Absolution of the dead

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The Absolution of the dead (or Absoute from the French) is a series of prayers for pardon and remission of sins that are a practice observed in some Christian religions over the body of a deceased believer before disposition. The practice is found in the Eastern Orthodox Church as well as in older forms of the Roman Catholic liturgy. Both religions use this practice to ask God not to have the deceased suffer for transgressions during life that they have repented or have been forgiven.

Roman Catholic practice[edit]

In the Catholic Church the Absolute are said over a deceased Catholic following a Requiem Mass and before burial. The absolution of the dead does not forgive sins or confer the sacramental absolution of the Sacrament of Penance. Rather, it is a series of prayers to God that the person's soul will not have to suffer the temporal punishment in purgatory due for sins which were forgiven during the person's life.

The absolution of the dead is only performed in context of the Extraordinary or Tridentine form Mass, but is absent from the funeral liturgy of the renewed Ordinary form Mass.


After the Requiem Mass has concluded, the celebrant removes the chasuble and puts on the black cope. The subdeacon, bearing the processional cross and accompanied by the acolytes, goes to the head of the coffin (i.e. facing the altar in the case of a layman, but between the coffin and the altar in the case of a priest), while the celebrant stands opposite at the foot. The assisting clergy are grouped around and the celebrant, who at once begin the prayer Non intres in judicium cum servo tuo, praying that the deceased "may deserve to escape the avenging judgment, who, whilst he lived, was marked with the seal of the holy Trinity". This is followed by the responsory Libera me Domine, which is sung by the choir.[1]

Then the celebrant says the Kyrie eleison aloud followed by the Our Father. While the Our Father is repeated in silence by all, the celebrant walks around the coffin, sprinkling it with holy water and bowing profoundly before the processional cross when he passes it. He then takes the thurible and incenses the coffin. Finally after finishing the Our Father and repeating one or two short versicles to which answer is made by the clergy, the celebrant pronounces the prayer of absolution, most commonly in the following form:

"O God, Whose attribute it is always to have mercy and to spare, we humbly present our prayers to Thee for the soul of Thy servant N. which Thou has this day called out of this world, beseeching Thee not to deliver it into the hands of the enemy, nor to forget it for ever, but to command Thy holy angels to receive it, and to bear it into paradise; that as it has believed and hoped in Thee it may be delivered from the pains of hell and inherit eternal life through Christ our Lord. Amen."[1]

Following the absolution, the body is taken out of the church while the choir sings the In paradisum.

If the body is not present, or on other occasions such as All Souls' Day or Requiem Masses on the anniversary of death, a catafalque or bier covered by a black pall may stand in the place of the body for the absolution. If a catafalque is not available, a black pall may be laid on the floor to stand in place the body.

Eastern Orthodox practice[edit]

In the Eastern Orthodox Church the Prayer of Absolution is written out on a piece of paper. After the singing of Memory eternal at the end of an Orthodox funeral, the prayer is read by the bishop or priest presiding over the funeral, or by the deceased's spiritual father. He stands near the coffin and, facing the deceased, reads the prayer:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, by His divine grace, as also by the gift of the power vouchsafed unto His holy Disciples and Apostles, that they should bind and loose the sins of men: (For He said unto them: Receive ye the Holy Spirit: Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted; and whosesoever sins ye retain they are retained. And whatsoever ye shall bind or loose upon earth shall be bound or loosed also in heaven.) By that same power, also, transmitted unto us from them, this my spiritual child, N., is absolved, through me, unworthy though I be, from all things wherein, as mortal, he (she) hath sinned against God, whether in word, or deed, or thought, and with all his (her) senses, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, whether wittingly or through ignorance. If he (she) be under the ban or excommunication of a bishop, or of a Priest; or hath incurred the curse of his (her) father or mother; or hath fallen under his (her) own curse; or hath sinned by any oath; or hath been bound, as man, by any sins whatsoever, but hath repented him (her) thereof, with contrition of heart: he (she) is now absolved from all those faults and bonds. May all those things which have proceeded from the weakness of his (her) mortal nature be consigned to oblivion and be remitted unto him (her); Through His loving-kindness; through the prayers of our most holy, and blessed, and glorious Lady, the Mother of our Lord and ever-virgin Mary; of the holy, glorious and all-laudable Apostles and of all the Saints. Amen.

The paper is then rolled up and placed in the hand of the departed.

The Prayer of Absolution is understood as the means by which "the Church remits all the departed's transgressions, absolves him from all obligations, all pledges or oaths, and sends him off in peace into life everlasting."[2] However, as is clear from the text of the prayer, it is intended only to forgive those sins which the departed had repented of during his or her lifetime.

The reading of the Prayer of Absolution is a more recent practice and replaces the older (and shorter) Parting Prayer:[3]:392

May the Lord Jesus Christ our God, Who gave His divine commands to His holy Disciples and Apostles, that they should bind and loose the sins of the fallen (we, in turn, having received from them the right to do the same) pardon thee, O spiritual child, all thy deeds done amiss in this life, both voluntary and involuntary: Now, and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Funerals of children[edit]

The Prayer of Absolution is not read in the Funeral for a Child (a special funeral used for children under the age of seven), since such young children are not generally held to be morally responsible for their sins, but is replaced by the following prayer:

O Lord, Who guardest little children in this present life, and hast prepared for them in the life which is to come a spacious place, even Abraham's bosom, and angelic abodes brightly radiant which befit their purity, wherein the souls of the righteous dwell: Do Thou, the same Lord Christ, receive the soul of Thy servant, the child, N., with peace. For thou hast said: Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven. For unto Thee are due all glory, honour and worship, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.[3]:433–4

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Thurston, Herbert. "Christian Burial." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 5 Apr. 2009 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03071a.htm>.
  2. ^ Sokolof, Archpriest D. (2001), A Manual of the Orthodox Church's Divine Services (3rd ed.), Jordanville, NY: Printshop of St. Job of Pochaev, Holy Trinity Monastery, p. 172
  3. ^ a b Hapgood, Isabel (1975), Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church (5th ed.), Englewood, NJ: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese