Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Making a Holy Confession

Confessions at St. Timothy's: What they are and how to make one…

The Episcopal Church offers its members the benefit of making a private confession of sins in order that they may receive spiritual counsel and absolution in the name of Christ and his Church. This service is formally called The Reconciliation of a Penitent, and is found on pages 446-452 of the Book of Common Prayer, and may be found online here.

There are some people who find themselves called to practice regular confession, whether by their own rule of life or the particular season or set of circumstances they face.

Many people dealing with significant healing from addiction, for instance, make confession a part of their ongoing recovery. Others confess their sins in this context a few times a year as part of their wider prayer life and to deepen their sense of growing in grace. A person coming back to faith after a long period away is very well-advised to “clear the slate” this way, and those adults preparing for baptism are generally expected to confess their sins prior to the date of baptism, with baptism itself being the absolution.

At St. Timothy’s, confessions with either the rector or one of the other retired clergy may be scheduled at any time of the year. Announced times for confessions at St. Timothy’s with the rector (usually in the chapel) are publicized prior to important points in the Church Year: Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Easter, Trinity Sunday, St. Mary’s Day (August 15), All Saints’ Sunday (early November). You may also desire to make your confession to the priest of another nearby parish, if that would be preferable. Call that parish’s telephone number and make arrangements with them (this is perfectly normal).

If there is something that is truly bothering you, something you know you have done that is wrong and for which you repent but is either too serious a matter for the Sunday General Confession or which you cannot let go of, then a private confession is indicated.

To make a first or “life” confession, it sometimes is helpful to meet with a priest beforehand to go over the nature of the service and to understand what Reconciliation is, and what it is not (there is a lot of misinformation out there about this subject). It is also helpful for many people to bring with them a written list of matters they would like to bring up for their first confession (though this is not required by any means), destroying the list following the confession.

The confession itself need not be a long process. The forms for this service are simple, yet rich in meaning. After making one’s confession of sins, the confessor (the priest hearing the confession, standing in the place of the Church and Christ) will usually have some words of spiritual counsel, and then assign a short prayer to be offered following the confession. Then the absolution is given, and the penitent (the person making the confession) is reminded to pray for the confessor, who is also a sinner.

The Reconciliation of a Penitent is both a reaffirmation of our baptismal vows to “repent and return unto to the Lord” whenever we fall into sin (BCP p. 304), and an extension of the healing ministry of the Church. Whether made only once in life, on occasion, or regularly, it is a sure and certain means of receiving grace and transformation—and is one of the great gifts of our reformed catholic faith, truly "medicine for the soul."

When a confession is made, we have the rare opportunity to bring up whatever we desire, knowing that it will remain completely discreet. The confessor may not bring up the content of the confession with the penitent again without that person’s consent. This is one of the most solemn obligations a priest undertakes. Rest assured, your rector also regularly makes his own confession and is keenly aware that our God desires mercy, not sacrifice. Confession is not an exercise in legalism or checking off spiritual “boxes.” It is a reconciliation with our God, our neighbor, and on the deepest level, our true selves in Christ.

If you have questions about the Reconciliation of a Penitent or want to schedule a confession, please contact your rector.

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