Absolution and forgiveness

I always thought one of the most important reasons for going to confession was to receive absolution. I thought that absolution was one step better than forgiveness. Like I can be forgiven by God by simply asking Him for forgiveness however if I go to confession and receive absolution I was completely cleaned of my sin after penance. I was recently told that absolution is the same thing as forgiveness so now I’m wondering why I should bother going to confession seeing as I can receive forgiveness without confession. Can someone help me sort this out?

Speaking generally, the sacrament of Reconciliation is about a little more than forgiveness of sins, although forgiveness is at the root of that sacrament’s effects.

Reconciliation is not like “better forgiveness” or “more forgiveness.” You’re either forgiven of your sins or not.

While one can obtain forgiveness of sins by “simply asking Him,” praying to God for personal forgiveness is not a sacrament and so one does not receive the sanctifying graces associated with the sacrament of Reconciliation and obtainable only by absolution by a priest. In addition, personal confession of sins to God does not restore one’s disposition to the reception of Holy Communion (after having committed a mortal sin) because it does not have the sacramental quality which reconciles the penitent to the ecclesial body.

Finally, unless one has perfect contrition for his sins, he cannot be assured forgiveness by going directly to God whereas with confession, even imperfect contrition is a sufficient pre-requisite for forgiveness of sins. Mortal sins can never be considered forgiven–even with perfect contrition–unless one intends to confess them to a priest as soon as possible.

You might consult the Catechism on The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.

I hope that helps.

Absolution IS the forgiveness of sins.

Confession is also an encounter with Christ, allowing the possibility for Christ to speak to you through the priest’s guidance, and it is also a source of grace to grow and a Christian.


Forgiveness and absolution are not the same thing.

Forgiveness means that God Himself has forgiven our sins (that may seem like an obvious definition, but it’s necessary for the explanation).

Absolution on the other hand is the juridic act of the Church which reconciles us to the Church and which “leads to” or “brings about” the actual forgiveness.

We may always ask God for forgiveness, but as imperfect creatures, our repentance can never be perfect. There will always be some part of us that still clings to the sin. That’s (part of) why Christ gave us the Sacrament of Confession to “make up for” what is lacking in our own imperfect sorrow for sin. Another reason why Christ gave us the Sacrament is so that we can actually hear the words spoken personally to us that we have been forgiven. Only in confession are we able to hear God speaking to us through the priest and know that we have been forgiven. If we simply pray alone for forgiveness, indeed God might forgive; yet, we never know this because we can never be sure that our repentance is sincere, and we can never hear the words. With confession, we know it with certainty because Christ gave us the Sacrament. Admitting our sins aloud is also an act of humility which helps us further in the process of being healed of our sins.

In confession, our own sorrow for sin must be genuine and sincere, but not necessarily perfect, because again, nothing we do can ever be perfect. (There is a theological term “perfect contrition” but that’s something different, and doesn’t mean literally “perfect”).

In confession, the priest pronounces the words of absolution, and we are reconciled to God and His Church. If we are sincere, then forgiveness likewise comes through the Sacrament.

Forgiveness is an act of God, absolution is an act of His Church. While the two go together, they are not the same thing. We might be forgiven without absolution, but we can never be certain. On the other hand, we are certain that if we have been absolved, we have likewise been forgiven (again, so long as we’re sincere).

However if we outright reject the means which Christ has given us for absolution & forgiveness, namely the Sacrament, then it is actually more difficult for us to be forgiven; because we commit an act of pride in rejecting Christ’s gift of the Sacrament.

Hope this helps.

thank you very much. I now think I have a better way to explain the Sacrament to people who question me as to why I go to confession. It’s frustrating when such an important and consoling Sacrament is so hard to explain and defend.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.