Invalid confession?????


I just returned from confession. During confession the priest went to give absolution and all he said is “By the authority of Christ your sins are forgiven, go in peace” or something like that. It certainly wasn’t the normal absolution.

Was it valid?


I cannot find a copy of the Rite of Penance, paragraph 46, online, but it seems to spell out pretty specifically the “I absolve you prayer” –

God, the Father of mercies,
through the death and resurrection of his Son
has reconciled the world to himself
and sent the Holy Spirit among us
for the forgiveness of sins;
through the ministry of the Church
may God give you pardon and peace,
and I absolve you from your sins
in the name of the Father, and of the Son, +
and of the Holy Spirit.

Since i can’t find the reading though, I do not know if there is any compromise text on the wording. Maybe a clergyman can comment.


The following is an answer from Fr. Vincent Serpa posted on EWTN, hope that helps:

An illicit confession would be one in which the priest doesn’t follow the rubrics correctly, but the sacrament is still in tact. An invalid confession would be one in which an essential element is left out, e.g., the priest forgets to give absolution, and the sacrament doesn’t take place.


Right, I think Fr. Serpa was just defining illicit vs. invalid. The key issue here is whether the absolution has to be stated exactly as in the Rite of Penance, and if not is it considered that there was not absolution (which would be invalid.)

If no expert chimes in maybe talk to your pastor…


The essential form is:

I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.



For clarification: do you mean that this form is essential for validity, or do you mean this is the current valid and licit form? In other words, would any from of absolution which deviated from the above form be necessarily invalid?

I am wondering if the valid form is not a bit more “general”.



OK, this may answer the question.
It is from the archived file of EWTN answered by Fr. Levis.
See below.

**invalid absolution
Question from on 04-07-2005:
Some time last fall, I went to confession at another parish. The priest tried to give me absolution using the phrase, “May you be absolved of your sins in the Name of the Father …” instead of “I absolve you of your sins in the Name of the Father …” This concerned me at the time, and I asked about it; the priest said it was OK and that this was the way he always gave absolution. I suspected it was valid but illicit, and decided to ask about it later. Well, one priest I asked said not to worry about it, another said he was suspicious and it would be a good idea to repeat my confession (which I did), and the Canon Law expert at EWTN said that the absolution was DEFINITELY INVALID, not merely illicit. After that, I wrote a letter to the bishop (it’s in a neighboring diocese), explaining the situation and suggesting that he write a general letter to his priests on the importance of using the correct sacramental formulae. I had just read a news story about a priest in Australia who had been performing invalid baptisms for the past 10 years (!), and I suggested that would be a tactful way to raise the subject without seeming to single anyone out in his diocese.
My question to you is this. I have a vague memory of having heard that in situations like this, where the penitent has a reasonable expectation that the priest is giving valid absolution, the Church Herself provides the necessary grace – though if one learns that the absolution was invalid, one does have an obligation to make a valid confession. Is there anything to this? I hate the thought of honest penitents receiving ivalid absolution over a period of decades.

Also, I have not heard back from the bishop, and it’s been 3 or 4 months. I’m thinking of sending a certified letter with a note explaining that since I have not heard back from him, the first letter was perhaps lost in the mail. Do you have any advice?


– Howard

Answer by Fr. Robert J. Levis on 04-08-2005:
Dear Howard, What a tragic post! And what an indication of the loss our Church has suffered over the past 3 decades! O.K. My own personal judgment (not worth much) is that the absolution is invalid and illicit. So that means you should repeat your confesssion, especially if it contained matters of great moment and importance. Also I urge a repetition for the relief of your conscience. Be sure he confessor knows the formula of absolution! My reason for this judgment is the passive voice used in the offending absolution. “May you be absolved”. It does not say that I, the priest, hearing your confession, now activly absolve you from your sins. It is active, not passive. Who is doing the absolution in the offending form? It doesn’t say. So, I am sorry that this ever happened. It shouldn’t have occurred. God bless your patience. Fr. Bob Levis



The priest is NOT free to devise his own wordings in this Sacrament or at holy Mass. Proper form and the words of the Rite are imperative. MOST PENITENTS WILL NOT EVEN KNOW THE DIFFERENCE!

Even my dear spiritual director had this happen to him when he visited his home town and went to confession. The priest had different words of ‘absolution’ and Father called him on this and asked him to use the proper words of absolution. The priest refused and, in his pride, said this was the way he always did it and it was just fine. My director knew better and sought out another priest elsewhere to make his confession.

Just as where Masses are invalid due to improper form and matter, one must trust in the mercy of God to grant the needed graces to those who come in good faith and do not realize that they have not received the sacrament.

Ave Maria!


Because this has come up before, I have always made it a point to listen for “I absolve you from your sins.”. If I ever do not hear it I will ask the Priest to say it then and there, before I leave the confessional!


