ASK FATHER: The priest only said, “I absolve you from your sins”. Is that sufficient for a valid absolution?

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

I went and confessed all sorts of actual mortal sins to a priest, and for the absolution, I definitely heard him say either “I absolve you from your sins” or “I absolve you of your sins” . . . is that sufficient for a valid absolution? I ask, because after that, I heard him say “name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” – it sounded to me like he left out the words “in the” and just leaped to saying “name of the Father”. I asked him if he could repeat the formula, and he declined, saying he absolved me. I told him it didn’t sound to me like he said the words “in the” before “name of the Father” and he said that he said it.

I’m a scrupulant tortured by this kind of stuff, and this was a particularly difficult confession – what do you think? My instinct is to trust him, move forward, and not reconfess. This is a confessor I’ve been to at least once before and he has said the absolution formula clearly in the past.

You do NOT have to go to “reconfess” those sins.  That short form of absolution was valid.  It is the bare minimum for validity.  HOWEVER, the priest ought at least to have used the fuller version of the short form and including the invocation of the Trinity.  In fact, he should have said the whole thing as prescribed.  Sure there are priests who begin the form while you are saying the Act of Contrition, but you can usually tell that that is what they are doing.

Why these JACKASS priests fool around with the words of absolution, I’ll never truly grasp.

It is so cruel.

The formula of absolution, in its short, or “emergency” form, is: “Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis, in nomine Patris +, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti… I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father +, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

This is the last part of a longer post-Conciliar (Novus Ordo) formula, which in translation is, “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 sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

The short version suffices by itself in a pinch.

More and more priests these days are using the older, traditional form of absolution as well.

St. Thomas Aquinas argues (though his opinions are not the equivalent of the Church’s Magisterium – never forget that!) that “Ego te absolvo”  is the form of the sacrament (ST III, Q. 84, Art. 3).  If he is right, then that may suffice.

The Catechism of the Council of Trent, reliable and surely an expression of the Church’s Magisteriumand surely working from Aquinas has this:

Pastors should not neglect to explain the form of the Sacrament of Penance. A knowledge of it will excite the faithful to receive the grace of this Sacrament with the greatest possible devotion. Now the form is: I absolve thee, as may be inferred not only from the words, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth shall be bound also in heaven, but also from the teaching of Christ our Lord, handed down to us by the Apostles.

These days it seems that the minimum form in the Latin Church (the Eastern Churches have their own somewhat different practices) is “Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis… I absolve you from your sins.”  As far as I can tell, this is what most authors stand by.  Because I am an Unreconstructed Ossified Manualist, I consulted several manuals (e.g., Tanquerey, Prümmer, Sabbetti-Barrett).  They all come to the same basic conclusion.  “Absolvo te a peccatis tus” is certainly valid, and “Absolvo te” is probably valid, but if possible the longer form should be repeated to be sure.

Part of the problem here  – aside from the arrogance of priests who screw around with the form of absolution – is the notion of using regularly the bare minimum.  That suggests that perhaps the rest is not so important.  It is important.   However, emergencies allow for some brevity, for obvious reasons.

If you confess to a priest who regularly does something dodgy with the form of absolution, I would politely bring it up, as you did. People are within their rights to have the form of absolution spoken as it is in the book. Ask the priest to give you absolution with the proper form. Do not be nasty or aggressive about this.

If that doesn’t help, talk to the pastor of the parish and/or the local bishop.

Remember that the priest himself cannot talk about the confession because he is bound by the Seal.  Therefore, you can politely inform the the bishop about your experience of the form of absolution.  You would have to include that you have been to this priest several times and that he has always done the same thing.  Do not run him down.  Do not add lots of observations.  Do not try to teach the bishop his job or theology.

Ideally, the bishop (or pastor) would then have a chat with the priest during which the priest would be informed that word had come that he isn’t using the proper form of absolution and, if true, that should be corrected – lest in the future he receive in spades the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing.

If that doesn’t produce results, send a copy of your correspondence to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (not Divine Worship) for their opportune knowledge.

And, everyone…

GO TO CONFESSION!

 

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10 Comments

  1. Bthompson says:

    It is often more infuriating and troublesome than just making up some sappy nonsense when priests use a form that is *really close* but not *exactly* the prescribed form! At least with the sappy nonsense priests, the issue is clearer.

