Classical authors use the Latin word absolutio (literally, unbinding or unloosing) to signify acquittal from a criminal charge, and ecclesiastical writers have adopted the term, employing it to denote a setting free from crime or penalty. But, as crime and its penalties are regarded even by the Church from very different points of view, “absolution” in its ecclesiastical use bears several senses, which it is important to distinguish from each other.
Absolution from Sin is a remission of sin which the priest, by authority received from Christ, makes in the Sacrament of Penance. It is not a mere announcement of the gospel, or a bare declaration that God will pardon the sins of those who repent, but as the Council of Trent defines (sess. xiv. can. 9), it is a judicial act by which a priest as judge passes sentence on the penitent.
With regard to absolution thus understood, it is to be observed –
First, that it can be given by none but priests, since to them alone has Christ committed the necessary power; and,
Secondly, that since absolution is a judicial sentence, the priest must have authority or jurisdiction over the person absolved. The need of jurisdiction, in order that the absolution may be valid, is an article of faith defined in the council of Trent, and it follows from the very nature of absolution as defined above, since the reason of things requires that a judge should not pass sentence except on one who is placed under him, as the subject of his court. This jurisdiction may be ordinary, i.e., it may flow from the office which the confessor holds; or delegated, i.e., it may be given to the confessor by one who has ordinary jurisdiction with power to confer it on others, as his delegates. Thus a bishop has ordinary jurisdiction over seculars, or religious who are not exempt, in his diocese, and within its limits he can delegate jurisdiction to priests secular or regular. Again, the prelates of religious orders exempt from the authority of the bishop, have jurisdiction, more or less ample, within their own order, and they can absolve, or delegate power to absolve, the members of the order who are subject to them; nor is it possible, ordinarily speaking, for the bishop, or a priest who has his powers from the bishop only, to absolve such religious. Moreover, a bishop or a prelate of a religious order, in conferring power to absolve his subjects, may reserve the absolution of certain sins to himself. The Church, however, supplies all priests with power to absolve persons in danger of death, at least if they cannot obtain a priest with the usual “faculties” or powers to absolve.
Thirdly, absolution must be given in words which express the efficacy of absolution, viz., forgiveness of sin. The Roman Ritual prescribes the form “I absolve thee from thy sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
Absolution from censures is widely different from absolution from sins, because whereas the latter gives grace, removes guilt, and reconciles the sinner with God, the former merely removes penalties imposed by the Church, and reconciles the offender with her.
Absolution for the dead (pro defunctis) A short form, imploring eternal rest and so indirectly remission of the penalties of sin, said after a funeral Mass over the body of the dead person,, before it is remoyed from the church.
Absolutions in the Breviary Certain short prayers said before the lessons in matins and before the chapter at the end of prime. Some of these prayers express or imply petition for forgiveness of sin, and this circumstance probably explains the origin of the name Absolution which has been given to such prayers or blessings.
- Father James J McGovern. “absolution”. . CatholicSaints.Info. 11 January 2016. Web. 17 January 2017. <>