"Forgive" vs "Absolve"

Recently I went to confession and during the absolution, the priest used the word “forgive” rather than “absolve.” (I.e., “through the ministry of the Church may God grant you pardon and peace, and I forgive you of your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…”). I go to confession with some frequency and so this sounded unusual (though clearly he was intending to offer absolution and the words “absolve” and “forgive” strike me as synonyms more than anything else). Just out of curiosity, how much leeway do priests have with the words of absolution and is this a valid formula?

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Maybe this will help.

…Just out of curiosity, how much leeway do priests have with the words of absolution and is this a valid formula?


Priests do not have any “leeway” to re-phrase the essential words of the sacrament in order to suit themselves.

A priest may shorten the prayer of absolution when necessary, such as if death is imminent. He can skip the words “God the Father of mercies…” and simply begin at the point “I absolve you…” but that is all he can do.

Absolution is a juridic act of the Church, and as such the Church decides what constitutes a valid and licit formula. For the Western Church, the words “I absolve you” (ego te absolvo) are the essential words of absolution. They cannot be changed at the whim of a priest. The only (yes only) valid form is “I absolve you…”

The words before the essential form vary between the Ordinary and Extraordinary forms, and the EF has about 4 options for shortening those words. Nevertheless, “ego te absolvo” is required for validity as well as liciety.

Great to see you on the new CAF Father David

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I you receive the sacrament of Penance from a Byzantine Catholic priest then you would encounter the Byzantine Catholic version, for example, from Byzantine Daily Worship, Archbishop Joseph Raya and Jose de Vinck:

“The Lord God through Nathan the Prophet forgave David his sin, and the adulteress weeping at his feet, and Peter shedding bitter tears for his betrayal, and the Publican and the Prodigal Son. May this same Lord and God through me a sinner, forgive you, N., all the sins of your life in this world and in the world to come. And may He make you stand uncondemned at his awesome tribunal for He is blessed for ever and ever. Amen.


1481 The Byzantine Liturgy recognizes several formulas of absolution, in the form of invocation, which admirably express the mystery of forgiveness:

“May the same God, who through the Prophet Nathan forgave David when he confessed his sins, who forgave Peter when he wept bitterly, the prostitute when she washed his feet with her tears, the publican, and the prodigal son, through me, a sinner, forgive you both in this life and in the next and enable you to appear before his awe-inspiring tribunal without condemnation, he who is blessed for ever and ever. Amen.”

So, if the priest translates the words “ego te absolvo” into “I forgive you”, is the sacrament valid?
Illicit but valid?

I do not understand the question.

Read this part again:

For the Western Church, the words “I absolve you” (ego te absolvo) are the essential words of absolution. They cannot be changed at the whim of a priest. The only (yes only) valid form is “I absolve you…”

Since the only valid form is “I absolve you…” I don’t understand what you’re asking in the question.

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It’s obvious that the OP is not asking about the Eastern forms.

However, since you raise the issue anyway:

Since each Church sui iuris determines its own juridic formula, and since the Latin Church has determined that “I absolve you” is the only (yes, only) valid form to be used, the Eastern forms of absolution are not valid when used by a Western priest. The only exception would be that if he has faculties to follow the Eastern form and he exercises them under the specified conditions–in which case, at that moment, he’s an Eastern priest.

No, the Byzantine forms of absolution are NOT valid forms when employed by a Western priest.

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Okay, so Father, practically speaking, what does this mean for me? Do I have to reconfess the same sins to another priest? Do I have any obligation to inform the bishop? Could I be in a state of mortal sin?

What Fr David is saying is NOT that the Eastern forms are not valid. Rather, since absolution is a juric act done in the accord with the authority of the Church, the particular Church sets the procedure used to unbind.

For the Western Church, the required form is ‘I absolve’ , other Churches have their own required forms, that might differ . The one I am most familiar with, due to my location, is the Chaldean Church. They use a variant of the Roman Form when hearing confessions in English, but use the passive “You are absolved”. I don’t know the direct translation for a confession in Aramaic or Arabic.

But if a local Roman priest went to that parish to assist in hearing confessions, he would have to use the “I absolve you”

This now crosses that line between being objective and being personal.

Objectively: “I forgive you” is not a valid form of absolution.

Objectively: when someone is in a situation where a priest does not absolve validly (although the penitent made a good confession), that person should approach another priest for a valid absolution.

Objectively: the penitent is not culpable for the fault of the priest.

Lastly, the Eastern form of absolution has no bearing on the topic here. Interjecting the Eastern form into the discussion serves no good purpose and only confuses the topic. The Eastern forms are valid in their respective Eastern Churches, but the topic is irrelevant to the discussion.

Doesn’t the word “absolve” have the same meaning as “forgive?”

No. Two different words. Two different realities which (in the Sacrament of Confession) are intricately related to each other; indeed inseparable in that context.

I’ve written about this on CAF too many times to keep count. That’s not to say that I think you should have read it; but rather that I’m not going to type it yet again.

See the link at the top of the thread.

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