ASK FATHER: I have heard of “Apostolic Pardon” but “Apostolic Blessing”?

From a reader…


I have heard of “Apostolic Blessing” — is that the same thing but with a different name (eg: “reconciliation” == “confession” == “Sacrament of Penance”)?

I’ve written about the IMPORTANT Apostolic Pardon quite a few times.

The Apostolic Pardon is given to a dying person, hopefully with the all the Last Rites including Viaticum.  The Pardon imparts to a person in the state of grace a plenary indulgence which means remission of all temporal punishment due to sin.   Usually confession (when possible) and absolution are given before and/or anointing which can also have the effect of forgiveness of sins when a person is not sui compos.

Sometimes the Apostolic Pardon is called the Apostolic Blessing.  Why?  Because in the older, traditional form of the Pardon, the priest also blessed.  In the newer, post-Conciliar form he does not.


In the newer form the priest says:

Ego facultáte mihi ab Apostólica Sede tribúta, indulgéntiam plenáriam et remissiónem ómnium peccatórum tibi concédo, in nómine Patris, et Fílii, + et Spíritus Sancti. Amen.

“By the authority which the Apostolic See has given me, I grant you a full pardon and the remission of all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

In the older, traditional form the priest says:

Ego facultate mihi ab Apostolica Sede tributa, indulgentiam plenariam et remissionem omnium peccatorum tibi concedo et benedico te. In nomine Patris, et Filii, + et Spirtus Sancti, Amen.

“By the Faculty which the Apostolic See has given me, I grant you a plenary indulgence and the remission of all your sins, and I bless you. In the Name of the Father and the Son + and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

It is clear that this blessing/pardon does NOT function like the absolution given in the confessional.

However, you will want to say, “But the prayer says, ‘I grant you REMISSION of all your SINS’!”

We get into the weeds now with technical language about “forgiveness”.

In English, our different words for “forgive” all have about the same impact.  But in Latin they don’t.

For example, in the absolution after the traditional Confiteor the priest uses technical words to absolve…

Indulgéntiam, + absolutionem et remissiónem peccatórum nostrórum tríbuat nobis omnípotens et miséricors Dóminus. … May the + almighty and merciful Lord grant us pardon, absolution, and remission of our sins.

In this case, the three words do three different things.  Each term has a nuance of meaning for logical phases and, with each term, we are reconciled with the Church, ourselves and God in a different way – those different ways being all one way.

Indulgentia stems from God’s merciful love which is the forgiveness of the guilt.  Absolutio refers to the loosing of prescribed penances. Remissio is forgiveness not of guilt but of punishment due to the sin and reconciliation with the Church.

The whole formula is a relic from the penal code of the early Church and in the middle ages distinguishing THREE STAGES of reconciling the sinner with God and the Church.   The FIRST was internal forum… that’s like confession today and what followed was forgiveness of sin which is indulgentia.   In the form for anointing, this remains, “Indulgeat tibi Dominus quidquid per auditum … deliquisti”  The second was a canonical absolution from the prescribed penitence, an absolutio – loosing.  The third step was reconciliation and the reinstatement of the person to the peace of the Church, which is remissio.

For form could be rendered: “May Almighty God blot out the guilt of our sin, remit the punishment due to it, and restore us to His friendship.”

When the priest ascends the altar after the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, he says two prayer (again, the Roman thing with stages)

Take away from us our iniquities, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that we may be worthy to enter with pure minds into the Holy of Holies, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
We beseech Thee, O Lord, by the merits of Thy Saints, whose relics are here, and of all the Saints, that Thou wouldst vouchsafe to forgive (indulgere) me all my sins. Amen.

Over the centuries the meaning of the terms has slid around a little, but that’s the basic through underlying the repetition of words that seem (in English) to mean the same thing.  In Latin, they didn’t and they still don’t.  Not exactly, at least.   The Roman “genius” works in that systematic way.

In sum, that “remissio” of the Apostolic Pardon or Blessing remits not the sins (which must be done through sacramental absolution or anointing) but rather the punishment due to the forgiven sins.

So… after all this… do you see how important it is for you to go to confession regularly?  None of us know the day or hour of our going to the Just Judge.

This is also why in the Litany of Saints we have that critical petition…

A subitanea et improvisa morte, libera nos, Domine.

From a sudden and unprovided death, save us, O Lord.

Sudden death is one thing.   It can be a grace, as opposed to a long, drawn out agony.   On the other hand, for some people the long agony is a grace, for it gives them the chance to repent and offer their suffering in reparation for their sins.

So, sudden or foreseen or long or quick… that’s one thing.

Unprovided is another. 

An “unprovided” death is a death without access to the last sacraments, especially absolution from a priest.

That’s a scary thought…. especially if you haven’t been to confession for a  long time.

When did you last go to confession?

Dear readers, one of the main reason I put myself into this blog, my force multiplier, is because every single one of you is going to die.  I want every one of you to enjoy the happiness of heaven.  Some of you, however, haven’t darkened the door of a confessional for a long time.  I tremble for you.

I beg you.


It might be your last.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    This is so important it should be printed out and keep nearby at all times. One may not have access to a favorite priest. But far more serious is not having Confession. May our specific Confession always be as if our last.

  2. Rob83 says:

    Opportunities may not always be plentiful for confession. For a good two to three months it was nearly impossible locally earlier this year. Although it is now available again every day, who knows when it will suddenly disappear again for a lengthy time. I also don’t know of any place holding an Advent penance service with extra priests as has happened in years past, those used to bring out at least dozens if not in the low hundreds.

  3. Marion Ancilla Mariae II says:

    Thank you for this, Father. It’s so very important, and so rarely heard by Catholics. I shared your article to my Facebook page. I have a relative in the ICU, in a medically-induced coma . . . and worry so much: will she recover? Will God grant a miracle? And, whether God grants a miracle or not at this time, will a priest be able to come and see her sometime soon? Will she go forth from this life without the Sacraments? It’s difficult to bear. (Please will those of you reading this, add to your prayer list my niece Celine. She is 26 years old. Thank you.)

  4. TKS says:

    I have carried a copy of this in my wallet for may years as we used to carry a card saying something like, “I am a Catholic, please call a priest.”

  5. Joe in Canada says:

    so if someone receives the Apostolic Pardon with Confession and Communion, and then dies, they go straight to heaven? We should be recording these and sending them to Rome for the next edition of the Martyrology?

  6. PatriciusOenus says:

    Do all priests enjoy the faculty of imparting the Apostolic Blessing?

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