ASK FATHER: Priest gives absolution while I am saying Act of Contrition

From a reader…


In all the time I have gone to confession, I say the Act of Contrition, and then the priest absolves me.

However, the priest at my new parish does Absolution at the same time I am saying the Act of Contrition, and says it very softly. I asked him once if he had done it (absolution) and after he said yes, I asked my wife and she confirmed that he said it simultaneously to the Act of Contrition with her as well.

This seems strange. Am I right to be concerned?

No, this is not a problem.  This is a standard and old fashioned thing to do.

The basic principle is this.  When a priest is morally certain that you properly disposed and are sufficiently sorry for your sins, he shouldn’t delay absolution.   So, when you start the Act of Contrition, which traditionally first expresses attrition before it expresses contrition, he will start the form of absolution while you are still pronouncing the Act of Contrition.

The classic Act of Contrition first expresses the less perfect, but sufficient, sorrow for sins, attrition, which is fear of punishment.  Contrition is more perfect, sorrow for love of God.

So, don’t be surprised if a priest starts the form of absolution while you are saying the Act of Contrition.   Not all do this, but quite a few traditional priests do.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Another cool, little nugget of tradition is the little “knock, knock” from the priest against his side of the confessional once I finish praying the Act of Contrition as a sign that he has given absolution as he finished pronouncing it before I finished praying my Act of Contrition.

  2. Cafea Fruor says:

    I know it’s more traditional, but to be honest, I really prefer when Father waits until I’m done with my act of contrition, because hearing every word of the absolution is priceless. Some of the best words a Catholic can hear. Let me hear them and savor them, even if it’s just for a moment.

  3. Fr_Andrew says:

    When I learned the ropes from older priests, I was told to start the absolution formula once I heard the penitent begin the act of contrition for three reasons:

    1. Because of the first absolution from censure, this will mean the priest says the words of absolution about the same time or just after the expression of perfect contrition (and so form and the second part of the matter, the sorrow for the other matter, the confessed sins, is as closely linked in time as possible.

    2. Traditionally-minded Catholics tend to confess frequently, meaning lines are typically long. This method saves about 20-30 seconds per confession. If every confession averages 2 minutes or less as it should then this means 20% more confessions can be heard.

    3. People, not infrequently just leave as soon as they have said their part and so there is a greater risk they walk away without absolution if the priest waits.

    More than a few older confessors manuals also presume and recommend this method.

  4. The Masked Chicken says:

    This is a venerable old practice, but I am only comfortable letting priests I know do this. I have had 2 instances where priests used invalid forms of absolution, so with a priest at a church I might visit or with a visiting priest, I want to hear him say the correct words of absolution before I will trust him. It is a sad commentary on the state of things, but it is better to be safe than sorry.

    The Chicken

  5. Curate says:

    1) It can be quite helpful when there’s a long line of penitents.
    2) There is something beautiful about the matter and form of the sacrament coming together in one instance.

  6. NOCatholic says:

    I have to agree with Cafea Fruor. I really want to hear the words of absolution from the priest, not only to ensure they are correct but because the words are a great comfort, as though Our Lord Himself is forgiving me (which through the priest, He is).

    To date, I have always heard the correct formula, and the priest has always waited on me to say the Act of Contrition. I also have to say, I don’t waste time in the confessional. I make my confession short and sweet, so the priest can give me absolution and move on to the next penitent.

  7. Curate says:

    P.S. I usually wait for the penitent to finish their act of contrition before I begin, but if I do decide to say it quietly, I’ll stop halfway and will wait for them to finish, and then finish by saying, “through the ministry of the Church…”

  8. tho says:

    We once had a priest who insisted that we say our Act of Contrition, in the pew, after leaving the confessional. I always felt uncomfortable with this method, but I chalked it up to something approved by the diocese. That is the only time that I ever encountered that method, I am hoping it was valid.
    The priest I am referring to was our permanent rector.

  9. ProfKwasniewski says:

    I absolutely hate it when the priests start in on their Latin while I’m still praying the Act of Contrition, and for two reasons.

    1. It distracts me from the words I’m saying, which I try to say with as much attentiveness and sincerity as possible, rather than “rattling them off.”

    2. It deprives me of the consolation and beauty of the Latin that the priest is saying. Those words in the sacrament of Confession are so magnificent, they deserve to be heard distinctly, every one of them.

    3. Most of the time, it’s not a battlefield situation where there’s an emergency such that the priest has to rush through his penitents. When the priest starts in on his prayer, it makes me feel as if he’s just interested in getting me out and the next one in.

  10. Fr_Andrew says:


    With all due respect, your concerns here and distaste seem like they originate not from any theological reasoning, but purely a subjective “feeling”. I think this is a very bad reason to do things liturgical, even if perhaps after the objective theological and practical reasons there might be some attention given to “feelings” or other subjectively or personal preferences.

    Where there is in the typical newer rite risk of priests playing with the formula, I get the desire to hear and check. I wrote exclusively about the older rite.

    1. Perhaps if easily distracted, the act ought to be practiced more outside of the confessional. That is something I recommend to my faithful as part of their daily examination both for effect and also for practice. If as you say you are very desirous to hear the words, perhaps this is part of the distraction. As a musician, I often struggle with the prayers at the foot when a schola bungles the Introit. A hiccup in a chant I know can easily throw me off. I’ve never thought to suggest they should wait or I should so I am not distracted. I have never thought to stop Sung Mass, nor say said prayers so loud as to ensure I am not distracted. I have thought they (and I) should practice more.

    2. This same reasoning could also justify saying any prayer aloud, including the Canon. These are beautiful words, indeed, but mere subjective consolation is not a reason to depart from what the traditional practice and tried and true manuals suggest, in my opinion.

