ASK FATHER: How to go to confession to an SSPX priest

penance_confession_stepsFrom a reader…


I now happen to live 10 minutes’ walk from the local FSSPX chapel here in London.

I don’t intend to make it my customary place for Mass (tempting as that is) unless and until a regularisation occurs – and I’m not holding my breath.

I am however aware that going to confession with them remains valid for me and any other Catholic, following Pope Francis’ letter to that effect as a continuation of the permission granted for the Year of Mercy. There are times when it would be very handy for me.

My question is: is there anything different about the rite as celebrated by traditional priests versus, say, going to the Oratory or any other “sound” church? Any customary introductory prayer or act of contrition?

All best and hope to see you again in the UK before too long. [Me too!] Corpus Christi Maiden Lane now has a *spectacular* ad orientem sanctuary following the restoration work.

First, I have been following the restoration work at the Maiden Lane church.  The parish priest includes me in his email updates.  He was very good to me during my last trip to London, which seems like a terrible long time ago. I celebrated Mass there.  The work is coming along very well.

To business.

Since I don’t know how you have usually made your confession, I can’t say if there will be anything different.  However, I am sure that the SSPXers are used to making the confession in the old fashioned, standard, Anglophone way.  That is, request for a blessing as you begin, statement of time since last confession, perhaps statement of state of life, confession of mortal sins in kind and number, a clear statement of sorrow and that you are finished.  Within that structure there are no codified elements.  Some people say, “For these and all the sins I cannot now remember, I ask a penance and absolution.”  Others might say, “My Jesus, mercy!”  However, make it clear that you are done.  Don’t just trickle off into ambiguous silence.

As far as the Act of Contrition is concerned, again, I suspect that an SSPX confessor would not freak out if a more modern act of contrition were used.  However, I always recommend the use of an old-fashioned Act of Contrition which has all the elements you need in sound language and order.

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell; but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life.

That has it all.  Or, with variations,

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin.

Of course you will hear from SSPX priests the traditional form of absolution. It is is a bit more involved, because it also contains the form for the lifting of censures.  The priest will say (in Latin):

May almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you your sins, and lead you to everlasting life. [R.: Amen.]

Then he raises the right hand toward you, saying (in Latin):

May the almighty and merciful Lord grant you pardon, absolution, + and remission of your sins. [R.: Amen.]

Then he says the form about censures you might have incurred and, after that, absolves your sins, saying (in Latin):

May our Lord Jesus Christ absolve you. And I by His authority release you from every bond of excommunication, ([for clerics] suspension) and interdict, in so far as I am empowered and you have need. And now I absolve you from your sins; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit. [R.: Amen].

After giving you absolution the priest will probably add, though it isn’t strictly necessary, in English:

May the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the saints, whatever good you have done, and whatever evil you have endured, achieve for you the forgiveness of your sins, an increase of grace and the reward to eternal life. Amen.

A beautiful prayer.

The older form is logical and orderly.  The logical procedure is echoed in the absolution at the beginning of the traditional Mass after the Confiteor.  The different ways of saying “forgive” (Indulgéntiam, ? absolutionem et remissiónem…), imply logical phases of reconciliation. But I digress.

That’s about it, except for an important final element: Thank the priest before you go.

Everyone: Keep in mind my

And …


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    One of our FSSP priests recently gave a homily wherein he said it was good to provide the confessor your state in life. I had not been in the habit of doing that before (I didn’t realize it was a good thing to do). I have started adding, after “Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been ___ since my last confession.” something like, “I am in my 30s, married, with children.” It helps the priest help us, when he knows our state in life!

  2. Lepidus says:

    I know that saying any proper Act of Contrition is suitable, but I’ve wondered about the two variations shown here. The first seems to be more common in the traditional settings, but the second seems to be a closer translation of the Latin, which always seems to be the same. How did that happen?

  3. Vincent says:

    Father, I’d love to hear more about the Confiteor – especially the Misereatur and Indulgentiam – and a comparison with the NO version.. Is it a form of absolution in either form?

  4. Peter Stuart says:

    Thanks for this post. I don’t think it’s ever a bad idea to remind people How To Go To Confession. (Or to prod us to go.) Especially the part about giving one’s state in life. Though I have extra baggage (recovering alcoholic, SSA), it only takes a few seconds and seems to help Father when giving me advice about things like occasions of sin.

  5. lmgilbert says:

    There is a good, wise and holy priest who sometimes comes to our parish in the summer for a few weeks. Toward the very end of one’s confession, I am not sure the exact point, he has the habit of of saying very earnestly, “And please pray for me, a sinner.” For some reason this staggers me and has me coming out of the confessional deeply contrite and filled with compunction. Of course he is a sinner, because he is a human being, but it moves me to deeper sorrow for my sins when he says that, for if he is a sinner, then where does that put me? And besides, unlike this holy priest I almost never refer to myself as a sinner, while he humbles himself in this fashion with every Confession he hears. Surely it cannot be a bad thing to find one’s face streaming with tears of sorrow and compunction on leaving the confessional . . .

