Question: I have gone to confession a number of times to a priest whom I recently noticed uses the following words as part of the absolution: “… and I absolve all your sins in the name of the Father …”, whereas I believe the prescribed words are: ” … and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father ….” Although the meaning seems to be the same, should I be concerned about the effectiveness of the sacrament on account of this minor variation in wording? I also notice other priests changing a couple of other words recently, though I can’t remember what they are.
— Name withheld, Dallas, Texas
Answer: The addition of the word “all” does not eliminate the effectiveness of the sacrament or invalidate it. Adding the word “all” does not change the meaning of “I absolve you from your sins” since that is implied in the wording already. Rather, it is an unnecessary addition. This is likely an unconscious addition by the priest. It is harmless but should be corrected by any priest who becomes aware that he is doing it.
That said, there are some priests who, sadly, do manipulate the meaning of the text and make substantial changes that may render the absolution invalid. Many do this for ideological reasons. For example, “You are absolved, Go in peace” is not valid, because the priest does not speak in the person of Christ (it is Christ who says through the priest, “I absolve you from your sins”). It is also invalid because there is no object of the verb “absolve.” It is from sin that we are absolved, not just punishments or some other consequences of sin. Other priests have been known to toy with the Trinitarian formula by saying something like, “… in the name of the creator, the redeemer and the sanctifier.” They say this avoids “male” images of God. But this invalidates the sacrament of Baptism as well as confession, since it substitutes our Christian understanding of the very God we claim to invoke with some other understanding not given us by God. Jesus taught us to call God our Father. He calls himself the Son and calls the third person the Holy Spirit. Toying with and adapting the fundamental meaning and wording of sacramental formulas is far more serious than the inadvertent addition of “all” and as such, invalidates those sacraments.
As for the slight change in wording you may have noticed lately, this is something recently mandated by a new English translation of the Latin text of confession. The changes are minor and amount to two words being changed and the dropping of two other words. Here is the new text with the older words in parentheses:
“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his son has reconciled the world to himself and poured out (formerly, “sent”) the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God grant (formerly, “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.”
The new words reflect the Latin more precisely. “Pour out” better translates the Latin effudit and seems to link this outpouring of the Spirit more directly to the water that came forth from the side of Christ, which John’s Gospel links to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Jn 7:38-39; 19:34; 19:30). And “grant” better reflects the Latin tribuat. Even in English, “grant” emphasizes that something is graciously bestowed or even conceded, a kind of tribute. For example, we wouldn’t likely say “Grant me my paycheck.” No, it is something that is due, and so we would say, “Give me my paycheck.” But when we seek favor we might say, “Grant me this one request.” Hence, God’s mercy is granted in tribute, as a sign of his grace, not simply given as something owed to us.
Most priests have already adapted well to the new wording. However, as is often the case with texts memorized for many years, there is a tendency to slip back to the older wording. If this happens, it is not invalidating. The words are not part of the essential form “I absolve you …” and any change in meaning is subtle in the overall prayer.