Absolution

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Origin

Middle English, from Latin absolvere, from ab- + solvere to loosen

Definitions

Description

Absolution is an integral part of the Sacrament of Penance, in Roman Catholicism. The penitent makes a sacramental confession of all mortal sins to a priest and prays an act of contrition. The priest then assigns a penance and imparts absolution in the name of the Trinity, on behalf of Christ Himself, using a fixed sacramental formula:

Dominus noster Jesus Christus te absolvat; et ego auctoritate ipsius te absolvo ab omni vinculo excommunicationis (suspensionis) et interdicti in quantum possum et tu indiges. Deinde, ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, + et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.
May our Lord Jesus Christ absolve you; and by His authority I absolve you from every bond of excommunication (suspension) and interdict, so far as my power allows and your needs require. [making the Sign of the Cross:] Thereupon, I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
For lessons on the related topic of Forgiveness, follow this link.

The essential part of the formula (the words which must be said for the absolution – and the entire Sacrament of Penance – to take effect, or, in Church law terms, be "sacramentally valid") are: "I absolve you from your sins". Absolution of sins most importantly forgives sins (and, when done before death, ensures one dies in a "state of grace", able to eventually enter heaven); but it also allows the valid and non-sinful reception of the sacraments (especially the Eucharist at Mass), the lawful exercise of ecclesiastical offices and ministries by laity or clerics, and full participation in the life of the Church. However, for certain especially grave sins to be forgiven and for the accompanying Church penalties to be lifted, there are formal processes which must take place along with the absolution, which must then be given (depending on the seriousness of the type of sin) either by the Pope (through the Apostolic Penitentiary), the local Bishop, or a priest authorized by the Bishop.

This formula is preceded by other short prayers similar to those used at Mass after the Confiteor. Suspension, in the context of the formula for absolution, refers to a canonical penalty which can be incurred only by clerics; therefore, it is omitted when absolving a layman.

After the liturgical reforms of 1970, an option was given to use another formula for absolution: "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. Amen."

Some priests use, in both the ancient and the more recent form, a short prayer for the spiritual well-being of the penitent:
Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi, merita Beatae Mariae Virginis et omnium sanctorum, quidquid boni feceris vel mali sustinueris sint tibi in remissionem peccatorum, augmentum gratiae et praemium vitae aeternae. Amen.
(May the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of all the saints and also whatever good you do or evil you endure merit for you the remission of your sins, the increase of grace and the reward of everlasting life. Amen).

This prayer shows the concepts of merit and the Communion of Saints in the greater context of grace as understood in Catholic theology.

Absolution forgives the guilt associated with the penitent's sins, and removes the eternal punishment (Hell) associated with mortal sins, but only if the penitent has a firm purpose of amendment and is truly contrite. The penitent is still responsible for the temporal punishment (Purgatory) associated with the confessed sins, unless an indulgence is applied or, if through prayer, penitence and good works, the temporal punishment is cancelled in this life.[1]