    There is one priest I ran into who would do the full absolution prayer just as written, but just when he got to the critical words, said “I–by His authority–absolve you…” Probably valid, sure, but that silly parenthetical insertion really bugged my conscience at the time.

    I get the effort at humility in expressing the true fact that he absolves by the authority granted to him from God (and I know the old formula does note the authority of God), if one really wants to be humble one should stick to the words prescribed exactly and in order.

  2. Sportsfan says:

    “It is so cruel.”

    There seems to be a lot of that going around.

    Subordinates take cues from their leaders.

  3. Matheus Oliveira says:

    Thank you, Father for the usual clarity.
    On a side note, though, I find this snippet particularly interesting: “ If that doesn’t produce results, send a copy of your correspondence to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (not Divine Worship) for their opportune knowledge.”
    Sorry for the ignorance, but why is that not a matter for the CDW?
    Multas gratias!

  4. Simon_GNR says:

    My regular confessor usually gives the absolution in the traditional Latin form. I wouldn’t know if he’d stuck to the exact prescribed words, but I can always hear and recognise “ego te absolvo” and I’m happy with that.

  5. The Astronomer says:

    I used to go to a priest that used the NO formula, but added the words in italics and it always gave me heartburn: “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 sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I, by His authority, absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

    I hope it was valid. He did not like to even be politely, respectfully challenged.

  6. hwriggles4 says:

    I go to confession sometimes on Saturday afternoon in my neighborhood parish where the pastor has about 90 minutes for hearing confessions prior to the Saturday evening Vigil Mass at 1700 hours. Due to the long lines (sometimes the pastor is the only priest and there is normally a good turnout for confession) when I am in confession, this particular priest uses this shorter form. Oftentimes I tell him that I will do my Act of Contrition outside immediately following. Not only is this to allow the priest to hear more confessions, but also because this priest seems to forget to ask me to say the Act of Contrition.

    The parish has an official start time of 1530 for confession, but people do arrive early (one day I got there at 1550 and was one of the last to go to confession prior to the Saturday evening Mass beginning at 1700) and if the pastor is early he will begin early. When I go to the neighborhood parish on Saturday, I often get there at 1530 and there’s already about ten to twenty people there. No complaints – means Catholics are going and the pastor finds it important.

  7. Desmo says:

    The pastor of our mostly-NO parish often hears Confessions before & throughout Latin Mass. He usually has scores of penitents (incl. me); so he uses the shorter form, I believe, so he can hear as many confessions as possible. He is a very orthodox priest & I’m grateful for his ministry.

  8. monstrance says:

    My experience with these problems often is attributed to the priest not being comfortable with the reality of “in persona Christi “.
    Or, they worry that the penitent won’t grasp the concept.
    Seems silly, but it’s the only explanation I can muster.

  9. Suburbanbanshee says:

    If somebody says, “sins,” at the end of a breath, and continues to say “in the” at the end of the breath, you’ll get a sort of “SINSinthuh” sound, where the “inthuh” is kind of swallowed or said under the breath.

    That’s why a lot of priests put a comma after “sins,” take a breath, and start in again on “In the Name of….”

    OTOH, I think the Latin tends to accent the “in nomine” more, even if the priest says it fast.

  10. Gabriel Syme says:

    I live close to the border of two Dioceses and so at times go to confession in both Dioceses, depending on the most suitable time available to me etc.

    I find many secular priests of both these Dioceses always stress that “all” my Sins have been forgiven, not ones I have confessed in number and kind. (I do not hold any back of course).

    I am not someone who would ever challenge a priest during confession. I know what they say is not right – but I believe my confessions are still valid for what I have confessed (having done the penance, of course).

    I visit one diocesan priest who says the TLM and he does not do this, neither do the SSPX priests in the City.

    Confession was already a dead letter in the Archdiocese where I reside and most parishes (including the Cathedral) stopped them altogether during Covid.

    So for 18 months, there have only been 3 City Center locations where people can access confession with any regularity – the Passionists, Jesuits and SSPX. Thanks to them all.

    How this situation (Confession being largely redundant) will ever now be reversed, I do not know.

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