In the last month, several members of St. John’s have expressed interest in the Rite of Reconciliation of Penitents, which you can find in your prayerbooks on page 223. This is the Anglican equivalent of the Roman Catholic sacrament of Confession, though we do not consider it a “sacrament.” Rather, it is a sacramental rite like marriage, burial of the dead, or rites of healing.
Although the practice may seem foreign to you, there is good biblical support for confessing our sins, not only to God, but also to trustworthy and discreet fellow Christians. Consider these passages from the Bible:
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:16
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Proverbs 28:13
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah Psalm 32:5
When he realizes his guilt in any of these and confesses the sin he has committed. Leviticus 5:5
Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out. Acts 3:19
When we first began planting St. John’s, we read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s little book, Life Together, which ends with a chapter on the confession of sin. The following quotations are among my favorite from that chapter.
Why should we confess to a fellow Christian or have a priest walk us through the rite of reconciliation?
“Christ becomes our brother in order to help us. Through him, our brother has become Christ for us….He hears the confession of our sins in Christ’s stead and he forgives our sins in Christ’s name. He keeps the secret of our confession as God keeps it. When I go to my brother to confess, I am going to God,” 111-112.
Why not just confess to God?
“If we do not confess to a brother but only to God, “we must ask ourselves whether we have not often been deceiving ourselves with our confession of sin to God, whether we have not been confessing our sins to ourselves and also granting ourselves absolution.” And in so doing are we not “living on self-forgiveness and not a real forgiveness? Self forgiveness can never lead to a breach with sin,” 116.
I also find the following statement deeply convicting:
”Confession in the presence of a brother is the profoundest kind of humiliation. It hurts, it cuts a man down, it is a dreadful blow to pride. To stand there before a brother as a sinner is an ignominy that is almost unbearable….We cannot find the cross of Jesus if we shrink from going to the place where it is to be found, namely, the public death of the sinner,” 114.
It is somewhat common for Anglican priests to confess to trusted fellow priests, and I’ve done this myself. I’ve also had students come to me with a burden wanting to confess, and I’ve been happy to sit down and walk them through our rite of reconciliation. The practice of confession is appropriate during any time of the year, but some people are especially drawn to it during Lent.
Please know, therefore, that may office is always open and that our conversations are guarded by a “seal of confession.” If you are curious about the rite itself, I’ve included it below.
The Penitent begins
Bless me, for I have sinned.
The Priest says
The Lord be in your heart and upon your lips that you may truly and humbly confess your sins: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I confess to Almighty God, to his Church, and to you, that I have sinned by my own fault in thought, word, and deed, in things done and left undone; especially __________. For these and all other sins that I cannot now remember, I am truly sorry. I pray God to have mercy on me. I firmly intend amendment of life, and I humbly beg forgiveness of God and his Church, and ask you for counsel, direction, and absolution.
Here the Priest may offer counsel, direction, and comfort.
The Priest then declares
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who in his great mercy has promised forgiveness of sins to all those who sincerely repent and with true faith turn to him, have mercy upon you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins, confirm and strengthen you in all goodness, and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Lord has put away all your sins.
Penitent Thanks be to God.
The following prayer may also be said
Let us pray.
O most loving Father, by your mercy you put away the sins of those who truly repent, and remember their sins no more. Restore and renew in your servant whatever has been corrupted by the fraud and malice of the devil, or by his own selfish will and weakness. Preserve and protect him within the fellowship of the Church; hear his prayers and relieve his pain; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Priest concludes
Go (or abide) in peace, and pray for me, a sinner.