Do you go to Confession in the Episcopal Church? It is a good question and the answer is “yes.” Almost every time the Eucharist is celebrated it includes a General Confession followed by the priest or bishop pronouncing God’s absolution. In the usual order of service this happens just after the Prayers of the People and just before the Exchange of Peace. When the Penitential Order is used the General Confession and Absolution come at the beginning of the service.
The use of the General Confession is no token nod toward spiritual and personal housekeeping. It is meant to be fully confessional and is something to be approached with genuine contrition and sincere repentance. The absolution that follows it is meant to be an equally genuine wiping away of the stain of sin.
To be sure, the General Confession is good spiritual medicine. But, there are times when it just does not seem to be, shall we say, a prescription dose of the things needed to forgive, repent, reconcile and move forward.
Many do not know it, I am sad to say, but the Episcopal Church also offers what many might consider a more traditional, or more (Roman) Catholic, sacramental rite of “Confession.” You will find two “rites” on pages 447 and 449 of the Book of Common Prayer. It is most properly called the Reconciliation of a Penitent. Some call it Auricular Confession (auricular meaning “spoken into the ear”).
This form of Reconciliation allows for a prayerful exchange between priest (or bishop) and the person “making their confession.” The exchange includes a time of speaking one’s sins into the ear of the priest or bishop. Through the ages this has been found to be a very beneficial path to a more complete coming to terms with one’s actions. When words are pressed forth from our mouths and fall into another person’s ears and into the ears of the penitent you cannot get them back. When that happens very often it makes the seriousness of the actions being confessed more real and undeniable. No more mind games. No more keeping it all in my head. It is out there; you cannot get it back. Denial becomes much harder.
The exchange between penitent and priest also includes a time of spiritual counsel, and may include some form of penance. Properly, penance is not some form of spiritual busy work. It is offered with the goal of heightening forgiveness, fostering spiritual healing, and as an exercise to spiritually and practically strengthen the penitent so that the same sins are not so easily repeated. In the presence of contrition and a desire for amendment of life, God’s absolution is pronounced by the confessor.
“All can. Some should. None must.” This is axiom frequently used to state the Episcopal/Anglican use of the rite of The Reconciliation of a Penitent. Unlike the Roman Church’s doctrine compelling a weekly Auricular Confession, our understanding is that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is available to all. Further is would be spiritually beneficial and healing to many, and really should be used as a part of healthy Christian spiritual life. Finally, however, no one must make a Sacramental/Auricular Confession, as the General Confession when properly approached meets the standard for approaching the altar for the Sacrament of Communion is an appropriately cleansed spiritual state.
Lent and Advent are times considered to be especially appropriate for the extra spiritual house cleaning of Reconciliation, as we prepare ourselves spiritually for the great feasts of Easter and Christmas. While you can, at any time, arrange with a priest for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we make it even easier during these seasons of the church year by offering times when you may simply come to a chapel in the Cathedral to spend time with priest in this sacrament.
This Advent’s the scheduled time will be Sunday, December 9 from 12:30 to 1:30. A priest will be in Nativity Chapel at this time (and others are asked to refrain from being in the Cathedral), available for the Sacrament of Reconciliation or spiritual counsel.
One final mention: Confessions can be heard anywhere. It does not have to be in the church, at the altar or in a confessional booth. If the confessor discerns that there is an absence of sincerity, some form of manipulation or no true repentance, absolution may be withheld. The seal of the confession is absolute upon the priest. It applies only to the actual sacramental rite, and not to any other conversation with a member of the clergy.
All can. Some should. None must.