From a reader:
A confessor I go to has recently made it his practice to whisper the words of absolution while I am saying the Act of Contrition. The first time he did this I did not catch it and after he dismissed me I asked him whether or not I had in fact been absolved. He said yes and he had said the words of absolution during my Act of Contrition. Now that I know he does it this way (I can hear him whispering but don’t understand the words) I am not so put off by it, but I was wondering whether or not there is any ruling on whether a penitent needs actually to hear and understand the words of absolution for them to be effective?
No, it is not necessary for validity that you hear the form of absolution. It is not necessary that you understand the words.
It is necessary that you confess your sins (the matter) and that the validly ordained priest with faculties says the proper words (the form).
Some priests (and this priest too) often begin to recite in a low voice or whisper the formula of absolution as soon as he has heard part of the act of contrition which expresses attrition (“I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell”). This is not rare.
Leaving aside the issue of validity, Father should probably say the sacramental form (“Ego te absolvo… I absolve you…”) at the end more of the formula, clearly, when the penitent has finished the act of contrition. In this way the penitent does not leave with any doubts about what happened. That’s important.
If in the confessional you are in doubt about whether the priest has absolved you, by all means respectfully ask the priest before you get out of the confessional.
Remember point #15 of Fr. Z’s 20 Tips For Making A Good Confession.
And, everyone, GO TO CONFESSION!