QUAERITUR: Confessional etiquette

From a reader:

When going to confession, if you know the priest is a Monsignor (name plate on confessional) would you begin, “Forgive me, Monsignor, for I have sinned,” or stay with the simple, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned?”

There are lots of old sayings about Monsignors.  I am, for example, reminded of a story told about the late Bp. Alphonse Schladweiler, great old gent.  At a confirmation he once said, in his booming voice, “Now children, the bishop has been asking you questions.  Do have any questions for the bishop?”  Always dangerous.  One lad piped up, “What’s a Monsignor?”  The priest at the place was a Monsignor.  Without missing a beat the old bishop said “Why, sonny, a Monsignor is the cross that hangs around the bishop’s neck!”

No, you don’t have to say “Bless me, Monsignor…”.  Any Monsignor worth his salt relishes the title “Father” as the one dearest to his heart.  You can say, “Bless me, Monsignor,…” if you want, but the confessor is really there in his capacity as a spiritual father and in the place of the Just Judge who is also Mercy.

As far as etiquette is concerned, you might say “Thank you” at the end.

Since I am on Monsignors,…. and don’t get me wrong! I’d enjoy being a Monsignor enormously, especially since I am a Lutheran convert: what an honor to be associated with the Holy Father in that way? Is there some bishop out there who… I digress.

You know what difference there is between an absolution given by a Monsignor or a poor little garden variety priest like me?  Absolutely none.  How about the difference in the consecration of the Eucharist?  (Trick question.)

More about Monsignors.  It seems that the Sacrament of Monsignor has matter and form.  The matter is the fancy cassock and the form is “Come apart and rest awhile”.

Yes, folks, I’m here all week.  Next week I’ll be at Ha Ha‘s in Cleveland.  Be sure to tip your waitresses.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. dominic1955 says:

    If one made their confession to a Cardinal or even the Holy Father himself, it would be totally correct to begin with “Bless me, Father…” because all of them are hearing confessions as spiritual fathers. Titles like “Monsignor” or “Cardinal” are honoraries and being a bishop doesn’t change the fact that the man so consecrated is not still a spiritual father, just that he’s a spiritual father on a wider level.

    [Hey! There’s an echo in here!]

  2. James Joseph says:

    Isn’t monsignor the title for a European ordinary?

    [It is also that, in most other languages.]

  3. Imrahil says:

    Like TLMs with “answers by the congregation” or don’t, but you’ll get the idea that the Confiteor has “et tibi, pater” and not “et tibi, eminentissime ac reverentissime domine Cardinalis”.

  4. Cathy says:

    I went to confession last Saturday, and discovered later that the anonymous – no name on the door- confessor priest was ordained just the previous Saturday! It just strikes the heart to realize, in a sense, one week, and yet, a priest, Father, forever! Just, too, awesome!

  5. inara says:

    I’m never sure, when Father says “Go in peace” at the end, if I am supposed to reply, “Thanks be to God” or “Thank you, Father” ~ is one more correct than the other?

  6. Bea says:

    I always start with “Bless me, Father…………”
    and end with “Thank you, Father” It just seems a natural thing to do.
    Thanking him (in my heart) not only for the Sacrament, but for the fact that he answered God’s Call.
    What a joy to think that these “ordinary men” answered God’s call to the greatest of all calls to bring us God’s forgiveness and restoring us in Grace at Confession and feeding our souls in Communion. If only all priests realized that THIS is what their call is about, no politics, no fancy speeches, no grandiose limelight etc., just plain and simple Salvation from and through Christ in their Alter Christus. Sigh, God Bless all our Holy Priests.

  7. pfreddys says:

    At the end of confession I always say to the priest: “Thank you and God bless you father; please pray for me and my family and I will pray for you.”

  8. Joe in Canada says:

    The text calls for “thanks be to God.” As a priest, I feel uncomfortable when people omit that and say instead “thank you, Father”. I appreciate the sentiment but I prefer the truth to the sentiment. I don’t mind if they add thanks to me after thanking God. [The one doesn’t exclude the other!]

  9. Tim Ferguson says:

    you overlooked that part in the Gospels where Our Lord speaks about monsignors: “They spin not, neither do they sow, yet Solomon in all his splendor was not arrayed as one of these…”

  10. JabbaPapa says:

    My ordinary confessor is a Monsignor.


  11. Jim of Bowie says:

    When my PP was given the title Monsignor, he asked us to continue to call him Father. I liked that.

  12. Jeannie_C says:

    I was taught after the “Go in peace” to respond “Thanks be to God”. At this point all the priests I have confessed to have then requested “Please pray for me”. I always thank them for hearing my confession, stuffy hot little enclosure, me confessing same old, long lineup awaiting their turn. I don’t recall ever seeing a nameplate on the confessional – doesn’t matter, Jesus is always there.

  13. pfreddys says:

    From what I wrote previously: At the end of confession I always say to the priest: “Thank you and God bless you father; please pray for me and my family and I will pray for you.”
    I do that after the “Go in peace….Thanks be to God”. In all sense and purpose AFTER confession is over.
    The priests do seem to appreciate it, especially when I’m enthusiastic about it after a difficult confession for me.

  14. Giuseppe says:

    I think “Thanks be to God” is the one response that can never be wrong. I say it all day long.

  15. Raymond says:

    In Spanish, the penitent begins not by saying “Bless me, Father…,” but by:

    Penitent: “Ave Maria Purisima” (Hail Mary most pure)
    Priest: “Sin pecado concebida” (Conceived without sin)
    Penitent: It has been (X-times) since my last confession…

    I wonder how the etiquette is it in other languages–Italian, German, Latin, etc?

    BTW, Holy Rosary etiquette is also different in Spanish compared to English.

  16. Raymond says: In Spanish, the penitent begins not by saying “Bless me, Father…,” but by:

    Good point! There are variations depending on one’s background.

    However, most of the readers here are, I think, anglophones.

  17. MaryofSharon says:

    Are you really going to be in Cleveland? Any place where some of us readers come and say hello to you?

  18. Random Friar says:

    I prefer keeping it to “Bless me, Father…” Why? It’s not so much as ecclesiastical title, as it is a spiritual relationship, one’s “spiritual father” in the confessional. We approach as the Prodigal Son to the Father, and the Father throws open the floodgates of mercy and reconciliation.

    This is true from the most newly-minted priest to the Holy Father himself.

  19. John Nolan says:

    ” …I am heartily sorry, and purpose amendment for the future, and humbly ask pardon of God, and penance and absolution of you, my ghostly Father”.

  20. Gaz says:

    “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…” I have enough to think about at confession.

  21. gjp says:

    I think the last priest in my diocese who held the title Monsignor died about 20 years ago or more. I am 32 and I have only met one Monsignor in my whole life outside of a bishop — and that was the kindly old rector of the Cathedral of the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario diocese (not my home diocese), Monsignor Burns, who has since died.

    I think there are a few priests in my diocese who are well worth the honor, but I suppose the thought in my diocese is that such titles are old fashioned and should go the way of the dodo, or Mass in Latin. Did I mention that Msgr. Untener was a former ordinary of my diocese?

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