Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Confessional Prayer...

Not being a Roman Catholic, I haven't entered a confessional like the one above. But incredible blessing and help has been mine via confessional prayer.

Before I discovered liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer, confession was something between myself and God -- which is as it should be (and remains so in Anglican practice). But somehow confessing my sins to God felt ... unsatisfying. I struggled with feeling forgiven. Intellectually, I knew I was forgiven, but I had difficulties in truly believing, in feeling, forgiven. I found myself asking forgiveness for sins I had already addressed with God in vain attempts at feeling His forgiveness in my heart-of-hearts.

As I became acquainted with Anglican practice, the prayers of confession drew me in. Somehow these ancient prayers expressed all that I wanted to say to Christ at the foot of the Cross as I confessed the times I "missed the mark" (which is the definition of sin).

From the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:

LET us humbly confess our sins unto Almighty God:

          A General Confession:
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.

The Declaration of Absolution, or Remission of Sins:

ALMIGHTY God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness and live, hath given power, and commandment, to his Ministers, to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their sins. He pardoneth and absolveth all those who truly repent, and unfeignedly believe his holy Gospel.

Wherefore let us beseech him to grant us true repentance, and his Holy Spirit, that those things may please him which we do at this present; and that the rest of our life hereafter may be pure and holy; so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
And the Corporate Confession before receiving Holy Communion, which is prayed, kneeling, by priest and congregation together:

ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Then shall the Priest (the Bishop if he be present) stand up, and turning to the People, say,

ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto 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.
These prayers, especially when prayed while kneeling, brought me before Christ in confession in a way I had not experienced before in walking the pilgrim pathway. Hearing someone, even a human someone, tell me I was forgiven makes all the difference.

Each time I rise from my knees, I feel forgiven. I can let go of the sin, release the guilt and sorrow, experience true contrition of heart, and accept His gracious pardoning of my many shortcomings.

I know very well that faith isn't only about feelings. The Christian faith relies first and foremost upon Christ as revealed in the Word of God, His love letter to us, His wisdom passed down to us over the centuries that reveals Who He is and why He does what He does.

Yet God created the human psyche with feelings, and feelings can signal to us when something isn't quite kosher or when something is indeed right. Yes, our feelings can lead us astray if not taken in the context of Scripture, for our hearts are deceitful.

But when feelings and Scripture line up perfectly, grace happens.

When grace happens, forgiveness flows. Not only God's forgiveness (as He promises to forgive whether I feel it or not) but also the grace of self-forgiveness.

And self-forgiveness is the key ... for me, at least. Hearing a human voice assure me of God's forgiveness changes everything to me. What I struggle to believe myself I can more easily accept through the spoken assurance of another, especially when those spoken words arrive through the lens of Scripture.



Aaaaaah... grace.

holy experience

1 comment:

Deborah said...

Susanne, it's good to hear you talk about the blessing of confession. As a Catholic I too have received much grace and healing through confessing my sins to God. Some people think Catholics only confess their sins to a priest. It's not true actually. We are encouraged to confess our sins at every Mass before receiving communion. However the difference is that when we go to a priest to confess, that confession is Sacramental. It's like the difference between taking a bath and baptism, sure there is a cleansing with the former, but the latter is super-powered, as you say...more grace.


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