What Pope Francis forgot to tell you: Before exiting the confessional, make sure you’ve been properly absolved of your sins

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“Father, I’m waiting for absolution.”

“Oh. Okay. Jesus forgives you. Go in peace.”

“Would you please give me absolution Father?”

“I just did.”

“No. I’m sorry you didn’t. Maybe I’m being a bit fussy Father, but I really would like to hear you say the words of absolution.”

“Okay, if you insist, Go in peace and be forgiven.”

“I’m sorry Father, but those weren’t the words of absolution.”

He’s annoyed with me now. “Well what do you want me to say?”

“You could say the full words from the rite, but if you want you could just say, ‘I absolve you from your sins.”

Now much annoyed he said, “I absolve you of your sins.”

Has this happened to you? I’m curious because some friends of mine say the same thing happens to them. They are given a great long piece of advice which they don’t’ really want because they have a spiritual director for that, but then the priest doesn’t give them absolution.

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Editor’s note: Catholics who rarely go to confession are unlikely to even know about such sloppy practices. Even good, thorough, well-intentioned priests may get a bit “loopy” after hearing an hour or two of confessions.

Know the words of absolution and before you leave the confessional, make sure you hear the priest say them:

“I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” 

A Guide to the Sacrament of Penance

The Instinct of Repentance

A large measure of the language of repentance is found in the word repentance itself. It is a Latin cognate (coming into English through the French). Rooted in the Latin word paenetentia, repentance has long held associations with crime and punishment. Our prisons are penitentiaries, though repentance of a true sort is rarely their result. To be given a penance also has had a sense of a punishment given for sins forgiven.

This differs greatly from the original language of the New Testament in which repentance is metanoia, a change in the mind (nous). The word nous, in Eastern Christian tradition, is often used interchangeably with the word heart. Repentance is an inner change of heart. Repentance is not concerned with clearing our legal record but with being changed – ultimately into the likeness of Christ.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10).

The language of repentance is part of a forensic legacy within a segment of Christian history that has marked our culture. To hear Christ say in Scripture, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” is often misheard – with the forensic message embedded in our language replacing the language of the heart proclaimed by Christ. Thus the Christian who seeks to follow the gospel (in English) finds that he has to make an effort to re-translate what he hears. This deeper matter of repentance (metanoia) is heard even in the prophets of the Old Testament:

“Now, therefore,” says the Lord,“Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. So rend your heart, and not your garments;return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm (Joel 2:12-13).

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