  6. Legisperitus says:

    I would also add, if you’re accustomed to the Novus Ordo rite of confession, don’t be surprised if the priest proceeds to give the absolution while you are still making your Act of Contrition. It’s a time-saver.

  7. My last confession was to a FSSP priest, and as it happens, the first time I made my confession in the context of the older form. There were a couple of things a little different, but no matter: he absolved me. Mission accomplished, Deo gratias!

    It wasn’t until afterward that I even gave thought to what might be different. Such is the wonderful thing about the sacrament of penance: the penitent really doesn’t have to think about too much.

    Of course, one certainly ought to give prayerful thought to what one needs to confess; but even then, don’t let a lack of preparation keep you from ducking into the confessional when the opportunity presents itself. That is the manifestation of actual grace: God causes you and the priest to intersect, and a little light goes on: “I can go to confession! I need to go to confession! Why shouldn’t I go…right now?” Actual grace at work; ’tis wonderful!

    Many times people are concerned that they won’t remember what to do, or they will “do it wrong,” or that they haven’t prepared well enough. Again, as much as I encourage good preparation, don’t sweat it! I like to tell people, the priest certainly knows what to do, and he won’t be nervous, so just rely on him.

  8. Legisperitus says:

    Fr. Martin Fox, your comment reminds me of Chesterton’s statement, “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly”! :)

  9. frmh says:

    My experience of sspx clergy is that while they preach to a high standard the truths of the faith, they are also genuinely pastoral guys to those who have swam about in sinful environments and are maybe just returning to the sacraments.

    They don’t expect people to come to them immersed in tradition, especially not the sacrament of confession.

    Just go to confession as you normally would. I have done that the times I have gone to sspx for confession (all post Rome’s faculty declaration I hasten to add).

  10. jaykay says:

    Legisperitus: “don’t be surprised if the priest proceeds to give the absolution while you are still making your Act of Contrition.”

    This was very common “back in the day”. At my boys’ school (first confession 1967) we usually had older, retired (from teaching, missions or both – Marist Fathers) priests for our confessions, and they all did it! All you ever heard was “et EGO TE ABSOLVO…and the rest was usually a blur, accompanied by the sliding shut of the wooden hatch and the opening of the one on the other side. Some of them would have been ordained prior to WW1! God bless them! Would that we had their like around now.

  11. Sword40 says:

    The SSPX is how I found the Tridentine Mass. Well, that isn’t quite true; I found it in Post Falls, Idaho, prior to them joining the SSPX. In 1980 Archbishop Lefebvre came to our parish for 1st Communions and Conformations. So that is when we first heard about them.

    For the most part the posters here are correct about the Confession routine. I never did hear them say “Holy Spirit” it was always “Holy Ghost”, as is the case at our FSSP parish. (although HS does creep in now and then). Not an issue though.

  12. wolfeken says:

    “A beautiful prayer. The older form is logical and orderly.”

    So true! This is one of the many time where the average person should ask: Why in the world was such a simple, beautiful thing like the form of absolution changed? [The Council Fathers said that things should not be be changed unless it was truly for the good of the people. Who wanted the change? Were people clamoring for changes? So… what has happened to the sacrament of penance since it has been changed? Was it truly for the good of the people?]

    The post-Vatican II form begins with a story [Good point. In English that’s how it sounds. In Latin, it sounds a little different, since the “story” you hear in English is actually in a relative clause beginning with qui, which describes God for a while, before getting to the verb, tribuat.] (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 sin…) [From Latin… May God, who did XYZ, give you pardon and peace through the ministry of the Church.]

    The pre-Vatican II form contains direct prayers (May almighty God have mercy on you…) for the penitent. [The newer version does too, but it isn’t nearly as Roman: direct, clear, concise.]

    At least the new form kept the critical words in the form. But I have never heard a good argument for why the rest was changed. [Neither have I. I suppose it was part of the ethos of the time, when the war upon the juridical, doctrinal and intellectual began on the part of the merciful, pastoral, sensitive. It’s ongoing and worse today than ever.] Change for the sake of change. Thank God every Catholic has the right, under Summorum Pontificum, to ask for the pre-Vatican II form of absolution. [And the priest has the right to give absolution in the way that he desires. BTW… while there are, in the new way of doing things, forms provided for the lifting of censures, the older form has everything built in with the great and O so Roman: “in quantum possum et tu indiges” What the penitent has the right to do is to insist on a VALID form of absolution.].

