Is "you" essential to the form of absolution?


#1

I went to confession to a priest who has a strong accent and is sometimes difficult to understand. When it came to the absolution, he said a different form from what is in the catechism and said, "I absolve the sins of your son in the name of the Father...." rather than "*I absolve you of your sins." *I'm certain "your son" meant me (as in God's son?); but I'm not sure if that's OK to say instead of simply "you."

In the moment I felt a pang of doubt but I had already questioned him and he seemed in a hurry. At the beginning of the confession he did not wait for me to confess my individual sins in kind and went straight into spiritual guidance and a recommended penance. He seemed to know what kind of sins they were already; but isn't it essential for me to speak them out loud?

As for the formula of absolution that he used, was it valid? Does the priest need to say "I absolve you" ? He emphasized and enunciated the words I ABSOLVE so maybe he thought that was sufficient.

Afterwards I thought about abstaining from communion but I received, thinking I should give the priest the benefit of the doubt.


#2

"I absolve you from your sins" is generally considered the necessary part of the form of absolution (in the Latin Church) to be validly absolved. Though the Council of Trent (and St Thomas Aquinas) seem to suggest that "I absolve you" is all that is actually necessary for correct form:

"The holy synod doth furthermore teach, that the form of the sacrament of penance, wherein its force principally consists, is placed in those words of the minister, I absolve thee, &c: to which words indeed certain prayers are, according to the custom of holy Church, laudably joined, which nevertheless by no means regard the essence of that form, neither are they necessary for the administration of the sacrament itself." - The Council of Trent, Session XIV, Ch 3
Source: thecounciloftrent.com/ch14.htm

"Pastors should not neglect to explain the form of the Sacrament of Penance. A knowledge of it will excite the faithful to receive the grace of this Sacrament with the greatest possible devotion. Now the form is: I absolve thee, as may be inferred not only from the words, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth shall be bound also in heaven, but also from the teaching of Christ our Lord, handed down to us by the Apostles." Catechism of the Council of Trent, The Sacrament of Penance
Source: cin.org/users/james/ebooks/master/trent/tsacr-p.htm


#3

You mentioned he has a strong foreign accent, and I wonder if he meant (and said,) “sin” instead of “son.” Acoustics aren’t the greatest in confessional booths, particularly the old-style ones (one church near here has a confessional booth with a telephone handset for the hard of hearing,) and especially when things are being said in near-whispers.

I like to go with St. Ignatius’ First Presupposition from the Spiritual Exercises, which essentially says, presume the best in dealing with Christians, and if something is said which sounds negative, inquire as to how he means it. It sounds like you tried to do that, but he was rushed (as many priests are nowadays, with so few of them and so many penitents,) so presume the best and give him the benefit of the doubt.

I’d use the opportunity to pray for vocations to the priesthood: It’s easy to see a time in the not too distant future where there might only be a priest available once a month or so. These guys are really stretched very thin.


#4

[quote="odile53, post:3, topic:326193"]
You mentioned he has a strong foreign accent, and I wonder if he meant (and said,) "sin" instead of "son." Acoustics aren't the greatest in confessional booths, particularly the old-style ones (one church near here has a confessional booth with a telephone handset for the hard of hearing,) and especially when things are being said in near-whispers.

[/quote]

He spoke loudly, and he said "**I absolve* the sins of your son" *but he said it as if addressing God in a prayer. There was clearly the word "sins" and "son" so I don't think he confused the two. Maybe that's just his way, like "I absolve the sins of your daughter" when absolving women penitents. But I'm not entirely sure if it's valid.


#5

Agreed. If this wasn’t a one-off, you should write the pastor of the parish or the bishop. Not to hurt the priest in question, but to make sure he is administering valid confessions


#6

[quote="NickD, post:5, topic:326193"]
Agreed. If this wasn't a one-off, you should write the pastor of the parish or the bishop. Not to hurt the priest in question, but to make sure he is administering valid confessions

[/quote]

So it was invalid?


