A Note From Fr. Timothy
Rite of Penance
I spoke in my homily last week about how the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome confirmed the new English translation for the Rite of Penance for use in the United States. The new translation was permitted to go into use on Ash Wednesday this year, and must be used by Divine Mercy Sunday (until that time either translation may be used). If you are interested in more detail, you can find that homily at the videos link on our ACC website at taocatholic.com.
Even though the change to the translation is more impactful to what the priest says than the penitent, I believe it is important that individual Catholics are aware of this change. Each of the sacraments are constituted by matter and form. In a similar way as to how human beings consist of body (matter) and form (soul) and would not be complete without both, so a sacrament requires both the matter and form and would not be the sacrament if any of those parts were missing.
In the Eucharist, for example, the matter is unleavened wheat bread and wine of grapes, and the form is the words of consecration (“Take this, all of you ….”). If the matter were not present or not correct (e.g. if the chalice were empty or if it were rice wine), then the Eucharist would not be consecrated. Similarly, if the priest or bishop forgets a part of the words of consecration or changes the words that have been given, the Eucharist is not consecrated. God has chosen to operate through his Church and it is by those words approved by the Church that we have certainty that God provides the grace of the sacrament for us. If the matter and form are not correct, then it is NOT a sacrament and it would NOT be the Eucharist and you would be only receiving bread or wine. (It might be the case that God would still give his blessings to those who partake of bread and wine that has not been properly consecrated, especially if they do so unknowingly, but it would still not be the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.)
In Confession, the matter is contrite sinner who confesses their sins, and the form is the essential words of absolution prayed by the priest. So a sinner who does not have at least some sorrow for their sins, or one who does not confess ALL their unconfessed mortal sins cannot validly receive the sacrament of reconciliation because the matter is invalid. Or if the priest does not use the right words of absolution, the penitent does not receive sacramental forgiveness of their sins because the form is invalid. Because this is so important, it benefits us to be aware of those words so that when we hear them in the confessional we can have the assurance that God’s mercy is present sacramentally for us. Yes, it is possible to simply trust that the priest knows what he is doing and only focus on our part, but why would we not want to see it through to the end?
For those interested in knowing that prayer of absolution, I have included it below. The essential words are in small caps.
God, the Father of mercies, through the Death and Resurrection of his Son
has reconciled the world to himself and poured out the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins;
through the ministry of the Church may God grant 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.
Fr. Timothy Gapinski