    3. All due respect, but you are not on the receiving end and not responsible for souls. I hear nearly 7 hours of confessions per week, and yet still have people in line before Mass who miss out, and complaints about getting more time. As the Holy Job says, life is a battle. It is a battlefield for souls, and I want as many as possible to be in the state of grace and able to receive to help preserve that grace. Nay, this is my duty. If you want the Sacrament your way, perhaps a private arrangement with your director away from confessions before Mass is a better means of having what you desire.

    I’m sorry if this “feels” like it deprives you or others of consolation, but the essential effect of the Sacrament is not psychological consolation, but a juridical pardon of your sins. Not that we should not desire the secondary effects as much as possible, but we run the risk of undermining the theological essentials if we make these secondary effects primary considerations. I try to offer this consolation you speak of both in the brief advice given, but also in dismissing the penitent saying “I have absolved you, and so the Lord has forgiven all your sins, go in peace and please pray for me.”

    I mean not to dismiss your distaste or concerns, but would encourage you to look less with less subjectivity at the Sacrament.

  11. ProfKwasniewski says:

    Dear Fr. Andrew,

    Perhaps I spoke with too much fervor (“absolutely hate” was too strong), but surely I don’t need lessons in sacramental theology, or the placing of objective considerations above subjective ones. Apparently you’re not familiar with my body of work. Also, it’s not from a lack of familiarity (!) with the Act of Contrition that I wish to say it meaningfully. The sacrament of penance is possibly the sacrament most easily turned into an assembly line automation. We have to avoid that. A Byzantine priest once said to me: “Confession is like a second baptism; it’s like being washed again in the Blood of the Lamb.” That is a most solemn reality, not something to be gotten through rapid-fire.

    The reality is that the words we are talking about take perhaps 20 seconds to say. I find it vastly unbelievable that it makes a significant savings in time for the priest to overlap them while the penitent is saying the Act of Contrition.

    I do understand there can be situations where only one priest is hearing Confessions before Mass, and the line is long, and he wants to absolve as many as possible. This is not a reason to make the rapid-fire approach the standard template, however. When necessary, fine; but otherwise, not. I hardly need to say that manuals are great as far as they go, but the world they created was also the world that went up in flames during and after the Council. Let’s not put our trust in manuals.

    Dr. Kwasniewski

  12. Fr. Kelly says:

    Fr. Andrew these are not the times for priests to berate our faithful over their practice of confessing. If they are coming and making good and humble confessions, we should rejoice at this.
    If they ask us to pronounce the absolution so they can hear it, this is not an unreasonable request. It pertains to them directly, after all.
    As to the canon, the part of the canon that applies to the faithful directly _is_ said aloud — “nobis quoque peccatoribus”
    As the Professor points out, the time saving is negligible — even less than when a priest has the penitent say the act of contrition before or after.

    Professor Kwasniewski, if you come to me for confession, I will wait to absolve until you have finished the Act of Contrition

  13. PatriciusOenus says:

    When a traditional priest begins to absolve me after the first line of my act of contrition (“Deus meus ex toto corde paenitet me”), we are working together by God’s grace to deliver a soul from sin and that moment, when we are both praying our respective parts, is like a symphony of grace, and I close my eyes to the sound of angels.

    Has I not read the comments I would never have guessed that this could be distracting to a penitent or that others do not perceive the same beauty in it. For my part, I wish all priests were formed to do this (with the long form of absolution, Dominus…, Deinde…, Passio…).

  14. PatriciusOenus says:

    @Fr. Kelly,

    I appreciate your well intentioned remarks but I strongly suspect that “a priest has the penitent say the act of contrition before or after” is not what Dr. K had in mind. I really hate it when priests do that and AFAIK it is not a venerable old practice in the same way as early absolution is.

  15. TonyO says:

    Someone please correct me if I have this wrong, but the act of contrition is not an essential element of a good confession, is it? So, some of Fr. Andrew’s comments would be less than to the point.

    When I was growing up (in a mostly conservative parish) before VII, the priests did not have penitents say the act of contrition. As I understand it, all that is sacramentally necessary is that the penitent have real sorrow for his sins, and the act of contrition represents one way to manifest an inward disposition. There are other ways to manifest it, and indeed if the priest has good reason to believe you have the right disposition, then he needs no specific further act to manifest it. So, if your enumeration of your sins made him confident of your proper disposition, he has no need to require you to recite the prayer.

    I have even seen it suggested the priest really only needs an adequate basis for believing that you have the right disposition, and often he has that adequate basis as a default presumption, applicable unless you say something that causes him to reject that presumption and gives him positive reason to doubt you are properly disposed. Under this idea, having you say the act of contrition could sit almost like a priest checking off a “due diligence” box, because after all, we all pretty much know the prayer by heart and might not say it with attention to the words: of course he fervently hopes that you actually mean the words, but having you recite them barely moves the needle toward the condition “yes, we have verified that the proper disposition is present” than your merely showing up in the confessional and enumerated your sins to a priest does.

    Please don’t get me wrong: I think using the prayer in the confessional is a good and worthy practice, and happily abide by it. And I am OK with either a priest starting his absolution while I say it, or after, his choice. I have to agree with “Curate” above, who comments that even if he starts during the act of contrition, he pauses until the penitent is done before he goes on with final formula – I think that is an excellent approach.

    As for “tho” above: the priest having you say the act of contrition in the pews after confession seems to be topsy-turvy: if its primary meaning is for it to manifest your proper disposition, it would seem to properly belong either before or during the confession, not after. I suspect his formation could use some re-polishing.

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