Hey, Father! What are the priest’s correct and necessary words for valid absolution in the Sacrament of Confession?

What are the priest’s correct and necessary words for valid absolution in the Sacrament of Confession?

– Nancy in Effingham

With Catholic sacraments, we may be aware that the “matter” we use for the sacraments is important. I think most of us realize that it would be unthinkable to use chips and soda instead of bread and wine at Mass. Even using normal leaven bread and grape juice is not acceptable either. There is true importance to the matter and symbols we use in our sacraments. 

The words used in the sacraments are also of immense importance. At Mass, it is very important that the priest uses the specific written words for the consecration of the Eucharist. One, words have real meanings, and in the context of the sacraments, have real power. To change the words used in the sacraments could change the essential nature of them. Also, there is real value for our sacraments to be Catholic, to be universal. There is something beautiful about Catholics around the world being united in their use of the sacraments. Granted, there are various languages used in the Catholic Church’s sacraments and liturgies, but there is still a unity among those worshipping in their respective languages. One should not receive the impression that the words used in the sacraments are part of some arbitrary magic formula, but the words are still important.

The Sacrament of Confession is no exception. The sins that are confessed are confessed through words. Without being excessively detailed, it is important to be specific in naming one’s sins. To say, “I have done bad things or thought bad thoughts” is too general. The words of the priests are important, especially in his prayer of absolution. The prayer of absolution is, “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.” In the Rite of Penance, the introduction says that the words that are in bold are specifically the essential words in order for absolution to be valid. 

I personally have never experienced a priest using a different formula of absolution, but if the priest is missing the essential words, you could kindly ask him to use the traditional formula of absolution. If the priest is unwilling to use the words or continually tries to use a different formula, it would be best to find a different priest to use as a confessor. In addition, it may be helpful in a calm and peaceful manner to voice your concerns to the priest who is dean of the deanery you live in. 

Father Michael Trummer is parochial vicar at Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Thomas the Apostle in Decatur and chaplain at St. Teresa High School and associate chaplain at Millikin University