ASK FATHER: Would anything prevent a priest from always using the traditional formula of absolution?

From a reader…


The reformed Rite of Penance added a whole bunch of stuff to the rite of confession—optional Scripture readings and so on—but I have never seen any of it used, even non-optional parts like how the priest should supposedly say “give thanks to the Lord, for He is good” to me at the end. The only real difference in the old and new rite of penance seems to be in the words of absolution, and even at this point lots of priests seem to just say whatever they want anyway. [Idiots.]

I wonder: do you think there is anything in practice preventing a traditional-minded priest from unilaterally making every confession an Extraordinary Form confession?

Provided the priest has faculties to absolve, the priest can use the traditional form of absolution validly.

Is there something that might prevent him in practice?   If I stretch my imagination, I guess I could come up with something.

Perhaps were people suddenly to hear a different formula, a different language, some of them might be momentarily confused for a bit or puzzled.  Some might not immediately get the Latin.

However, if they are in the confessional, they are probably going to accept the Latin and the traditional form happily, especially if the priest says ahead of time that he is going to use the traditional form.

In all my years of absolving penitents – in Latin – I’ve never had a single person react badly.  Once in a while if I might tell a convert or revert or someone whom I suspect isn’t all that well-formed, what’ll happen so they aren’t surprised.  The confessional isn’t a place for big surprises.

I think that, when it comes right down to it, people are a) enormously relieved once they’ve made their confession and b) eager to receive validly absolution.

If Father starts rambling away or adding stuff or changing the form of absolution around… how does that put the penitent at ease?

But, if Father starts up in LATIN, the penitent is probably going to think that she’s getting The Genuine Article™.

However, Father should make sure through catechesis that everyone can rest assured that the newer form is valid.  By switching to the older form, he isn’t calling into question the validity of the newer form, in Latin or in the vernacular.

When it comes to the confessional, Father needs to avoid doing something weird.  Hence, he should let people in on what he is doing.  If he does that, I suspect that everything will be okay as far as the penitents are concerned.

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  1. padredana says:

    What about the old formula in the vernacular? My understanding is that since Summorum Pontificum allows the use of the books in use in 1962, and in 1961 in the United States the use of the vernacular formula was allowed and published, that this was most certainly in use in 1962. This may help those who are used to hear absolution in English to be more at ease. Now, I could be wrong. I’m not a canonists. But many a canonist supports this position. I also think that in some, more progressive parishes the use of the old formula for absolution could cause a stir. I’ve wanted to make the switch, but fear that people will become agitated (something I try to avoid unless its necessary – like implementing ad orientem).

    [I don’t have the 1961. I could use a copy. However, I suspect that people who regularly go to confession will in no way be agitated, as opposed to some few who might be at a change to ad orientem worship.]

  2. frjim4321 says:

    I’ve heard made-up words of absolution. I think it’s a disservice. I’m always careful to pronounce the words correctly. It could be argued that some of the illicit versions are valid (if the priest says, “I forgive,” or “I absolve,”) but if a penitent suffers from any degree of scrupulosity, chances are they know something is “off,” and they may not believe their sins are forgiven. I think it’s always important to say the words correctly.

    [On this, we agree. It is not a kindness to leave anyone in doubt as to the validity of a sacrament, especially in the delicate environment of the confessional.]

  3. Elizabeth D says:

    The only time I ever confessed to a priest who used the traditional form, he said something LONG in Latin at the end and I did not hear “ego te absolvo” or “ego absolvo te” in any of it and I was very confused as to whether he absolved me. I am truly not sure whether he absolved me or not. But I was kind of scared of this priest who tried to insist during the confession that chapel veils are necessary (I wear one now but did not at that time, since they are in fact not necessary) so I didn’t stay to ask and risk provoking him since the sins I’d confessed were venial. I was left wondering if he’d denied me absolution for not agreeing that I need to wear a chapel veil. I made sure never to confess to this priest again as on this occasion and others he did not seem to have very good judgment, sincere though he was in his good intentions.

    So, for me the only time when I was left uncertain about whether I was absolved validly was a “trad” priest.

    [Frankly, it pushes beyond the limit of credulity that a priest who would, in the context of the confessional, start up in Latin at the time for absolution and say something OTHER than the form for absolution. Nope.]

