ASK FATHER: Monsignor didn’t use the exact form of absolution

From a reader…


I’ve confessed to a particular priest twice, and both times, he didn’t use the exact formula of absolution.  Both times, he did the following things:

1) he omitted the line “and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.”
2) he said, “I absolve you from ALL your sins.”
3) he omitted the words “in the” from “in the Name of the Father…”, so it went like this: “I absolve you from ALL your sins. Name of the Father…”
4) he may have also omitted “and of the” when invoking the Trinity, so it went like this: “Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

In the 2nd confession, I told him about points 1-3, and he seemed a little annoyed, but he then redid it with (mostly) the correct words.

Due to my circumstances, he might be the only priest I can confess to for a while.
Should I insist he use the EXACT formula? He’s a Monsignor and I’m a gross little worm who confesses shameful mortal sins to him.
How would I do so politely, and what reason(s) should I give him as to why the exact words are so important?

Also, do you think any of the mistakes invalidated my confessions with him?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.  This situation is quite stressful for me.  Thank you for your time.

I am sure this bothers you, and it should… a little at least.  People have the right to proper celebration of the sacraments.  People have the right and duty to say something if there is a problem, respectfully, diplomatically, starting at the lowest level possible before escalation.    As we read in Redemptionis Sacramentum….

[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.

As far as this priest being a Monsignor is concerned, remember that a Monsignor is an ecclesiastical mule: they have no hope of progeny and no pride in their ancestry.   That confessor doesn’t get a pass because of the color of his buttons: he is obliged to “say the black and do the red” like every other priest, more so perhaps because of the honor that has been given to him.

From what you wrote, it seems to me that the absolutions were valid.   Also, sometimes in a special circumstance it is okay or even necessary to leave off the first part of the formula for absolution, but not as a regular practice.  The whole of the form should be said, barring some emergency or pressing circumstance.

It is not too much to ask that priests use the words the Church has designated, and to say them accurately and with care.   If you are expected to do your part well – complete and sincere of all mortal sins in number and kind – then the least the priest can do is show you the respect you deserve as a penitent and SAY THE RIGHT WORDS.

How hard is it?

You might say something like, “Monsignor, I know the form of absolution and when you say something different it really bothers me.  Sometimes I leave and I am not sure if I’ve been absolved.  Would you please help me out and use the official form?  I have it if you don’t.”

Of course every priest is a little different, but maybe something like that would work even on such a lofty and glorious creature as a Monsignor.

Also, for everyone readings this, GO TO CONFESSION.  Don’t let the antics of a few priests put you off.  GO.

And when you do, you might a) pray for the priest BEFORE making your confession, b) ask your Guardian angels to protect both of you from distractions and c) thank the priest after and promise him your prayers.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. redneckpride4ever says:

    I understand the concern. Ever since hearing of the priest who was baptized with “We” and having to then get validly baptized, confirmed and ordained (I think all of his marriages had to be sanated), it’s easy to understand why people worry.

    Something about avoiding eternal damnation is appealing, even if many clergy won’t acknowledge that there is a Hell.

  2. monstrance says:

    At least the Monsignor stated : “I absolve you..”
    I confessed to a priest who would say “Jesus forgives you …. “
    After I protested, he told me “ not to be so scrupulous “.

    [To which I would reply, I am going to tell the bishop exactly what you just told me. I now await proper absolution.]

  3. John says:

    So when the priest says: “I absolve you from ALL of your sins…” it is valid? I mean, its “Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis” not “Ego te absolvo ab OMNIS peccatis tuis”, Doesn’t changing the words of institution make it at least doubtfully valid?

    [The interpolation of “all” does NOT invalidate the absolution.
    “Omnis”, however, would indicate that the priest needs remedial Latin.]

  4. L. says:

    To paraphrase, “It was never merry in my diocese whilst we had Monsignors among us.” The story I have heard in my diocese is that the young, modernist Priests who years later ended up running the diocese opposed making any new Monsignors because of the anti-egalitarian nature of the honor. That is, until they became old enough and influential enough to claim the honorific themselves at which point everyone in the clique became Monsignors.

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