Originally Posted by Pilgrim1701
What is the difference between absolution and forgiveness of sins. I know I saw a thread related to this before, but cannot find it when I search. Thanks.
Catholics often either confuse these two words, or just don't understand that they are 2 different (but intricately related) concepts.
Forgiveness: this one is the easier to define. Forgiveness means that God Himself has remitted the sin, forgotten it, etc. Forgiveness is the pardon of God. Forgiveness reconciles us to God. Forgiveness can and does occur at any time.
Absolution: absolution is a juridic act of the Church. Absolution is the pardon of the Church, and reconciles us to the Church. This is the one that needs some further explanation. Absolution reconciles us to the Church. It's a "juridic act" of the Church, meaning that it is a judicial sentence passed by the priest as a minister (ie judge or representative) of the Church--and that sentence is "you are pardoned." Absolution, because it is a juridic (ie a legal) act of the Church, only a priest with faculties
to stand as the minister of the Church can ever absolve. That's why a validly ordained priest who lacks faculties can never absolve (in danger-of-death, the Church grants to any priest these faculties, but without that "granting" he could not absolve.)
God forgives, the Church absolves, and these two together
from the complete reconciliation that we receive in sacramental reconciliation (the Sacrament of Confession, Reconciliation, Penance, or whatever other word we might call it). The priest is both the minister of Christ (forgiveness) and the minister of the Church (absolution).
The priest's power to forgive and absolve sins is as a minister of Christ and the Church. The priest forgives&absolves ministerally, while God forgives&absolves absolutely.
Forgiveness comes from John 20:23 (after the Resurrection) "Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them."
Absolution comes from Matthew 16:19 "Thou art Peter ..." and the power to bind and loose.
The important thing to keep in mind is that even though forgiveness and absolution are distinct, the two together
form complete reconciliation.
God can and does forgive sins all the time--there are no limits or restrictions on His mercy. So sometimes God forgives us even without the Sacrament of Confession. In that we can be "forgiven but not absolved"
That's a start, at least.....
edit: see question 84 in the Summa (esp. article 3) http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4084.htm#article3