Validity. Those words are absolutely necessary to confect the Sacrament of Penance in the English Language according to the approved rite. Form in a sacrament is not general in any instance of any of the Sacraments. They are all very precise.



Thank you for your reply. I understand that the formulation that you quoted is what is given in the Rite of Penance (bolded even!). I think my question was geared towards the absolute bare essential form needed for validity. In Trent’s formulation the words are not as specific as the current Rite: “I absolve you, etc.”. Trent seems to specifically append an “etc.”, and it would seem that only the “I absolve you” is the crucial form.

(Actually I’m not even clear on that point, since it seems that there is still some theological discussion regarding whether or not the indicative form is the only valid form, i.e whether or not “You are absolved” could also be valid.)

Certainly we could all agree that the Sacraments should be adminstered uniformily and in the most conservative manner in order to avoid confusion and doubt.



It was not valid- I would find someone else to go to- and pray for that priest- he commited sacrilige by doing that!


The teaching of St. Thomas is found in Trent as you cite. in III, q 84, a 3 he state, “the most fitting form of this sacrament [is] I absolve thee.” He relates this to baptism as the in baptism the same effect is being made in that it is removing of something and that a Sacrament accomplishes what it signifies. Thus, just as in baptism the words “I baptize you” are used so to are the words “I absolve you” used in penance. Further, we know that the trinitarian formula is necessary for baptism so it would seem that the trinitarian formula is also necessary for penance. Yet, this aside we know from St. Thomas that the form must be “I absolve you.”


Thank you for the reply and your thoughts on the matter (or form ;)) .

Hmmmmmm. :hmmm: I still don’t see this as very clear. You said that “it would seem” that the Trinitarian Formula is necessary. . . but although you may have a persuasive argument, that turn of phrase seems to indicate you don’t think it is definitive. And although St. Thomas indicates that the form must be “I absolve you”, that in itself would not be enough for us to establish the essential form, right? (By essential form, I mean the absolute bare minimum necessary for validity.)

I think awalt in post #4 admirably sums up the question:

[quote=awalt]The key issue here is whether the absolution has to be stated exactly as in the Rite of Penance, and if not is it considered that there was not absolution (which would be invalid.)

For instance Jimmy Akin makes this point:

Trent references the words of absolution in passing but doens’t quote them completely. It says “I absolve thee, etc.” In making these references, Trent is not attempting to specify the minimal form necessary for absolution. . .

There is no single set of words that are necessary for validity in the case of this sacrament. Various formluas of absolution are used in different rites of the Church, though “I absolve you” is the one used in the Latin rite.

Jimmy seems to be pointing out that in the current Latin rite the formula is “I absolve you”. . . but there may be other formulas that are valid.

This seems to square with Fr. William G. Most:

History shows that the form of absolution in confession had changed in the past. At one time the form was deprecative, e.g., May God absolve you. Now it is “I absolve you”. This does not mean a priest could at will use the old form. No, that is forbidden, it would be sinful. But if he should do it, acting illegally, the absolution is still valid.

And yet an article by Fr. Nicholas Halligan, O.P. in This Rock magazine states:

**For a valid absolution a confessor must pronounce the declarative words, “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” **To recite merely some prayerful formula, such as “May God forgive you your sins” or “May God reconcile you for your sorrow,” would be invalid. Priests have no right to make up their own formulas; the lawful formula is the integral one prescribed for this sacrament.

Is it possible that there is not an absolute (again pardon the pun) set of words for a valid absolution? Is it possible that validity is “doing what the Church intends”? Or is it possible as Fr. Halligan seems to be saying that the validity is derived from the use of the current lawful formula? Fr. Halligan says the priest MUST pronounce the devlarative words. . .but Fr. Most points out that in the past the words were deprecative, “May God absolve you. . .”.

Any thoughts on this folks?

As far as the original question posted (Hi Purgation Road), and given the above quotes, perhaps awalt’s words of wisdom are again appropriate.

[quote=awalt]If no expert chimes in maybe talk to your pastor…



It can be argued that there were many other forms for the confecting of every sacrament in the early Church. However, as the Church began to understand itself more and more she found that some of the forms that were used by some communities (who claimed them from apostolic times) were deficient and invalid. It would seem (sorry about the vague term but it is a Thomistic usage) that no matter the formula the Trinitarian formula was present in all in accordance with the mandate from Christ. The first half of the words of absolution are the issue of debate. While I would accept that there is a possibility of multiple forms spread out among the Churches in the Church it cannot be that this leads to ambiguity in the form of Confession for the Latin Rite. Just as in Matrimony even the minister is different between east and west and so too the matter of the Eucharist, Holy Oil for the use of Chrismation and Anointing etc it is not incorrect to say that in the west the words (the form) of the Sacrament of Penance must be and is “I absolve you, etc.”



