ASK FATHER: Another nitwit priest changes words of absolution. Wherein Fr. Z rants.

PenanceFrom a reader…


During my recent confession, the words the priest used to absolve me was: “I release you from your sins in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” Is it a big deal saying “release” instead of “absolve”? Was my confession still valid? Friend, I am so sorry you had this experience.  Please don’t iet it put you off going to confession.

I am not the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is the dicastery that makes determinations about the validity of sacraments in specific, concrete circumstances.

That said, I suspect that the absolution was valid.  I suspect your sins were forgiven.  If you are not sure, go to confession again, explain what happened, and confess your sins, preferably to a different priest.

There are any number of little variations which would not invalidate the absolution. Lest people who are on the scrupulous side freak out every time they hear or THINK they hear some little variation… again… tiny little variations usually won’t affect the validity of the sacrament.

BUT… BUT… priests have a book with an approved form. FOLLOW THE BOOK. Why cause any problem for any soul in such a circumstance as the forgiveness of sins? Why do this to people? Say the black and do the red.

If opportunity presents itself, I would calmly and respectfully ask the priest why he uses words for absolution that are not in the book.  If you are distressed and worried and this is going on everytime you go, despite your inquiries,  ask your local bishop if that absolution was valid.

You have the right to ask.  You have the right properly celebrated sacraments.

During confession you can, by the way, tell the priest that you would prefer that he use the actual words of absolution as they are printed in the approved book.  Perhaps take a copy with you, just in case.

At this point, however, I will repeat what I have said a zillion times here.

Priests should stick to the words in the book.

For the love of God… WHY IS THIS HARD TO DO?

When priests make changes on their own authority they run the risk of leaving the faithful in doubt about what just happened.

We are not talking here about changing a word in a collect, or riffing in some part of the Eucharistic Prayer.  We are talking about the actual form of a sacrament… the Sacrament of Penance.

The Sacrament of Penance is the point of contact for a Catholic and mystery in which a Catholic is at his most vulnerable.  Why introduce an illicit change, in some cases invalidating change, which could cause a person to a have doubts about having been forgiven their mortal sins?

If a priest can’t follow the book for the forms of sacraments, at the moment of the consecration during Mass, during the pouring of water at baptism, when absolving a penitent… then perhaps the bishop should remove that priest’s faculties until he is made to understand both what to say and do and why he says it and does it.

Just say the black and do the red and you avoid all of this.  It is so easy.

Here’s my little love letter to clerics:

Dear Reverend Fathers and Most Reverend Bishops,

These are my suggestions to you when it comes to the forms of sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Penance.

Review the form of the sacrament, the words of absolution.

If you are surprised by what you find, I suggest memorizing them and then using them as they are written.

If you aren’t surprised but think you are going to improve on them: think it through again.

Just say the words as they are.

Otherwise, an increasingly well-informed member of the lay faithful may just challenge you and, unsatisfied and thoroughly irritated with your arrogant and probably wide back-side, may also write a letter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith… from whom you do not want to hear.   I know some of the people who work there. They are very interested in stories like this.

If you are, reverend gentlemen, changing the words of absolution, pull your heads out of that dark place and knock it off.

With fraternal respect,

Fr. Z

This sort of thing makes me see the red and think the black.

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