  13. LA says:

    All true, except I’ve never heard the last prayer given in English by an SSPX priest.

  14. bourgja says:

    In my experience with an FSSP priest, the absolution is given quietly while the penitent says the act of contrition.

  15. WmHesch says:

    The Miseretur and Indulgentiam are not required… it’s very strange for a priest to say them when the penitent omits the Confiteor.

    [I don’t think it is at all strange. I’ll stick to the Church’s form.]

  16. Rod Halvorsen says:

    Possibly sword40 and I go to the same FSSP chapel?

    As to station in life, I just tell my priests who I am by name and when my last confession was, and if I forget the latter, they sometimes ask. They probably know my voice anyhow. It’s rather amazing how many voices a person can remember. I know many of my customers when they call me on the phone before they tell me who they are.

    Anyhow, we have the act of contrition glued to the confessional. At first blush it might seem “canned” to some, but I actually like that as I can see the words and take time and ponder them as I make the act.

    I remember a funny situation early on. I was reading thru my missal and meditating on the various acts of contrition and one seemed good. I used that one time {I think it was the Irish one} and the priest said “What was THAT?” I told him. He said, “Just use what the Church has in Her wisdom given us!” I chuckled and have used that one glued to the confessional ever since.

    As a convert, I am still awed by confession and the incredible gift it is to me. Praise Jesus and many thanks for the FSSP and their service to His Kingdom!

  17. AMTFisher says:

    ” But I have never heard a good argument for why the rest was changed.”
    This is the reasoning which I learned in my Intro to Liturgy and Sacraments course at seminary two years ago:

    Sacrosanctum Concilium stated that the goal of the Council was fourfold: 1. giving a new “vigor to the Christian life of the faithful”, 2. adapt what should/can be adapted to interact with the modern world, 3. “to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ”, and 4. strengthen the call of evangelization. Aspects of all of these, whether for better or worse, went into the liturgical changes brought about by the Council. In the area of Confession, 2 and 3 played a key role.

    Firstly, in the interest of ecumenism, a few things became emphasized in all of the Sacraments. A. Each of them have a Liturgy of the Word. After a direct prayer to God (in Confession: “May God Who has enlightened every heart…”), His Word is read to the people (a few sentences from Scripture may be read by the priest, and then partially expounded upon). This is not based on a deficiency of the original form, but it reemphasizes the Biblical nature of all the Sacraments. (Thus more clearly displaying the Sacrament’s necessity to Protestants) B. Each of them have an Epiclesis (the calling down of the Holy Spirit) within a prayer that goes through salvation history, recounting what happened in the Old Covenant which the Sacrament fulfills in the new. The Fathers of the Eastern Church generally saw this as the more important part of a Sacrament’s efficacy, rather than, like the Scholastic tradition, the words of Christ. (This is just a matter of emphasis, not a doctrinal dispute-looking at the Anaphorae of the East in the Eucharist, they all generally would have both an Epiclesis and the Words of Institution [aside from the Anaphora of Mar Addai; which originally did not have the Words of Institution]) Adding to the structure of Confession in this way, “May God the Father of mercies, Who by the Death and Resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and poured out the Holy Spirit in remission of sins, through the ministry of the Church grant to you pardon and peace,” it makes explicit both the history of the Sacrament (like the Anaphorae, the blessing of the Water at Baptism, the blessing of the oil for Confirmation, the prayer of consecration at ordination, et cetera) and the calling down of the Holy Spirit. This all makes the Catholic Sacramental theology more explicit and understandable to both Eastern and Protestant Christians (not a weakening of Catholic theology, but a more thorough explanation of it. [cf. CCC 1104-1107]).

    Secondly, it is also adapted to the modern world. The prayer lifting any excommunication, censure, or suspension is made optional-it does not completely disappear, but it is not used at every confession, because it is generally not necessary for every confession.

    That was the reasoning I got in Liturgy and Sacraments. Not sure if I agree with all of it, but I can see where the Council Fathers were coming from.

  18. scholastica says:

    Since Pope Francis’ confirmed validity of SSPX confessions, I’ve been going there primarily. My first run, I was quite unsure and simply told the priest that it was my first time to receive the sacrament there and he helped me along. I realized that for my part, it’s no different. For his part, he says a prayer in Latin to the Holy Ghost (I believe) while I begin asking for a blessing and then, yes, he gives the absolution while I make an act of contrition. It does end abruptly, and I miss hearing the words “I absolve you” in Latin or English as he speaks them softly. But, I know that all is done well and that makes up for what I miss. Now, I can see how a whole parish could have their confessions heard on a Saturday morning. Brief, blunt, and gone!

  19. Augustine Thompson O.P. says:

    The Dominican form of confession and sacramental absolution is quite different from the Roman and may interest some readers. I discuss it here:

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