I’m having trouble following you. Thank you for your patience as I try to clarify a few things for myself.

You say that the Trinitarian formula is present in all valid forms of absolution? But the passsage in St. Thomas doesn’t include it: and some translations have the “I absolve thee.” with a period but ends “I baptize thee,” with a comma. Is that significant? In any case, Thomas does not seem to explicitly interject the Trininitarian formula, and niether does Trent (with the use of the etc.).

And Im not sure I follow regarding the difference in the other sacraments that you bring up. The differences are all considered valid, no? As far a different matter for the Eucharist in the East and West . . I wasn’t aware of any. But if you are referring to unleavend bread versus leavened bread, wouldn’t both be valid, but the leavened bread illicit in the Roman Rite?

I still don’t see a clear indication that the Trinitarian formula is per se necessary for valid absolution. The only reason I can make out would be that since that is the only LICIT formula right now in the Latin Rite then that is the only valid formula in the Latin Rite, due to some principle of sacramental theology of which I am unaware. (Which is quite likely).

Perhaps I am giving Jimmy Akin and Fr. Most too much weight. What are we to make of Akin’s claim that: “There is no single set of words that are necessary for validity in the case of this sacrament.”?



In the rest of the article on the issue this is addressed. St. Thomas explicitly states that the form “I absolve thee (you)” is the essential form and the trinitarian formula is not part of that necessary action. So, I must correct myself. The invocation of the Trinity is only to express the divine work of God in the action of the Sacrament. St. Thomas says of this, “Nevertheless, since the priest absolves ministerially, something is suitably added in reference to the supreme authority of God, by the priest saying: I absolve thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, or by the power of Christ’s Passion, or by the authority of God. However, as this is not defined by the words of Christ, as it is for Baptism, this addition is left to the discretion of the priest.” (ST III q 84 a 3, Reply #3)

As a note the difference between the comma and period are only significant for proper rendering of the latin. As far as I can tell the period only comes when the words I absolve thee end the sentence.

Not exactly. If a latin priest were to use leavened bread it would not just be illicit but it would be invalid. So, my statement is to respect authentic apostolic tradition. However, there were in history some alleged apostolic tradition that was reprobated such as one church had the practice of adding honey to the bread. This was deemed invalid matter. As it relates to this the phrase “I absolve you” is necessary for at the least all latin priests to effect absolution.

You are correct here as I explained above.

It depends on what he means. If he is looking for a universal among all rites and usages or if he is speaking of the Latin Church. If he is speaking about a trans-rite set of words he is correct. If, however, he is referring to only the Latin Church then he is incorrect as given in the full article by St. Thomas which treats on all of the mentioned objections in some way.


[quote=mosher;]If a latin priest were to use leavened bread it would not just be illicit but it would be invalid.


Ah, here Is where I think we part ways, pehaps? I was under the impression that the use of leavened bread in the Latin Rite is ILLICIT but remains VALID. In other words it would be a violation of canon law and disobedient, but it would still be a valid sacrament, in this case the actual confection of the Body and Blood of Christ.

I am unclear why you propose that illicit matter or form would indicate an invalid sacrament? Certainly invalid matter or form would make the sacrament invalid. . . but not merely illicit matter or form. Or am I missing something?

[quote=mosher]As it relates to this the phrase “I absolve you” is necessary for at the least all latin priests to effect absolution.


Hmmm. Well this would follow given what I believe to be your contention that something illicit would make a sacrament invalid. But I don’t think that is the case generally.

Thank you for your continued discussion on this important topic. Can you help me out and point me to some sources that might indicate what I take to be your position (although I am perfectly open to the possibility that I may be mischaracterizing your postion. If so please correct me!)

Thanks again,
God Bless,


I am not opposing illicit matter for validity. Rather, it is invalid matter in the west and not illicit as there can not be illicit matter. Just because it is valid under one rite and not another does not mean that is valid but illicit in the other rite but rather that it is invalid matter in the other rite. In the west a priest must for validity just unleavened wheat bread and in most eastern rites it must be leavened for validity not just licisitude.

The only mischaractarization is that I am arguing that something illicit will by necessity cause invalidity. This is not my position but rather what I described above. From everything that I have read from the entry of St. Thomas on the matter, to Fr. Halligan, to the council of Florence in Inaestimabile Donum. The only lack that I find in strictly restricting validity of matter to each rite is in the Catholic Encyclopedia and in Ott’s Book. This is not because they say the contrary but rather because they are not clear.



I still don’t follow you. What am I not getting?

See Aquinas (III. 74, 4)

I answer that, Two things may be considered touching the matter of this sacrament namely, what is necessary, and what is suitable. It is necessary that the bread be wheaten, without which the sacrament is not valid, as stated above. It is not, however, necessary for the sacrament that the bread be unleavened or leavened, since it can be celebrated in either.


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