#7

It appears invalid to me. Perhaps you could confess to a different priest?


#8

It also appears invalid to me. At best, the validity is doubtful. Since this is of critical importance to your state of grace, you owe it to yourself to at least approach another priest in the confessional, run it by him, and reconfess your sins on the presumption of invalidity. You should also consider reporting this, as a priest giving out invalid sacraments is a quite dangerous thing for the faithful.


#9

I would do as others noted.... approach another Priest for confession.


#10

[quote="Zekariya, post:7, topic:326193"]
It appears invalid to me.

[/quote]

You have no right to say this.


#11

[quote="Timothysis, post:10, topic:326193"]
You have no right to say this.

[/quote]

Sure we do. We've given our opinion and made it clear that that is all it is. We've given the best advice we can: get a second opinion and re-confess, just in case. The poster came to an anonymous Internet forum seeking opinion and he got it. What more can you ask?


#12

[quote="Timothysis, post:10, topic:326193"]
You have no right to say this.

[/quote]

I did not say, "It is invalid." I said, "It appears invalid to me."

Since the priest did not say, "I absolve you", there is good reason to doubt the validity of the Sacrament. As I posted earlier:

"Pastors should not neglect to explain the form of the Sacrament of Penance. A knowledge of it will excite the faithful to receive the grace of this Sacrament with the greatest possible devotion. Now** the form is: I absolve thee**, as may be inferred not only from the words, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth shall be bound also in heaven, but also from the teaching of Christ our Lord, handed down to us by the Apostles." - Catechism of the Council of Trent, The Sacrament of Penance


#13

[quote="Neithan, post:1, topic:326193"]
I went to confession to a priest who has a strong accent and is sometimes difficult to understand. When it came to the absolution, he said a different form from what is in the catechism and said, "I absolve the sins of your son in the name of the Father...." rather than "*I absolve you of your sins." *I'm certain "your son" meant me (as in God's son?); but I'm not sure if that's OK to say instead of simply "you."

[/quote]

Two thoughts: if he's not a native speaker of English, then perhaps he was saying, "I absolve the sins of you, son, in the name...". This would seem to be less problematic than your take on it.

Secondly, though, to your question of invalidity: others have said "OMG! Invalid! Invalid! Go to another priest!" :rolleyes:

I would assert, though, that if he meant to do what the Church means by the sacrament, and if he simply made a mistake in the moment, then that doesn't mean that it was invalid. ;)


#14

Even for a non-native speaker, doesn’t this sound like an awfully contrived phrasing? It sounds like something you made up just to fit the template of the prescribed words. The OP is pretty sure about what he heard, and I think we can give him the benefit of the doubt. He can go back to the priest who said the words and ask him to repeat himself, or he can report the priest quietly to his superiors; either way, certainty can be achieved about the words that were used.

Secondly, though, to your question of invalidity: others have said “OMG! Invalid! Invalid! Go to another priest!” :rolleyes:

I would assert, though, that if he meant to do what the Church means by the sacrament, and if he simply made a mistake in the moment, then that doesn’t mean that it was invalid. :wink:

Words matter, and validity is a serious thing indeed. In a certain way, an invalid confession is more dangerous than an invalid Eucharist, because you can go a week or more without receiving Holy Communion, but you should not be deceived into thinking your sins were forgiven and you’re in a state of grace when they weren’t and you’re not. This should be taken very seriously and treated as a grave situation.

The essential words for the sacraments are few, but they do matter for validity. It is very difficult to invalidate a sacrament because you really only have to know a few words. But saying something like this “the sins of your son” that unequivocally changes the meaning of the sentence?? That is just beyond the pale.

Also, on re-reading the OP closely, he has also said that the priest did not even permit him to confess his sins individually? If that is right then he had a totally invalid confession, no question about it. An essential part of Penance is confessing your sins in kind and number to the priest out loud. If the priest didn’t permit that to happen then he is in for trouble.

