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It is often said in the Episcopal Church regarding private confession, that
"all may, some should, but none must."

In the weekday low Masses as well as in all of the ordinary Sunday Masses we include a prayer of confession (Book of Common Prayer, page 360). Prayers of confession said in public have been with us since the Reformation. For many, this prayer is sufficient. It allows us to pause for a moment before the Eucharist and examine our lives and offer to God those things that have separated us from God and one another. The bishop or priest pronounces the words of absolution, reminding us that in Christ Jesus we are forgiven. For most people and at most times, this “public confession” or “general confession” is sufficient. One feels freed and unburdened from sin. At other times, sin can be obstinate. It is a nuisance and seems to taunt us. Sometimes we feel powerless over particular sins. Other times we may be confused about whether something is in fact, sinful. It is then that private confession can be a great spiritual help.

In the old prayer books of the Church of England, the need for private confession at particular times was made explicit in words that counseled that if anyone’s conscience was not quieted by “their humble confession to God, and the general confession to the church,” then such a person should seek out a “discreet and learned priest taught in the law of God, and confess and open [his or her] sin and grief secretly … that the person’s conscience might be relieved. The words of the 1549 Prayer Book went on to suggest that each person should act with charity toward a brother or sister with regard to confession. In other words, your neighbor’s need for private confession is none of your business, just as your own peace with general confession is none of your neighbor’s concern.

If you would have never made a confession with a priest, you might want to read some or think some about this before you actually meet with the priest. One of the best books on confession is Reconciliation, by The Reverend Martin Smith. Some find it helpful to spend some quiet time, simply thinking and praying. Others sometimes find it helpful to write a little bit about their spiritual life, particularly if there have been "bumps along the road" that continue to burden or bother. Not that this is ever read aloud or even shared with another person, but the exercise of writing can sometimes be helpful.

Then, when you're ready, call the Rector and make an appointment for your confession to be heard, or simply to have an exploratory conversation about confession. Formal confessions are normally heard in the Mary Chapel of the church using either From One (page 447) or Form Two (page 449) in the Book of Common Prayer. These forms do not consist of magic words, but like much of our prayer book, simply help us to organize our thoughts and let the Holy Spirit move through us.

Through regular confession, we come to realize that sin only becomes stronger when we obsess over it and give it more power than it deserves. By confessing, ridding ourselves of the things that burden us and slow us down, we move more deeply into the Body of Christ and into the presence of God. Sin has ultimately been defeated by the death and resurrection of Jesus. We come to understand and know this through confession and the forgiveness of our sins. With God’s grace, we are brought again and again to the place where the words of the Prayer Book, from the Second Book of Samuel, resonate within us: “The Lord has put away all your sins.”

Last Published: April 24, 2012 5:05 PM
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