Synonyms and absolution

Can a priest use sysnonyms instead of the normal words in the formula for absolution. For example, my priest does not say “absolve”, but “forgive”. He says “I forgive your sins in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” I do not see why it would matter if its the same meaning. I actually think “forgive” is a more appropriate word. We beg God for forgiveness, Jesus told His disciples “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them…”, and I think more people today understand the word “forgive” better than “absolve”.

My understanding is that, so long as the meaning doesn’t change, then changing words doesn’t invalidate the Sacrament.

Of course, Priests ought to stick to the official words and translations…but if a Priest makes an honest error and says the wrong word it has no effect on the Sacrament. Even if he does it intentionally, he is being disobedient to the Church (and might be sinning himself, depending on the severity and his intentions), but it still doesn’t invalidate the Sacrament for you.

But if the words change the meanings, that’s something else entirely. As a goofy example, if he says, “I magnify your sins in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” then the absolution is invalid and you should ask the Priest to say the exact words defined by the Church, or go to a different Priest.

I am not familiar with the exact Canons and rules about all this (I’m just going from my memory based on discussions with my Priest in RCIA)…perhaps somebody else can provide some more definitive guidance. God bless you!

Whether he says I ‘absolve’ or ‘forgive’, you in the Name of the Father, and of The Son, and of The Holy Spirit, your sins are washed away and your soul is whiter than wool. Go in Peace.

However, the Sacrament is also a sacred rite in the Church. As with all rites, it is to be administered according to a set formula, so that consistency is maintained, and personalization or corruption of rites is avoided. The correct word is “absolve”. Some priests may have inserted their own choice of words, hoping to make the meaning more clear to the laity, but there is a correct canonical form which uses the term ‘absolve’. The word ‘absolve’ is carefully chosen, because your relationship with both God and the Church are restored in the Sacrament. “Absolve” also has legal meaning within canon law.

From the catechism (bolding mine):

CCC1449 The formula of absolution used in the Latin Church expresses the essential elements of this sacrament: the Father of mercies is the source of all forgiveness. He effects the reconciliation of sinners through the Passover of his Son and the gift of his Spirit, through the prayer and ministry of the Church:

God, the Father of mercies,
through the death and the 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.

I do not believe that this minor deviation nullifies the Sacrament, but, for the sake of obedience and consistency, it should be avoided.

That may be the case, but these incidents raise unnecessary anxiety in penitents. Priests should NOT be changing the words of absolution (or any words in the rubrics, for that matter) on their own accord. It’s one thing to make a mistake; it’s an entirely other thing to purposefully make one’s own changes.

Forgive and absolve do NOT have the same meaning.


…] there is a great difference between absolving and forgiving. To forgive is to forget, to ignore any offense given, to consider a sore matter closed. It is what the Gospel calls for in the treatment of person with person. Absolution is far greater. It is a divine process in which the eternal guilt of our serious sins is forever wiped away by no less than God Himself, it is a juridical decision in the tribunal of eternal justice, it is an application of the merits Jesus gained for us to an individual penitent, it is a rectification of a divine imbalance. God bless. Fr. Bob Levis


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