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This is a question about Catholicism, specifically Confession.

I intended to go to confession with my priest, but he was running late since Confession was just before Mass, and he told me to come back the next day. I did, and he didn't have me confess my sins; he only absolved me, since he was still in a rush. I want to trust that the absolution was valid, but I didn't have to say a word. Does this still count?

  • @Geremia What's your reference for that? Is it a theologian (obviously with a Nihil Obstat) or does it appear in Church teaching? – Matt Gutting Apr 9 '18 at 2:43
  • VTC as pastoral advice because this is not a hypothetical or general question about Roman Catholic practice, but rather a specific one about you and your spiritual condition based on two encounters with a specific priest. As such, it seems the OP is looking for ammo which will produce more heat than light. – Dan Apr 9 '18 at 19:50
  • @Dan The question title is definitely a general question which can be answered here. The body could be updated to reflect that, but I don't think the question itself is purely pastoral advice. – Matt Gutting Apr 11 '18 at 17:15
  • The body of the question is about the OP’s specific experiences with a specific priest. The OP is asking if he can personally trust in the validity of the absolution provided to him by a priest. It doesn’t get any more pastoral than that IMO – Dan Apr 11 '18 at 17:23
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Without a doubt, no.

Intention, Form and Matter

The Church teaches that a sacrament of the Church consists in three necessary things:

  • The intention to effect the sacrament according to the mind of the Church on the the part of the minister thereof (i.e. not with some other intention alien to the purpose of the sacrament and to the Church).

  • The valid form (i.e. the prescribed words used during the administration of the sacrament: e.g. "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost" for the Sacrament of Baptism).

  • The matter of the sacrament (the 'stuff' involved in constituting the sacrament validly: e.g. unleaved bread and grape wine for the Sacrament of Holy Communion).

In the case of the priest, he needs to use the valid form (words) of absolution. We can assume your priest knew the form and said it correctly. However, he did not have the matter of the sacrament, which are, in the case of confession: contrition for the sins committed (regret and sorrow for having sinned against God) and auricular confession of those sins.

A Few Reasons This Needs to be the Case

  • Scripture says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all iniquity" (1 John 1:9). Stopping by for the priest to pray over you is not the sacrament of confession, since he can't grant God's absolution without a confession; for the same reason a man or woman cannot bring about the sacrament of Matrimony without the equal consent of their partner. This is better understood when one realizes that the priest is a mediator of God's mercy, which implies that he has one hand to Christ and the other to you: you must participate—that's why you are there.

  • When Christ endows the Apostles with this priestly power of forgiving sins, he notably says "whose sins you shall hold bound, they shall remain bound" (John 20:23). This necessitates a discrimination between a confession for which he can grant absolution, and one for which he cannot—which requires his hearing the sins. Such an example might be if the penitent isn't... so penitent, since clear indication that the penitent is sorry for his sins is required for the priest to give absolution.


This is something about which the bishop might need to be alerted. This is quite a serious problem.

  • Along with +1, there's a but (of course there's a but!) ... Why not discuss with the priest any misgivings about confession? A bishop cannot manage his priest's time for him: he must do it for himself. – Andrew Leach Apr 8 '18 at 23:12
  • Well, assuming the priest thinks absolving someone without confession is the sacrament of Confession, that seems like a course of action without much hope. But as you say, you would have to have a word with the priest himself first, as per the custom of the Church (where a bishop is the last course of action). I hope I didn't mislead. – Sola Gratia Apr 8 '18 at 23:53
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    This answer is correct for typical situations, including the one described by the OP, but, for the sake of completeness, I'll mention that the Church allows some exceptions to the requirement of confessing before being absolved. One exception is when the penitent is in danger of death and unable to confess (e.g., unconscious); another is a large number of soldiers about to go into battle. (Source: "Moral Theology" by Fr. Heribert Jone, Section 567) Unfortunately, none of the exceptions seem to apply to the situation at hand. – Andreas Blass Apr 10 '18 at 1:43
  • Is there a specific canon law or Church document cited? – Sola Gratia Apr 10 '18 at 14:19
  • @SolaGratia can. 961 CIC allows absolution in the cases mentioned by Andreas Blass. So your answer is too simple, as it cannot handle these cases. – K-HB Feb 11 at 18:55
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The sacrament was invalidly administered to you because it lacked proper matter (your auricular confession of your sins).

Chapter 6 of the 14th session of the Council of Trent has good advice regarding your situation:

The penitent, therefore, ought not so flatter himself on his own faith as to think that even though he have no contrition and there be wanting on the part of the priest the intention to act earnestly and absolve effectively, he is nevertheless really and in the sight of God absolved by reason of faith alone. For faith without penance effects no remission of sins, and he would be most negligent of his salvation who, knowing that a priest absolved him jokingly [joco], would not diligently seek another who would act earnestly.

In other words: Seek another, more competent confessor; re-confess your sins to him; explain to him your desire for proper absolution (which would contribute to showing your firm purpose of amendment).

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