Say a penitent, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, confesses his sins with heartfelt sorrow. Now suppose that priest omits deliberately to use the words of the formula (please see below especially the ones in bold),

The question is, according to the Church, what happens to the penitent's sins? What happens to the priest?

What is the scenario when the priest forgetfully omits them?

cf. CCC 1449 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.[OP 46: formula of absolution.]

  • What I know: Simulation of a sacrament, meaning pretending to administer a sacrament while intentionally not doing so, is a grave sin. What I think (but can't claim to know for sure): If a priest doesn't want to absolve me, he should tell me (and tell me why). As long as I don't know that he didn't absolve me, my sins would be forgiven anyway. If I do know it, then I should re-confess those sins later. A priest who accidentally omits part of the rite can be reminded by the penitent. I once reminded a priest who began to absolve me before assigning a penance. Aug 22, 2014 at 3:40
  • @AndreasBlass Thank you! I never used to pay too much attention until I read online that priests at times do not use the words of the formula. Then I started paying attention ... I believe once there was, 'your sins are forgiven' (or similar). Re-reading the Catechism, I know the words of the formula (in all Sacraments) are sine qua non. I believe you may be correct in what you say, just wanted to know what the official line was, what the Church would want the penitent to do in such a situation.
    – user13992
    Aug 22, 2014 at 4:25
  • @AndreasBlass that would make sense, but do you have a reference for the "grave sin" part? Aug 22, 2014 at 10:49
  • @MattGutting I'm away from home at the moment, so I can't easily look up a reference, but the first place I'd look if I were at home is the book "Moral Theology" by Heribert Jone. I would expect that this matter is covered there. Aug 22, 2014 at 18:07
  • It is clear that the tree of discerning function and dysfunction and how that started all sin and arguments is not understood. Therefore regardless of absolution by disregarding "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" death will remain as the penalty. (Ref: John 8:24-26) To understand that not only do you need to believe that Jesus is who he says he is but that you must believe what he says, and that what he says is from the beginning. You shall have no other Gods before the word. Sell your thoughts and give to the one talking to you, put the mind on the good ground, Last talking is 1st
    – Decrypted
    Aug 31, 2014 at 2:18

2 Answers 2


For a sacrament to be valid, the matter and form ought to be performed according to the proper ritual, along with the due intention on the part of the minister of the sacrament.

The Church teaches very unequivocally that for the valid conferring of the sacraments, the minister must have the intention of doing at least what the Church does. This is laid down with great emphasis by the Council of Trent (sess. VII, On the Sacraments in General, Canon XI).

In the first scenario, a priest omitting deliberately the formula of absolution might be an indication of the Priest not intending to do what the Church does. If that were the case, not only would this invalidate the sacrament, but also on the account of the absence of the correct formula, which is the form of the sacrament.

If the penitent is aware of the omission, they should request for the absolution with the right formula. The Priest would be offending gravely.

In the second case, the priest unintentionally forgetting the formula of absolution, and not through carelessness, and especially if this is one-off, there would be no indication of absence of the intention on the Priest's part, so long as during the administration of that sacrament, the Priest intended to do what the Church does.

Again the penitent if aware, should request for the absolution.

Please see:

The Catechism does not speak directly to a priest forgetting to give absolution, but there are several statements that would make one think forgetfulness does not determine a failure to receive forgiveness for sin. Here is a sampling of some of the relevant references:

1468 Supports my initial statement above

“The whole power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God's grace and joining us with him in an intimate friendship.” [Roman Catechism, II, V, 18] Reconciliation with God is thus the purpose and effect of this sacrament. For those who receive the sacrament of Penance with contrite heart and religious disposition, reconciliation “is usually followed by peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation.” [Council of Trent (1551): DS 1674] Indeed the sacrament of Reconciliation with God brings about a true “spiritual resurrection,” restoration of the dignity and blessings of the life of the children of God, of which the most precious is friendship with God. [Cf. Lk 15:32]

In 1441, the Church points out only God forgives sin so the forgetfulness of it's ordained minister, priest or bishop, would not negate forgiveness

Only God forgives sins. [Cf. Mk 2:7] Since he is the Son of God, Jesus says of himself, “The Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” and exercises this divine power: “Your sins are forgiven.” [Mk 2:5, 10; Lk 7:48] Further, by virtue of his divine authority he gives this power to men to exercise in his name. [Cf. Jn 20:21-23]

