I recently attempted to make a good confession. Aside from the fact that the priest literally berated me for confessing “venial sins” which he said “have no place in the confessional”, after my act of contrition he said “your sins are forgiven”. He did not say “I absolve you of your sins in the name for the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost”. Does this failure to obey the proper form make my confession invalid and should I repeat my confession? Thank you in advance for your help.
Okay, I have now calmed down. No longer do I see before my eyes a field of burning hot red.
Bad confessional experiences are truly horrible. I’ve had them myself. Sometimes they happen because the priest is having a bad day, or something is wrong with him. However, most of them would be avoided were the priest to decide not to be a total jackass and remember how vulnerable people can be. As a matter of fact, such treatment in the confessional suggests to me that perhaps the priest hasn’t made his own confession very recerntly.
For consolation for you and for any young priests reading this, I’ll offer a personal note. As a confessor, when a penitent gets into the confessional, the first thing I do is bless the person whether they say “Bless me, Father” or not and I also ask our angels to keep away any interference of demons, fallen angels, who might attempt to distract or hinder the person from making a good confession and me from giving any advice which my 30+ years of experience and guidance of the Holy Spirit might prompt. Also, during confession, I try to keep track at least in a general way what penances I gave so that I, myself, can do them for the people I absolved, in case they forget or neglect to do them. I keep my penances rather consistent anyway, so it is fairly easy to remember based on the number of penitents, that way the special ones stick in my head even though – and priests will tell you this – it is amazing how fast you forget the sins you just heard. It’s a grace. And I scrupulously, punctiliously, say the words of absolution in Latin exactly according to the form, without any deviation.
So, you young priests out there. Bless and bind demons. Be willing to do penance for your penitents. Say The Black and Do The Red.
That was my advice to confessors, especially younger guys.
Here’s advice for penitents.
Also, dear dear dear readers, for the love of all that is holy, do not ramble. Keep it short and just spit it out. Examine your conscience before getting into the box. Be clear, be brief, be gone.
Enough of the digression.
If, friend, what you have related here is accurate, not embellished, and if you did not go on and on with venial sins for 20 minutes or so, then here is what I, calmly now, have to say.
So, venial sins “have no place in the confessional”, you say? Is that so!
Let’s look at the 1983 Code of Canon Law:
Can. 988 §1. A member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and number all grave sins committed after baptism and not yet remitted directly through the keys of the Church nor acknowledged in individual confession, of which the person has knowledge after diligent examination of conscience.
§2. It is recommended to the Christian faithful that they also confess venial sins.
Venial sins merit temporal punishment and, if repeated and not dealt with, dispose a person to sin mortally (CCC 1863). That sounds like confessional material to me.
If there is adequate time, it is entirely proper to confess venial sins, at least those which are most concerning. You might say, “Father, I have two bothersome venial sins, which are [say them], and several others if there is time.”
Nevertheless, the Code of Canon Law makes it clear that a person has the right (not an absolute right, of course) to confess also venial sins, when circumstances allow. You are not obliged to confession venial sins, but it is a good thing to do when you can.
As far as what you say the priest said for the words of absolution: NO. “Your sins are forgiven”, is NOT a valid form of absolution.
I recommend that you go to another confessor, make your good confession of mortal sins in kind and number, and major venial sins, while checking with the priest about time, as I mention above.
A couple other things.
If what you have related here is accurate, if the priest is the pastor of the parish, I would communicate this experience to the local diocesan bishop. Write to him what you wrote to me. Don’t editorialize… unless, perhaps, you can honestly say that you were, indeed, rambling.
If the priest really didn’t use the proper form of absolution, you can and should let the bishop know. If he “berated you”, you should let him know.
The Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum says that we all have a responsibility to make sure that the liturgical rites of the Church are celebrated properly and without abuses. What happened in that confessional was an abuse of the rite and of you as a penitent. RS says with my emphasis:
[184.] Any Catholic, whether Priest or Deacon or lay member of Christ’s faithful, has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical abuse to the diocesan Bishop or the competent Ordinary equivalent to him in law, or to the Apostolic See on account of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. It is fitting, however, insofar as possible, that the report or complaint be submitted first to the diocesan Bishop. This is naturally to be done in truth and charity.
In fact, this goes to the very heart of what that parish priest’s role is in the Church and to the promises me made at his ordination, which he renews at the Chrism Mass. Again, Redemptionis Sacramentum:
[31.] In keeping with the solemn promises that they have made in the rite of Sacred Ordination and renewed each year in the Mass of the Chrism, let Priests celebrate “devoutly and faithfully the mysteries of Christ for the praise of God and the sanctification of the Christian people, according to the tradition of the Church, especially in the Eucharistic Sacrifice and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation”. They ought not to detract from the profound meaning of their own ministry by corrupting the liturgical celebration either through alteration or omission, or through arbitrary additions. For as St. Ambrose said, “It is not in herself . . . but in us that the Church is injured. Let us take care so that our own failure may not cause injury to the Church”. Let the Church of God not be injured, then, by Priests who have so solemnly dedicated themselves to the ministry. Indeed, under the Bishop’s authority let them faithfully seek to prevent others as well from committing this type of distortion.
Mind you, you could also go to the priest himself, and maybe that could be warranted. But you should remember that the priest will be at a disadvantage, because he is bound by the Seal of Confession. He cannot, must not, say anything about what happened in the confessional. Even if you give him explicit permission to talk about that particular moment in the internal forum of sacramental confession, he should be reticent and circumspect about what he says.
You could, however, simply give him your observations about
- what can. 988 §2 says
- what CCC 1863 says
- what RS 31 says
- what RS 184 says
Perhaps with those texts on a sheet of paper.
It seems fair also, if you write to the local bishop, to show him what you wrote or, if it was a phone call, a summary of the call.
It also seems appropriate to give him a copy of the proper form of absolution.
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.
Deus, Pater misericordiárum, qui per mortem et resurrectiónem Fílii sui mundum sibi reconciliávit et Spíritum Sanctum effúdit in remissiónem peccatórum, per ministérium Ecclésiæ indulgéntiam tibi tríbuat et pacem. Et ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii,+ et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.
Printable HERE: Form of Absolution English Latin TEXT BOX
Finally, may I suggest that you pray for that priest and take on some mortification for him? It may be that he needs special prayers. Take a look at the Daily Prayer for Priests, which is also always on the sidebar of this blog: HERE