Our Lord Jesus Christ gave the Apostles and their successors, the Bishops and Priests of the Church, the responsibility to oversee the reconciliation of penitents. (John 20:19-23) The sacramental rite titled “The Reconciliation of a Penitent,” commonly called “Confession,” is an important part of our heritage as Episcopalians. The Book of Common Prayer (1979), provides directions and forms for the Reconciliation of a Penitent (pp. 446-452) and exhorts Episcopalians to go to “a discreet and understanding priest” for the specific help and comfort of penance — “to the removal of scruple and doubt, the assurance of pardon and the strengthening of your faith.” (BCP, p. 317)
Grace Church sets aside time for confession during the seasons of Advent and Lent, but parishioners and friends are encouraged to contact the clergy if they wish to make a confession at another time.
The following instructions, guidelines and suggestions are intended to help you make a faithful confession.
(1) At a time and place convenient for you, examine your conscience in preparation. Take time in preparing. This is the most important factor in making a confession. Begin with a prayer for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. There are three vital spiritual ingredients in a worthy confession for which you must pray.
- Full, adequate confession of all known sins
- Sorrow for the breaking of God’s law and the refusal of God’s love.
- Definite and firm intention to amend your life.
(2) Jesus’ Summary of the Law, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy mind…Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,”defines the “three loves” of God, neighbor and self, which are also the objects against which sins are directed. As you examine your conscience, meditate on the damage sin does to our relationship to God, to other people, and to ourselves.
(3) Use the Ten Commandments in the Book of Common Prayer (pp. 317-318) to inform your conscience according to God’s standards of human behavior. If this is your first confession, concentrate first on your relationship with God and your neighbor during the last month, and then add any major sins since your baptism, which immediately come to mind. You may find it helpful to reflect on your school days, your relationships with various friends and relatives, your various jobs, but do not try to remember every possible sin, and do not spend too much time on this.
(4) Using the Summary of the Law and the Ten Commandments, put your confession into concise, organized form and write it on a piece of paper, which you should destroy after your confession. Be methodical and specific. Do not be vague. When you go to a doctor, you do not say you feel vaguely sick – if you do, the doctor cannot help you specifically. You say that you hurt or are ill in a particular spot and manner. Precisely the same rule applies to confession, where we confess to Christ, the Physician of our souls.
(5) When you arrive at the church for your confession, kneel first in a pew and make an act of contrition in your own words or by saying, “O my God, I believe in you, I hope in you, and I love you. I grieve that I have so often offended you by my sins, and I resolve henceforth by your grace and mercy to lead a better life.”
(6) When your turn comes, or if the Priest is sitting alone, kneel beside the Priest at the altar rail. You may use one of the forms in the Prayer Book (pp. 447, 449) Remember to state your own sins, and no one else’s, specifically, clearly and briefly. Do not offer excuses or long explanations.
(7) Listen carefully to any advice the Priest may give. The Priest may need to question you on a point in order to clarify some matter or to remove any unnecessary scruple. He or she may suggest that you make an appointment to talk later for further counsel and help. He or she will offer comfort, counsel and penance (specific actions for you to undertake). When this is finished, you will be given absolution. You may then “Go in peace, the Lord has put away all your sins…”