1461 points out that it is the bishops who are the primary ministers of this sacrament

Since Christ entrusted to his apostles the ministry of reconciliation, [Cf. In 20:23; 2 Cor 5:18] bishops who are their successors, and priests, the bishops' collaborators, continue to exercise this ministry. Indeed bishops and priests, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, have the power to forgive all sins “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

1464 points out that priests must make it available

Priests must encourage the faithful to come to the sacrament of Penance and must make themselves available to celebrate this sacrament each time Christians reasonably ask for it. [Cf. CIC, can. 486; CCEO, can. 735; PO 13.]


In order to answer your question fully well, first we need to understand what gives absolution to a sinner who confesses. The sins of a confessor will not be absolved simply by stating the them. In order to achieve absolution either perfect contrition or partial contrition (also known as attrition) is required. Contrition is sincere and complete remorse for sins one has committed. Attrition is a desire not to sin for a reason other than love of God, mostly fear. Mortal sins are absolved only through the sacrament of penance. But the council of Trent has made it clear that mortal sins are already forgiven by contrition.

Session XIV of the council of Trent has discussed the topic "The Most Holy Sacraments Of Penance And Extreme Unction" and chapter IV of the official document titled "contrition" is given below.

Contrition, which holds the first place among the aforesaid acts of the penitent, is a sorrow of mind and a detestation for sin committed with the purpose of not sinning in the future.[16] This feeling of contrition was at all times necessary for obtaining the forgiveness of sins and thus indeed It prepares one who has fallen after baptism for the remission of sins, if it is united with confidence in the divine mercy and with the desire to perform the other things that are required to receive this sacrament in the proper manner. The holy council declares therefore, that this contrition implies not only an abstention from sin and the resolution and beginning of a new life, but also a hatred of the old,[17] according to the statement: [18] And certainly he who has pondered those lamentations of the saints: [21] and others of this kind, will easily understand that they issued from an overwhelming hatred of their past life and from a profound detestation of sins. The council teaches furthermore, that though it happens sometimes that this contrition is perfect through charity and reconciles man to God before this sacrament is actually received, this reconciliation, nevertheless, is not to be ascribed to the contrition itself without a desire of the sacrament, which desire is included in it. As to imperfect contrition, which is called attrition, since it commonly arises either from the consideration of the heinousness of sin or from the fear of hell and of punishment, the council declares that if it renounces the desire to sin and hopes for pardon, it not only does not make one a hypocrite and a greater sinner, but is even a gift of God and an impulse of the Holy Ghost, not indeed as already dwelling in the penitent, but only moving him, with which assistance the penitent prepares a way for himself unto justice.

And though without the sacrament of penance it cannot per se lead the sinner to justification, it does, however, dispose him to obtain the grace of God in the sacrament of penance. For, struck salutarily by this fear, the Ninivites, moved by the dreadful preaching of Jonas, did penance and obtained mercy from the Lord.[22] Falsely therefore do some accuse Catholic writers, as if they maintain that the sacrament of penance confers grace without any pious exertion on the part of those receiving it, something that the Church of God has never taught or ever accepted. Falsely also do they assert that contrition is extorted and forced, and not free and voluntary.

The document clearly mentions that perfect contrition is sufficient criteria for the absolution of sins. Your question deals with the fate of a person who confesses with heartfelt sorrow. Clearly his attitude comes under perfect contrition and he is worthy of absolution irrespective of the words used by the priest while performing the sacrament of absolution.

  • However, paragraph 1452 of the Catechism states that perfect contrition is enough to obtain forgiveness of venial sins, but mortal sins only with the intention to go to confession as soon as reasonably possible. Aug 22, 2014 at 14:41
  • In the question The OP mentions a person who has confessed. So his intention to confess is clearly proven.
    – Deepu
    Aug 22, 2014 at 14:44
  • It's not entirely clear that "confesses with heartfelt sorrow" implies perfect contrition. One could confess with heartfelt sorrow because one is to be executed the next day and is afraid of going to hell. In other words, attrition can also be heartfelt sorrow. Aug 22, 2014 at 23:14
  • Contrition is specifically defined for the purposes of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as heartfelt sorrow that one has offended God. Aug 23, 2014 at 3:06

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