The correct formula for absolution

penanceSomeone asked me a question on Facebook today regarding the form of absolution. The important part of the question he wrote:

When he gave me absolution he stuttered somewhat and said may our Lord Jesus Christ absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. I was told in the past that the priest must say I absolve you of your sins etc. My question is was the absolution valid or am I being scrupulous?

I have had similar experiences. Priests either make up their own formula of absolution, or maybe they forgot (which is not an excuse). There are two specific confessions that I still remember the absolution being off. On priest said: “Be absolved, Father, Son, Holy Spirit.” And another priest said: “I absolve you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

The Rite of Penance states that the priest “pronounces the formula of absolution, in which the essential (fundamental to the sacrament, or necessary for the sacrament to take place) words are: “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Listen, the priest has an obligation to follow the proscribed rites of the Church. This is not something that we priests can make up as we go along. We have a very serious obligation. A priest is playing with salvation of souls. And God is going to hold him liable.

I would consider this serious matter. That if a priest changes the words of absolution, he commits a mortal sin or the worst kind. If he repents and changes his ways, he will be forgiven, but his purgatory will be long and harsh.n

6 thoughts on “The correct formula for absolution

  1. I have had this same question asked of me. Fr. Finelli is correct, of course — as we might expect. Still if priests make up their own canon at Mass, the words of absolution will be treated loosely too. Frankly as an old timer I still say “..and I absolve you of all your CENSURES and sins in the name of the Father. etc.” There aren’t too many censures around any more but old habits die hard — or, in this case, hardly die.

    • Well said, Fr.Kiley. I have always paid attention of the absolution words of my confessors due to the fact that I take my confessions seriously since the priest rank a high honor as Christ incarnate here on earth and many need our prayers.

  2. Thank you Fathers Finelli and Kiley, with that said, isn’t the onus on the confessor and not the penitent? Isn’t it still a valid confession, if with a sincere heart, contrition and remorse/resolution not to sin again, that the sins are forgiven and that the confessor’s “creativity” will be resolved before St. Peter?

    Of course we may all be thinking, “how quaint, going to confession” or “at least I’ve got him/her in to confess!”

    One of my favorite stories about confession was years ago, rushing from yard work on a Saturday to go to confession in a neighboring parish (since closed and turned into a “fundamentalist” church/cult), zipping into the “room of Reconciliation” closing the door, kneeling down, crossing myself and saying the introductory, “bless me Father, for I have sinned…” and not hearing a response, I waited, then knowing that the priest was somewhat hard of hearing, I repeated myself. Then, I stood up and looked around the screen only to find it empty! The priest was outside the church having a cigarette!!! (So much for “i’d walk a mile for a Camel.”)

    • If the priest changes the absolution, the Sacrament is invalid. We can’t go on to say that the person’s sins are forgiven, because we just don’t know. Jesus gave us the Sacraments as the ordinary means for salvation. Maybe God forgives the penitent’s sins, but we just don’t know and it’s not good to presume what we do not know for certain in these very important matters.

      If the penitent believes the priest gave an invalid absolution, he has the obligation to question the priest about it. Don’t leave Father in ignorance and tell everyone else “what Father did.” Ask the priest: “Father, I think you did the absolution incorrectly, you may have been distracted.” “Father, you did not do the absolution as the Church gives it, will you please give me the proper formula?” “Father, I may have not heard you, but it appears you changed the worlds of absolution.” You may find out the priest just had a lapse of memory or was distracted. I have found on an occasion or two, I went blanc because something distracted me. If the penitent gets no satisfaction, then, he should contact the bishop’s office. I found a great post by Dr. Edward Peters on the topic of “Ecclesia supplet.”

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