  a court room, in which you are simultaneously the accused and the prosecutor.  You present your case and then you beg for mercy from the just judge who also willingly and with love gives mercy and forgiveness and then heaps upon you additional graces besides.  There is a formal dimension to making a confession, and the sacrament as certain elements to be preserved.  Those elements include the penitent making it clear, one way or another mind you – there doesn’t have to be rigid uniformity in this – that there is sorrow for sin and firm purpose of amendment.  If the priest doesn’t have that sense from you, he must not give you absolution.

Since we are in an age in which many priests don’t have a clue what you would be saying were you to say the act of contrition in Latin, you might want to use English, just so that there is no doubt left as to what you are saying.

That said, I have absolved many a penitent who spoke the act of contrition in some African language or Asian language I cannot understand.  But I am used to dealing with all sorts of languages and tend not to freak out.  Also, I have found that Catholics from third world countries tend to make very sound and complete confessions according to the traditional style.  They do a far better job than many of Catholics from more privileged places, as a matter of fact.  Therefore, even when the act of contrition is, for example, spoken in Kinyambo, I have already arrived at the conclusion that the penitent is squared away.

But I digress.

Sure.. Go ahead and use Latin if you want, but check your motives and think about the confessor when you do.

Sure.  Go ahead and ask the priest if he minds.  I wouldn’t… but I deal with Latin all the time.

FWIW… I use English when the confessor is an English speaker.

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  1. Margaret says:

    Priests of Opus Dei would also not be “freaked out” by Latin.

  2. Mike says:

    I would second that first comment.
    When I hear the absolution in Latin–and my Latin ability is pretty decayed from my high school days–it suggests that I remember that Grace works beyond the emotions, beyond all understanding, even as sensible consolations are gifts that are quite nice, but not the core of what is happening in a sacramental action.

  3. RichR says:

    FWIW… I use English when the confessor is an English speaker.

    Coming from the cleric who is known for his Ecclesiastical Latin more than anyone else in the world except Reginaldus, I’d say it’s “worth” quite a bit.

  4. teaguytom says:

    The FSSP priest I go to usually go to holds confession in a dark confessional with a purple cloth across his window. He will say everything in English except the prayers of absolution. On the sill of the window, he has a small light that shines on a copy of the traditional version of the The Act that is taped to it. Traditional as in the older version you will find in the 1962 missal. I use the version on the sill, but he lets us say any version of the prayer. He will say the first part of absolution while you say your Act. He will wait for you to finish then say Ego Te Absolvo…..

  5. John Nolan says:

    I wonder where your correspondent learned a Latin Act of Contrition. My St Andrew Daily Missal doesn’t give one, although it gives the Latin form of absolution. If I were asked to recite the long Confiteor I would probably do so in Latin, from long familiarity. I would have thought that it was normal to talk with your confessor in the vernacular.
    In Waugh’s ‘Sword of Honour’ (required reading for every Catholic) Guy Crouchback goes to Confession in a French church in North Africa and tells the priest: “Je veux me confesser … en anglais ou italien, si c’est possible.” Later on, in Croatia, on learning that his wife has been killed in a V1 raid on London he has to address the village priest in Latin: “Facilius loqui Latine. Hoc est pro Missa. Uxor mea mortua est.”

  6. I think it’s really best in charity to discuss this with the priest before doing it. I made the mistake of not doing so with a new confessor and noticed a very, very long pause after the act of contrition. It’s not particularly fair to embarrass a priest trying to act as a conduit of Grace….

  7. Federico says:

    Here’s my experiencet: I know the act of contrition in Italian, which I learned more years ago than I care to remember. Italian is the language I am most comfortable reciting it in. I’ve always asked my confessors whether they mind, and I’ve never been told “No! Stick to English!” They’ve all been gracious and encouraging.

    I can’t fathom a confessor who would object, but it seems polite to ask. The confessor, after all, should know you’re saying you’re sorry and you don’t want to sin again.

  8. ray from mn says:

    I think you’d want to consider whether or not you are “showing off” if you want to say the Act of Contrition in a language other than the native language of you and the confessor. Why make it difficult for him? You are there for his absolution.

  9. Faith says:

    @ John Nolan The penitent probably has the Confession App and is reading the Act of Contrition in Latin. There are several different Acts of Contrition to choose from.

  10. It certainly can be of practical use to be familiar with the Latin Act of Contrition, and to have enough Latin left over for a bit more. Anecdote: last summer I took to Rome a small group of my students, none of whom had any Italian. Our first morning found us outside the Sacro Cuore basilica near Stazione Termini, where one of the girls beetled off to the confessional. She came out of the church a short time later with a radiant face, telling me that after several false starts in English with the elderly priest behind the screen, she had switched… to Latin. And it worked!

    All I could do was look up at the sky and think “Nunc dimittis, Domine…”

  11. RCGuerilla says:

    I’m an ex-pat living in Brazil. I always give the priest the heads up and say “hey, i’m going to so the Act of Contrition in my own language”. Haven’t had any problems, yet ,,,

  12. old_sage says:

    John Nolan:
    “I wonder where your correspondent learned a Latin Act of Contrition.”

    on the internet – only takes a few seconds to track it down in the Compendium (Vatican website) and with a few nifty keystrokes you can produce a printed copy of the Act.

  13. Dr. Sebastianna says:

    With a Priest I know (who knows I have good intentions), I occasionally express my sorrow in Italian… He doesn’t understand Italian, but he knows that it is more “experience-near” for me to say it that way…

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