Confession by the Book

It’s just possible that with all the upheavals and dislocations of 2020 many of us haven’t been able to get out to a live church service.

For some this will mean missing a part of the service they take very seriously: the group confession of sins and the absolution from the presiding official. This is the practice I grew up with as a young Anglican and one that I still appreciate when able to avail myself of the privilege. After all confession is as old as the Book of Psalms and a missing part in much of the “Seeker Spirituality” extant today.

Well, here’s good news. I’ve got one of the best Confessions in the whole Christian tradition for you.

“The Prayer Book”

First drafted in 1549 by the later martyred Archbishop Thomas Cranmer the Anglican Book of Common Prayer is studded with vivid and memorable phrases that have lasted almost five centuries: “to have and to hold,” “with this ring I thee wed,” “ashes to ashes/dust to dust,” “as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.”

Multiple millions of Christians around the world across many denominations freely borrow the high-toned phraseology and deep-seated doctrinal reflection contained in the Prayer Book’s General Confession. Though it may be updated in particular congregations here is an older version recited by all the people while kneeling:

“Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…we acknowledge and confess our many sins and wickedness which we from time to time most grievously have committed by thought, word and deed, against thy Divine Majesty…Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father…Forgive us all that is past and grant that we may hereafter serve and please you in newness of life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Prayer of Intercession:

When the church is being invited to participate in the Communion or Lord’s Supper an even more note of supplication is sounded:

“We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy many and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table. But thou are the same Lord, whose bounty is always to have mercy. Grant us, therefore gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink His blood that our sinful bodies may be made clean by His body, and our souls washed through His most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in Him, and He in us.”

The officiant then reads: “Hear what comfortable words our Savior Christ says to all that truly turn to Him:”

“Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will refresh you” (Matthew 11:28)

“God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, to the end that all who believe in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16)

“This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:13)

“If any man sin we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:1-2)

Finally, a note of assurance: “Wherefore I bid you in God’s name not to separate yourselves from your brethren but to prepare yourselves and to come to feed upon the banquet of this most heavenly food.”

Go Forth in Faith

The minister actually gives this prescribed assurance after the Confession every time but this is a good note to end on right here:

“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.”

There it is, the request for God to strengthen us in all goodness. Thus encouraged we go forward the challenges and opportunities of the week ahead.