forgiveness v. absolution

In another thread someone asked:

I'm interested in learning the difference as well. Can someone expound?


[quote="nodito, post:1, topic:179576"]
In another thread someone asked:

I'm interested in learning the difference as well. Can someone expound?



Catholics (and non-Catholics alike) often confuse or interchange these 2 words, but they express 2 different, but closely-related realities.

Forgiveness is the easy one to define, because most people are more familiar with that word. Forgiveness means that God Himself has pardoned a sin. God forgives sins absolutely--meaning that He does so entirely in His own authority, however priests in Confession grant us forgiveness ministerially, as representatives of God-Who-Forgives.

Like I said, we all know this. But what many don't quite grasp is that absolution is not synonymous with forgiveness.

Absolution is the juridic act of the Church by/through which sins are remitted/removed and/or the punishment due to sin is likewise removed.

The difference is that key phrase "a juridic act of the Church." Absolution can only be imparted by a priest who acts as the minister (representative) of the Church. This is the exercise of the "Power of the Keys" given to Peter to bind and loose--and which is extended to priests as ministers of the Church and (in a certain sense) representatives of the Successor to Peter (Matt 16:17)

Absolution also reconciles us to God and the Church. Again, we all know this, but perhaps it's better to say what that does not mean. When we are forgiven by God, we aren't necessarily reconciled to Him, and we are not reconciled to the Church--the spiritual effects of the sin still remain. Let's say that someone commits a serious sin, but later repents of it. He asks God for forgiveness. An infinitely merciful and loving God forgives that repentant sinner. The sin itself has been pardoned by God. But the sin also separates the sinner from the life of the Church; more or less, depending upon the severity of the sin. The greater the sin the greater the separation. Absolution (as a juridic act of the Church) returns the sinner to the ordinary life of the Church, and reconciles him to the Church. Absolution remits the penalty due to sin.

In Confession, priests forgive sins ministerally, as representatives of Christ (from John 20:23) and also absolve sins as ministers of the Church (Matt 16:17). The John text (after the Resurrection, "whose sins you forgive are forgiven") is the biblical source for forgiveness, but the Matthew text ("Thou art Peter...whatever you bind on earth...) is the source for absolution. Both of these go together to form the single reconcilliation which is the reality of the Sacrament of Confession.

Whenever we are absolved, we are also forgiven. We can be forgiven by God at any time. In order to be absolved, this can only happen through the ministry of a validly-ordained priest who also has jurisdiction from the Church to hear Confessions (ie grant absolution)--that's where the reference to Matt 16 comes in. It's not enough that he be validly ordained, but in order to exercise that Power of the Keys, the priest must be a representative of the Successor to Peter (jurisdiction).

Forgiveness is "included within" absolution (for lack of a better way to put it), because naturally, whenever we are reconciled to God and the Church, forgiveness is a necessary part of that reconcilliation; else we would not "be reconciled."

However, there are times when we might be forgiven by God without being absolved--most especially with regard to minor venial sins. When it comes to these minor venial sins, we are not always in need of reconcilliation, because the smallness (yes, that's a real word) of the sin results in such a minor wound that only a minor healing is necessary.

We can see this forgiveness and absolution expressed in the words of absolution in Confession.

In the Ordinary Form:
"...may God grant you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins..."
the "pardon and peace" means forgiveness

In the Extraordinary Form this is more clear:

May almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you your sins, and lead you to everlasting life. R.: Amen.
2. Next he raises the right hand toward the penitent and says:
May the almighty and merciful Lord grant you pardon, absolution, and remission of your sins. R.: Amen.
Form for Absolution
May our Lord Jesus Christ absolve you. And I by His authority release you from every bond of excommunication (suspension) and interdict, in so far as I am empowered and you have need. And now I absolve you from your sins; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. R.: Amen.

Note that there are prayers for forgiveness (and absolution) before the actual form of Absolution "I absolve you..."

I think I've gone on "long enough" here. I hope it will at least get us a good start.
There are a lot of details, and explanations that I've skipped-over.


Absolution remits the punishment due for your sin, forgiveness does not.

Anyone can forgive but only Priests can absolve as only they have the power of binding and loosing.

So if you stole somethign from me I could forgive you. However you would still need to answer to God for your sin, this is where the priest comes in with absolution.

Following on from Hoosier's thread here I started this one for my own questions arising from it on Fr David's advice.

What is the difference between forgiveness and absolution?
What conditions are there for the Sacramental Grace to be present? And what is this Sacramental Grace?

Many thanks for any help:)
God bless

To save some typing:

Please note the comment at the end, that this is just a quick overview of the differences. There are no doubt some details that I missed, and of course, I might have over-emphasized or under-emphasized different aspects of forgiveness at that moment; so don’t take that to mean anything.

:thumbsup:I always thought it was that way but could never get a very good explanation to confirm my understanding and belief in the sacrament of reconcilliation. I told my priest I didn’t think protestants go to hell because I met too many that touched my life and clearly had christ in their lives and asked God for forgivenss ona regular basis. I told him I didn’t think they werent forgiven. His repsonse was no but their not absolved. I thought for awhile that had to do with some sort of temporal punishment or heavinly cleansing before netering ge kingdom of God. Thiis explained it beautifully. Is there anything from the cathchechism to back this up? Being married to a protestant and having a best friend that is this bothered me for awhile because a lot people would say they go hell. Some of the people I know are hardly hell worthy so this kinda had been a thorn in my side for awhile because those comments would hit close to home and make me feel bad.

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