My dear friends, I hope and pray that you are all doing well, looking after yourselves, your families, friends and neighbors.
In our Bishop’s Note we are going through the 2019 BCP and the Rite of Reconciliation. Last week we examined the confession of the penitent in the rite. This week we cover a very simple but profound rubric or direction in the service.
Here the Priest may offer counsel, direction, and comfort.
This sounds like a very simple direction but it reflects the purpose and history of reconciliation going back to the life of Jesus.
The ability to forgive sins was given to the church by Jesus Christ after his resurrection when Jesus met in the upper room, breathed on the apostles, and told them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:22-23) Jesus didn’t give this ability to the apostles as individuals, he passed this on to the church as a whole. In the early church penitents would confess their sins to the whole congregation and people would be reconciled to both God and their neighbors in the sight of all their fellow believers. Over time private confession with a priest replaced that communal confession and the church gave the ministry of reconciliation to the priests and bishops. In a way, priests hearing the confession still represent the entire church to the penitent today. It’s in this position and in their position as a spiritual father that the priest or bishop hearing the confession offers counsel, direction, and comfort.
This is one of the most important reasons to me for Christians to go to priests for reconciliation rather than simply confessing their sins to God in prayer. As I have received this sacrament I’ve often found the sins I’m the most concerned about aren’t the ones I should be concerned about. It’s incredibly helpful to have a priest confessor to offer advice as to how I can avoid the sin in the future as well as offering me comfort, reminding me that as worrisome as the sin may be when the absolution is declared it is truly forgiven by God and a weight is lifted off my shoulders.
I think Christians hear about confession and picture this as the point where the priest gives the penitent their penance, a prayer or some other action to do as part of their forgiveness. Some may picture the priest telling the penitent to “say 5 Hail Mary’s and 3 Our Fathers,” but that’s not what’s done in Anglicanism. In addition to the advice and counsel some form of penance may be given, but it’s not given as some sort of punishment, it’s given as an action that is spiritually beneficial for the penitent. Many priests will give the penitent a psalm from the BCP to read like Psalm 51. Again, not as a punishment but rather because the psalm can be used to reflect on God’s mercy in prayer.
I hope all of you in our current Lenten season are able to see God’s mercy and love more and more in your lives!