Catholics have a right to certain validity of our sacraments. It is not a matter for joking or making light of serious suggestions. Run, don’t walk to another priest.


#15

[quote="Elizium23, post:14, topic:326193"]
Also, on re-reading the OP closely, he has also said that the priest did not even permit him to confess his sins individually?

[/quote]

Good point. Perhaps he'll clarify whether he meant that he was never given the chance to confess, or whether he was simply not given that chance "at the beginning." :shrug:

Yet, you seem to judge the priest's heart by asserting you know what he meant by his words. That's rather bold. ;)

It is not a matter for joking or making light of serious suggestions.

'Serious', yes. But 'sound'? That's a different judgment... ;)


#16

I would interpret "your son" to mean perhaps that he was speaking of you as a son of God. Or I would wonder if he was saying "your soul." My understanding of the not being allowed to confess your sins individually is that this would not invalidate the confession because you were not intentionally holding them back. To be honest, I would guess that it would be valid, because he intended to absolve you of your sins. But if you confessed a mortal sin, I would probably go to a different priest for confession soon, and if there was time, I would briefly explain the circumstances and ask the priest if I should confess again.


#17

Thanks for your replies :)

[quote="ThyKingdomCome, post:16, topic:326193"]
I would interpret "your son" to mean perhaps that he was speaking of you as a son of God. Or I would wonder if he was saying "your soul." My understanding of the not being allowed to confess your sins individually is that this would not invalidate the confession because you were not intentionally holding them back. To be honest, I would guess that it would be valid, because he intended to absolve you of your sins. But if you confessed a mortal sin, I would probably go to a different priest for confession soon, and if there was time, I would briefly explain the circumstances and ask the priest if I should confess again.

[/quote]

That is what I think he meant by saying "your son."
As for not waiting for me to confess sins individually, I protested and then did confess each in kind. He replied that he "already knew"; and from the spiritual guidance he gave me before I had a chance to confess the kind of sins it did seem that he knew what I needed to hear. Still, I felt that I should confess them, and he let me. But that's also why I didn't protest again when it came to the words of absolution.

I asked another priest (not at the same parish) — outside of confession — about it, and this other priest said the words of absolution were OK but he seemed concerned that the confessor didn't wait for me to confess each of my sins in kind and number. He reassured me it was a valid sacrament when I clarified that I had the chance to confess kind and number before the absolution.
But he also said "you" is not essential to the form... it just has to be "**I absolve* in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit*" .... But I'm glad I asked here because the consensus seems to be that "you" is a necessary word for valid form.

I am going to mention this again at my next confession when I'm back at my parish, with my regular confessor (I was visiting where this happened).

For what's it's worth, his spiritual guidance was much appreciated. His celebration of Mass and preaching of the homily were both reverent and orthodox, from anything I could tell.


#18

It may just be an accent issue. We have a priest from Nigeria and I often hear him say the SAME words with different vowel pronunciations.


#19

Or is it God who absolves us & the priest who pronounces it for us?


#20

[quote="Gorgias, post:13, topic:326193"]
Two thoughts: if he's not a native speaker of English, then perhaps he was saying, "I absolve the sins of you, son, in the name...". This would seem to be less problematic than your take on it.

Secondly, though, to your question of invalidity: others have said "OMG! Invalid! Invalid! Go to another priest!" :rolleyes:

I would assert, though, that if he meant to do what the Church means by the sacrament, and if he simply made a mistake in the moment, then that doesn't mean that it was invalid. ;)

[/quote]

I tend to agree with this.

If his intent is to absolve then I would give him the benefit of the doubt and trust that God can make effective what the man intended to do in his heart but could not do because of his frail humanity.

I think it is making a mountain out of a mole-hill to parse individual words of a particular confession to a non-native eanglish speaking priest to determine the validity of the sacrament. The contrition and intent with which we approach the sacrament has about 9,475,631% more to do with it than anything else.

-Tim-


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