13 May 2006

Confession and absolution

Here are some thoughts I collected in response to an inquiry regarding Confession and Absolution from Deanna, partly in regard to the liturgy of The Common Table church (my little church), and partly in regard to a school assignment for her cousin Rebecca. I thought it was possible that bits of it might be interesting to a wider audience.

My knowledge is all from the Anglican and Celtic traditions, but the Anglican stuff might be relevant to The Common Table because of the church's Anglican DNA. In the prayers below, I'll attempt to use the following conventions: regular text for word spoken by the leader, bold text for words spoken by the entire congregation, and italics for rubrics (instructions not meant to be spoken at all).

First, some quick words about my humble understanding of the whys and hows of confession and absolution. Confession has always been considered an essential for worship especially in traditions that make a eucharist/communion/Lord's Supper a central part of most worship services. This derives from some stern warnings in 1 Corinthians 11 as well as a very appropriate concern that one should come to the Lord's table with a clean and repentant heart. In the Roman Catholic tradition, confession usually takes the form of a personal one-on-one interview with the priest outside of the worship service. In the Anglican tradition, confession is done communally (and less specifically, at least out loud) within the context of the worship gathering. The Common Table, with its Anglican heritage, has adopted the latter custom.

In traditional contexts, confession is always accompanied by absolution. It's worth emphasizing that God forgives our sins immediately upon repentance (if not sooner). Absolution is not the moment when God forgives us; it's the moment when we realize and acknowledge that we have been forgiven by God. It's appropriately accompanied by thanksgiving and an outpouring and sharing of our restored shalom - hence in Anglican liturgies it is typically followed immediately by the passing of the peace.

OK, enough of the general stuff; on to consideration of specific prayers. Currently, The Common Table uses the following prayer of confession in most services:


Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.


This is the confession prayer from the liturgy for Holy Eucharist (Rite II - modern language) from the U.S. edition of the Book of Common Prayer (1979). It's also used in several other liturgies in that prayerbook (A Penitential Order, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer). In its context in Holy Eucharist, it's followed by the following absolution rubric and prayer:


The Bishop, when present, or the Priest, stands and says

Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins
through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all
goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in
eternal life. Amen.


In this form and with this rubric, this prayer wouldn't be appropriate for The Common Table. No bishop, no priest, and no theology of priestly absolution superpowers. (In my opinion the lack of these is not a defect.)

However, let's take a look at how these prayers are used in the liturgy for Morning and Evening Prayer. The same prayers are used, with the same rubric, but followed by this additional rubric:


A deacon or lay person using the preceding form remains kneeling, and substitutes "us" for "you" and "our" for "your".

Now, we don't kneel, but consider how this absolution prayer reads with those changes:


Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us all our sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen us in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep us in eternal life. Amen.

This could be spoken by the leader, or by everyone in unison. Further, here's an alternate prayer of confession and absolution from the US BCP, as part of the service for Compline or Night Prayer, in which a lack of a priest or bishop is just assumed:


The Officiant may then say

Let us confess our sins to God.

Officiant and People

Almighty God, our heavenly Father:
We have sinned against you,
through our own fault,
in thought, and word, and deed,
and in what we have left undone.
For the sake of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ,
forgive us all our offenses;
and grant that we may serve you
in newness of life,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.


May the Almighty God grant us forgiveness of all our sins,
and the grace and comfort of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


I'm a fan of this one, but I'm a fan of Compline in general. :-)

As Dee alluded to, another thing I'm a fan of is the New Zealand BCP, so here are some versions of these prayers from that prayerbook.

From the eucharistic liturgy of Creation and Redemption:


Happy are those whose sins are forgiven,
whose wrongs are pardoned.
I will confess my sins to the Lord,
I will not conceal my wrongdoings.

God forgives and heals us.
We need your healing, merciful God: give us true repentance. Some sins are plain to us; some escape us, some we cannot face. Forgive us; set us free to hear your word to us; set us free to serve you.
The presiding priest says
God forgives you.
Forgive others;
forgive yourself.

Through Christ, God has put away your sin:
approach your God in peace.

[The absolution could be amended to the following:

The leader (or entire congregation) says

God forgives us.
Let us forgive others;
let us forgive ourselves.


Through Christ, God has put away our sin;
let us approach our God in peace.]

An alternative prayer from the same liturgy:

Creator, we disfigure your world.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Redeemer, we reject your redemption and crucify you daily.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Giver of life, we too often choose death.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Another alternative:

Jesus, our deliverer, we take your freedom from others.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Jesus, our hope, we deprive others of hope.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Jesus, God's shalom, we distort your peace.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

In silence before God,
we confess our sins.


The following is the absolution for both of the last two alternatives. I'll go ahead and amend the language for non-priestly usage:

The leader (or entire congregation) says

God forgives us.
Let us be at peace.


God the Creator brings us new life,
forgives and redeems us.
Let us take hold of this forgiveness
and live our lives
in the Spirit of Jesus.


Finally from the NZ prayerbook, this is from the Eucharistic Liturgy of Thanksgiving and Praise. I only revised the absolution slightly.


In God there is forgiveness.
Loving and all-seeing God,
forgive us where we have failed to support one another
and to be what we claim to be.
Forgive us where we have failed to serve you;
and where our thoughts and actions have been
contrary to yours we ask your pardon.

The leader says

God forgives us; be at peace.


Rejoice and be glad.
for Christ is resurrection,
reconciliation for all the human race.

The leader and people say

We shall all be one in Christ,
one in our life together.
Praise to God who has created us,
praise to God who has accepted us,
praise to God who sends us into the world.


OK! I also have several lovely Celtic confession/restoration prayers from the Celtic Christian communities in Northumbria (England) and Iona (Scotland), but I grow weary of typing in prayers. I'd make a lousy monk; I haven't even been painstakingly illuminating the letters. ;-) However, please let me know if any of y'all are interested in those and I'll gladly type them in to another message; I just think this one's getting a bit long.

Anyway, hope that was helpful in some way. Create in us a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within us!


Anonymous said...

I'm putting together a celtic liturgy for my church. If you have any good confession prayers specifically, I'd sure be interested:



Unknown said...

This has been very helpful!

I'd also be interested in the Celtic Confessions, I am working on one for our church this week.


I appreciate all your work, and hope to hear from you!

Peace, kelly hall

Mike Croghan said...

Hi Kelly,

I'll either scan or type in some of the Celtic confession prayers and shoot them to you tonight.


Dwight said...

Can i get those celtic confessions?

Mike Croghan said...

Through the magic of Google Books, yes you can (and easily)! I can point you at those prayers without having to scan or type them, plus you can easily see what books to get from the library or bookstore if you're so inclined.

So the ones from the Northumbria Community, from the book Celtic Daily Prayer, are here:


(Scroll down just a bit, to "Choose option A or B".)

And the ones from Iona are here, from the Iona Abbey Worship Book:


And also:




Hope that helps!

Dwight said...

Thanks mate! Happy Lent. ;)