Why is it that during the absolution we Anglicans use the priestly “forgive you” formula, but Roman Catholics use the “forgive us” formula?
Roman Catholics use the form “forgive us” in the absolution at mass because of a theology that does not equate a congregational general confession of sins with that of the penitent in the sacrament of reconciliation in the confessional.
The “General Instruction of the Roman Missal” explains: “The [penitential] rite concludes with the priest’s absolution, which, however, lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance.” Manuals of ritual notes for the clergy, e.g. Elliott’s Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite, reinforce the point by directing celebrants to say the absolution with hands joined, and without making the sign of the cross.
Anglicans have always understood and taught otherwise. Whether in general confession at public worship or privately in the presence of a priest, the assurance of God’s forgiveness is effectively given to penitents when absolution in the form “forgive you . . . pardon and deliver you from all your sins” is authoritatively pronounced.
Liturgical customs, however, do change. In the Church of England, for instance, Common Worship registers a shift in emphasis in the way in which the prayer of absolution can be used by celebrants. In the text of the majority of authorised absolutions in Common Worship, the crucial words “you/your” are printed in italics in order to provide an option of using the form “forgive us our sins”. In the giving of absolution during public liturgy, one will, therefore, frequently find convergence with Roman Catholic practice, but made by Anglicans for non-doctrinal reasons.
(Canon) Terry Palmer
In contrast with the writer above, the Revd Matthew Bemand of Brentwood, in Essex, writes that the Roman Catholic understanding that “this prayer in the eucharist is not strictly an absolution” is “shared by many Anglicans”. Another view of the alternative “us” form provided for Anglican public worship is that it is intended to be used only when no priest is available. Editor
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