ASK FATHER: Father doesn’t make Sign of the Cross when giving absolution


Priest making Sign of the Cross when giving absolution

From a reader…


Whether an absolution is valid if the priest prays the form of the sacrament correctly, but does not make the sign of the cross.

This might just be scruples, but recently, I went to confession to a priest who had a physical limitation and could not use his right arm.

Also, he has difficulty using his left arm. (He may have had a stroke.) Unfortunately, there was no way to go behind the grill, so when it came time for the absolution, I noticed he just prayed the words, and did not move either of his arms. He is a very good and faithful priest, so this is not a critique of him. Now, after several days, I have not been able to find an answer to this question, or to even if he can use his left arm in absolution.

Lastly, as a regular reader and prayer for this blog, I want to add my name to the many others who are grateful to you for promoting confession regularly. Thank you, Father Z.

Thanks for that last part. You are welcome.

All sacraments have both matter and form.  The matter of the Sacrament of Penance is the telling, to the best of the penitent’s ability, all mortal sins with sorrow and a purpose of amendment.  The form of the sacrament are the essential words of absolution spoken by the priest (with faculties to absolve).

The confessor’s gesture of the sign of the Cross is not essential to valid absolution.

FATHERS! This question reveals how attentive your penitents are to what you say, or don’t say, do, or don’t do.  They have the right not to doubt or to be confused, especially in that important moment of exposure and encounter with Christ.   In this case the priest probably can’t use his arm.  No one is held to do that which he cannot do.  However, you able-bodied priests should make the sign of the Cross at the place indicated in the Form.

Also, FATHERS!, use the proper form of absolution, either in the newer, post-Conciliar form or the older, traditional form.  SAY IT PROPERLY.  Don’t insert stuff, leave things out, or ad lib.  Just shut up and absolve!

And GO TO CONFESSION yourselves, Fathers!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. iamlucky13 says:

    “FATHERS! This question reveals how attentive your penitents are to what you say, or don’t say, do, or don’t do.”

    And not, as some folks writing elsewhere seem inclined to think of anybody who values sacramental form, because we want to be rigid and call the priest out doing it wrong. It’s because we really believe what the Church teaches about sin and confession, and deeply desire to have some assurance of the mercy offered in confession.

    @ Photo Caption:
    “Priest making Sign of the Cross when giving absolution”

    That priest looks somehow familiar…

  2. Fr. John says:

    Father, would you kindly recommend a good source for the older traditional form of the Sacrament? Thank you.

    [The Rite is in the Roman Ritual, under Title III. Also, you can find find the Rite in the back, appendix, of many editions of the Roman Breviary. Online the great guys at St. John Cantius have provided Title III HERE Start there.


    Cum Sacerdos pænitentem absolvere velit, injuncta ei prius, et ab eo acceptata, salutari pænitentia, primo dicit:

    M isereatur tui omnipotens Deus, et dimissis peccatis tuis, perducat te ad vitam æternam. Amen.

    Deinde, dextera versus pænitentem elevata, dicit:

    Indulgentiam, absolutionem, et remissionem peccatorum tuorum tribuat tibi omnipotens et misericors Dominus. Amen.

    Dominus noster Jesus Christus te absolvat: et ego auctoritate ipsìus te absolvo ab omni vinculo excommunicationis, (suspensionis), et interdicti, in quantum possum, et tu indiges. Deinde ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis, in nomine Patris, et Filii, + et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

    Si pænitens sit laicus, omittitur verbum suspensionis. Episcopus autem in absolvendis fidelibus ter signum crucis facit.

    P assio Domini nostri Jesu Christi, merita beatæ Mariæ Virginis, et omnium Sanctorum, quidquid boni feceris, et mali sustinueris, sint tibi in remissionem peccatorum, augmentum gratiæ, et præmium vitæ æternæ. Amen.

    Justa de causa omitti potest Misereatur, etc., et satis est dicere: Dominus noster Jesus Christus, etc., ut supra, usque ad illud: Passio Domini nostri, etc.

    Urgente vero aliqua gravi necessitate in periculo mortis, Sacerdos breviter dicere poterit:

    Ego te absolvo ab omnibus censuris, et peccatis, in nomine Patris, et Filii, + et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.]

  3. There are a lot of priests out there who think they are being “pastoral” by substituting their own words for what is given in the books. In fact this is not pastoral. It is jarring. It is a form of attention-seeking. It is a refusal to acknowledge Christ as the true actor in the liturgy. It is forcing us to try to discern the Sacrifice and grace through the prism of a man’s stinky personality, and causing us to doubt whether we are in fact receiving the graces to which we aspire. It is on the order of doing a clown act at the foot of the Cross, diverting attention from the suffering Savior.

    I think our ancestors in the Faith who rioted upon hearing a differently-worded version of Scripture were onto something. If priests had to fear touching off civil unrest by ad-libbing the liturgy, that mess would end overnight.

  4. bushboar says:

    I was going to submit an “Ask father” on this but perhaps I can ask here.

    The priest that celebrates the TLM in my area on most Sundays is old enough that to have been ordained pre-Vatican II (that is not to say that he is losing his mental faculties – he gives passionate, topical homilies every Sunday, with no notes, often tying the week’s scripture and/or current events to examples from the lives of various Saints). He gives absolution by starting with “May our Lord Jesus Christ absolve you of your sins…” At no point does he say “I absolve you” (which I believe is the essential part of the form) so I am concerned that he is not really giving absolution.

    What he says is similar to the Indulgentiam said after the confiteor at Mass, which to my understanding is a prayer for absolution and not absolution itself.

    If he’s not giving proper absolution, how would I approach him about this? And if we haven’t receive absolution, have my wife and I been receiving communion unworthily?

  5. tomthumb says:

    First – in the beginning of my years as a convert, I was a weekly confession goer until we had several children which limits me to going about once a month (obviously unless I commit a mortal sin). I really want to thank Fr. Z for his continual reminders to GO TO CONFESSION as I often do a quick examination of conscience and think of reasons to get in there quickly.

    Second, I wanted to pass along a piece of what I thought was “good news”. One of our local parishes has spent years on what I would consider an upward climb – I should note they have had 7 different pastors (+ associates) in the last 10 years. It started about five years ago with daily confession. It continued to moving the choir and organist/pianist to the loft in the back. Incense, an altar cross, elimination of female altar servers. It was actually getting close to time for ad orientem worship when BANG priest removed. The new priest who took over removed 75% of all the liturgical reforms in the first week he was there. He actually went out of his way to instate a female altar server during his first masses. Where is the good news? I was actually terrified to go to confession with him since he had reduced the daily confession to twice a week. I expected all kinds of improvisation, dialogue, downplaying of accountability. I did end up finally going to him recently and am pleased to point out that he had no comments whatsoever, took me as seriously as I would expect, and used the words of absolution perfectly.

  6. Nan says:

    Isn’t it possible that this priest has been dispensed from making the sign of the cross as part of absolution, due to his impairment? I recall that St. Isaac Jogues received a dispensation to continue to say Mass despite his missing fingers.

  7. LeeF says:

    “And GO TO CONFESSION yourselves, Fathers!”

    I thank Fr. Z for exhorting his brother priests to go to confession themselves. I just cannot imagine how any priest who is faithful to his serious obligation of praying the divine office daily and also makes a regular practice of confession, of not being faithful to the orthodox teachings of the Church. If a priest can do those things and still is not faithful to the teachings of the Church found in the catechism, then I have no idea what the remedy is.

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