As minor changes take effect, all sins are still ‘washed away’ by God’s mercy in confession

April 25, 2023

Pope Francis hears the confession of a priest at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome in 2019. Earlier this year, the pope celebrated the opening of the “24 Hours for the Lord” Lenten prayer initiative at a parish in Rome March 17. Father Jonathan Moré, pastor at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Sealy, said Easter is a fitting time to embrace the Sacrament of Reconciliation. (CNS photo)

HOUSTON (OSV News) — Since Divine Mercy Sunday, April 16, the experience of the Sacrament of Penance in the Roman rite is now slightly different, thanks to approved changes in the English translation that took effect this year.

The prayer of absolution will include three modifications so that the revised version will read as follows:

“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself and poured out [formerly “sent”] the Holy Spirit for [previously “Holy Spirit among us for”] the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God grant [instead of “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.”

The new text was adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) during its Spring 2021 meeting, with the Vatican’s Dicastery (then-Congregation) for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments approving the text in April 2022. Since April 16, the Second Sunday of Easter, also known as Divine Mercy Sunday, the revised formula for absolution is now mandatory.

“The essential part of the absolution formula has not changed,” said Father Andrew Menke, executive director of the USCCB’s Secretariat for Divine Worship, during a 2022 webinar co-sponsored by his office and the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions.

Faithful can find a certain richness in the prayer’s change, according to Father Jonathan Moré, pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Sealy.

“The imagery of ‘pouring out’ is evocative of being ‘anointed’ with the Holy Spirit whom the Church Fathers, notably St. Cyril of Jerusalem, identify with the ‘oil of gladness’ found in the Psalms,” he said. “Thus, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit is an occasion of and cause of joy.”

Even though Lent is a well-known penitential season, Father Moré encouraged Catholics to embrace the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Easter.

“The Easter season is a fitting time to confess one’s sins as a way of participating in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” he said. “Confession revives a soul lying dead in sin, and is thus a foretaste of the future resurrection and renewal promised by God.”

During his presentation, Father Menke admitted the bishops had debated whether the minor changes were worth undertaking. However, he said the consensus favored striving for a more accurate translation from the Latin.

Father Menke noted penitents “who can be a little scrupulous” might panic if priests — many of whom “have said this prayer literally thousands of times” — inadvertently use the old form of absolution.

“They might be concerned (that absolution) doesn’t count,” he said.

Yet he stressed that “the heart of the Sacrament” remains intact, and the absolution is still valid.

Father Moré recognized that going to confession can be intimidating for many Catholics, even for those who go regularly.

“We need to remember that the goal is reconciliation with God,” he said. “In confessing your sins, you will come face to face with the evil you have done, but it is only so that it may be washed away by the mercy of God.”

In confession, Father Moré said the physical act of speaking our sins out loud, by putting them into words, “gives them a concrete and intelligible form in a way that forces us to confront them as something existing in a reality and not just in our own memories.”

He said this applies to sins committed in secret, those of thought or intent, or sins committed against another person in passing, “only realizing the true harm upon examining our consciences.”

Father Menke noted that the updates are part of a broader effort by the Vatican to ensure accuracy in the translation of liturgical texts.

“It’s not due to anything against the Latin texts,” he said. “It’s based on the fact that the Holy See instructed the bishops of the world at the beginning of the 21st century that our translations needed to be more accurate.”

Even with these changes, Father Moré said, “We should not fear because even as we encounter our sins, God is there to take them away by pouring out His mercy and healing.”

He continued: “Confession does not only grant forgiveness. It is a source of grace for avoiding sin in the future. Do not stay far from the mercy of God. He wants to heal us, and we should be eager to let Him do so. Given that we ought to rejoice to be reconciled to God in the confessional, I think that this change was very fitting.”

Liturgical texts have been revised throughout Church history under papal direction: St. Pius V modified both the breviary and the missal in response to the Council of Trent, while St. Pius X, Pope Pius XII and St. John XXIII, who convened the Second Vatican Council, all significantly furthered such efforts.

Editor’s Note: Living a Life of Prayer continues a series that explores the deeper meaning, context and history of some of the Church’s greatest treasures: its prayers.