What makes a valid confession?

I apologize if this question has been discussed time and again, and as a cradle catholic I probably ought to know.

But I have to admit I’m a little confused at the moment. Here’s what happened to me today:

I went to confession, and after my confession of sins the priest started talking to me. He talked rather fast and with a slight accent which made it a little hard for me to follow, but OK. He gave me my penance and then said a few other words without expecting me to acknowledge the penance. Then all of a sudden he started to whisper. However, when he was whispering I thought I could make out the words " … mercies… Holy Spirit…" and wondered if he was praying the prayer for absolution. But then in the end all he said - at least that I could hear - was “God has forgiven you. You may now leave”. A little bit startled I asked if he had given me absolution and his response was “Yes, I did”. So I left, somewhat confused. All of this happened rather quickly.

Maybe I’m spoiled, but my usual experience is that the priest makes sure I understand and agree to my penance, recite an act of contrition, and actually hear the words “I absolve you …etc.”. This priest went from my confession of sins to my dismissal on a single breath without any of that.

I understand that priests may not have that much time to spend on each person but I’m not sure if proper form was maintained in this case.
Was this a valid confession? And how do I know if it was? I thought the crucial words of the absolution have to be said out loud, is that not correct?
I performed my penance and leave the rest to God’s mercy. If somebody has some guidance I’d appreciate it.

This is from the compendium of the Catechism;

  1. What are the essential elements of the sacrament of Reconciliation?
    +]1440-1449+]The essential elements are two: the acts of the penitent who comes to repentance through the action of the Holy Spirit, and the absolution of the priest who in the name of Christ grants forgiveness and determines the ways of making satisfaction.

Many times when I go to confession, the priest will expect me to be saying my act of contrition while he gives absolution. He rarely asks me to recite it. I think he just expects me to know what to do…

Since the words “mercies” and “Holy Spirit” are both in the words of absolution, you can probably be assured that he did give you absolution.

Several priests I know say the words of absolution while I am saying the Act of Contrition. It threw me off the first time I encountered it, so I asked the priest, and he told me that he does his part while I do my part. It’s perfectly valid.

As long as the priest does indeed say the formula of absolution, it’s valid.

Many priests whisper it while the penitent is saying the Act of Contrition. I remember a lot of the older priests used to do it this way all the time. Nowadays, it tends to be done more when there’s a long line of people waiting to confess. There’s nothing either wrong or right about doing it either way.

The words have to be actually spoken, but the volume isn’t relevant. The usual interpretation is that at a minimum the lips have to be moving–that’s the distinction between simply “thinking” the words (which is not sufficient), and “saying” them.

I went to confession yesterday. It was in an old fashioned confessional box (seperate room with small hole to speak through to priest in another room covered by an obtuse grate).

I gave a very detailed and lengthy confession, which included some mortal sins. At the end, the priest asked me to say an act of contrition. After he heard it, he said “that’s a good confession” and then “I,” followed by unintelligble words I couldn’t make out, then “forgive you of your sins in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

I’m freaking out now because I didn’t hear the word “absolve.” And reading some other threads about how if the words are wrong, a Sacrament could be rendered invalid. However, since some things he said were unintelligible (he’s elderly, and even made a few small mistakes while reading the Gospel reading at Mass last night), I don’t know that he didn’t say “absolve.” There is no doubt in my mind that he had the correct intention, either.

Now I’m one who has been known to get scrupulous on ocassion that if it’s not perfect I’m not forgiven. And I feel that even questioning God’s forgiveness by asking this question might be sinful, but after looking up ecclesia supplet, I just can’t find a good answer to satisfy me.

So, do I need to reconfess? And can I receive communion until I do so, if necessary? Or am I just being scrupulous?

Although he should have not made an alteration, “forgive” and “absolve” ay be regarded as synonymous, so you were validly absolved.

The Council of Trent in the Fourteenth Session teaches what is necessary for a valid Sacrament of Penance. Also, Trent teaches the four requirements in general that make a sacrament valid: matter, form, minister and intent. The ‘matter’ of the Sacrament of Penance being ‘contrition, confession and satisfaction,’ the ‘form’ being the words of the minister starting with ‘I absolve thee, etc.’ This is pointed out in Chapter 3. In Chapter 6 it is clear to point out the ‘minister’ can be only those to whom the ministry of the keys is extended (and even those priests when in mortal sin exercise the office of forgiving sins). The ‘intention’ of the priest must be that of doing as the Church intends to do, as also taught elsewhere in the Council of Trent.

So, the sacrament is valid if the four requirements were met…and you can know that is true by consulting the constant teaching of the Church in the Council of Trent. There could be a compelling reason to want to have the priest say that absolution loudly enough for you to hear, also, but it is not a requirement to make the sacrament valid. The absolution does have to be said ‘out loud’ though and not merely in the head. It hurts nothing to ask the priest whether he’s given you absolution after he dismisses you from the Confessional.

– Nicole


Yes, your confession was valid, You do not always have to hear the priest say the absolution aloud, and remember, as I have told others the same thing, they are trained for this and they know what they are doing.

It is the same analogy at Consecration time, some priest will say the words silently and some aloud. Some priests will genuflect and some will bow. I guess it is the preference of the priest.

You could go to hundred of churches, and you will find thah the “PRIEST DOES HIS OWN THING.” We have a visiting priest once a week and during the consecration and after, he never looks in the book–I mean it is valid because he pronounces the words
but he does not like reading from a book.

He is a beautiful speaker.

But as in al situationas, the priests do not listen to the Bishops and the Bishops do not listen to the Pope.

If you told your sins, had absolution and penance, you are all set. Don’t worry about it any more. What youu think might have been omitted, the Holy Spirit is always there and believe me your confession was valid.

The validity of a confessions is:'
1] Sincere sorrow
2] Tring not to recommit the sin again
3] Penance
4] Act of Contrition (Optional)
5]Growing spiritually

God bless you now. If the priest doesn’t think yout confession is valid, he will tell you, so doin’t worry about it.



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