  4. Prayerful says:

    All the confessors in the diocesan church I usually go to, use words for the Form of Absolution, which matches pp 1873-4 of the 1945 St Andrew’s missal I generally use, that is, what is traditional. If I get confessions at a church beside the Passionist retreat, the priest uses a stripped down new Form. I cannot see how the post V2 Form of Absolution could be taken as invalid. The traditional Form, whether Latin or English, sounds more impressive, though. It might be superficial, but I think it adds to the gravity of the occasion.

  5. Elizium23 says:

    I’m very sorry to say it, but the one thing that threw me off during a Confession was when the priest proceeded to pronounce the absolution (yes, it was in Latin; I don’t know if it was EF or OF) at the same time as I recited the Act of Contrition. I am just very polite and I don’t interrupt people and so it was psychologically difficult for me to compose my (memorized) thoughts as he was speaking. No, Reverend Father, please don’t change. This is for me to work out on my own. I very much enjoyed the traditional method, because I did recognize it for what it was. The only pity is that I haven’t had more chances to practice it.

    [I have often explained here in these electronic pages that some priests will begin the form of absolution has soon as they hear enough of the Act of Contrition. For one such explanation go HERE. It might help.]

  6. Fr. Kelly says:

    I just checked the 1961 collectio rituum and it only has the Latin for the whole rite — no English at all. With my own translation of the rubrics, it reads thus:
    1. When the priest wishes to absolve, having enjoined a salutary penance, and it having been accepted, he says first:
    Misereatur tui omnipotens Deus, et dimissis, peccatis tuis, perducat te ad vitam aeternam. Amen.
    2. Then with right hand elevated toward the penitent, he says:
    Indulgentiam, absolutionem, et remissionem paccatorum tuorum tribuat tibi omnipotens, et misreicors Dominus. Amen.
    Dominus noster Iesus Christus te absolvat: et ego auctoritate ipsius te absolvo ab omni vinculo excommunicationis, (suspensionis) et interdicti, in quantum possum, et tu indiges. Deinde ego te absolvo a peccaris tuis, in nomine Patris, et Filii, + et Spiritus Sancti, Amen.
    3. If the penitent is a layman the word _suspensionis_ is ommitted. (A bishop uses three signs of the cross.)
    Passio Domini nostri Iesu Christi, merita beatae Mariae Virginis, et omnium Sanctorum, quidquid boni feceris, et mali sustinueris, sint tibi in remissionem peccatorum, augmentum gratiae, et praemium vitae aternae. Amen
    4. For a just cause, the _Misereatur, etc._ and _Indulgentiam, etc._ and _Passio Domini, etc_ can all be omitted, and it is enough to say _Dominus noster Iesus Christus, etc._

    Elizabeth D,
    Is it possible that the priest said the absolution prayer while you were completing your Act of Contrition and so you missed noticing the “ego te absolvo”? It happens earlier than some people expect it. We priests are ecouraged to wait until after the penitent completes her Contrition to say this part aloud, but it does not always happen this way.

    The final prayer is a wonderful blessing for you to benefit now and in eternity from all that will befall you. It is an optional closing for the sacrament in the new Rite and I always use it in place of “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.” In English, it reads: “Through the Pasiion of Our Lord, Jesus Christ and the Merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of all the Saints, may every good thing that your receive and every evil that you sustain be unto you for the forgiveness of sins, for an increase of grace, and for life everlasting. Amen.”

    [If I am not mistaken the final prayer could be said in English even in the 50’s. It is lovely.]

  7. James in Perth says:

    I’ve never had a priest say anything other than “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Except maybe when I went to confession at a Byzantine Catholic parish … but those were the exceptions.

  8. Will Elliott says:

    I’ve mentioned this on other Catholic sites, but don’t remember if I’ve ever mentioned it here – several times over the past couple of years I’ve left the confessional distressed because of concerns whether the priest hearing my confession properly recited the prayer of absolution. I would humbly ask that priests clearly enunciate the section: “…may God grant you pardon and peace. And I absolve you of your sins…” and not skip any words.

    Too many times I have been left wondering whether the priest said “…may God grant you pardon and peace, I absolve you…” or he said “…may God grant you pardon and peace and absolve you…” — the former (I absolve you) being acceptable and the latter (I’m praying that God absolves you) leaving me concerned. I’d feel a lot better if I always heard two syllables being attempted where the “And I” goes instead of one indistinct sound.

    [“grant you pardon and peace” is not essential for valid absolution. Also, it is possible to over analyze. 99% of priest don’t do stupid things. I am 50% sure of that! o{]:¬) ]

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