September 19, 2014

The Evangelical Liturgy 11: The Corporate Confession

peteUPDATE: How The Corporate Confession Saved My Faith. And Part 2. From our friend Patrick Kyle.

Follow this series by going to “The Evangelical Liturgy” in the categories menu.

A wonderful collection of evangelical corporate confessions can be found at this post at Reformation Theology.

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 them, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou them that 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. (BCP)

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. (BCP 1665)

I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do; and I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God. May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life. Amen.

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. (Roman Catholic Penitential Rite)

Ask a newcomer to a liturgical service what they liked best, chances are they will say the corporate confession of sin. There is something altogether impossible to fault about the people of God, together and in familiar words, saying they are sinners and in need of grace.

Most of us have a preference at this point. The best confessional prayers tend toward the old and familiar. The words meet us each week, take us by the hand, and lead us to the mercy seat. Left on our own, most of us would never get anywhere. We would fumble, obfuscate, avoid, use a generous helping of the evangelical “just” and pray an altogether unmemorable prayer. (Except in that rare occasion when we are deeply feeling our own sinfulness.)

In most worship services, we need liturgy to do for us what we are lazy and unwilling to do for ourselves. Complain about spontaneity all you want, the BCP prayers above are remarkably helpful teachers. They pretend to be nothing more than the plain script of our situation. There is no magic involved. They simply cover what it means to be a sinner.

I cannot help myself here. Are you aware of how unwelcome this kind of language is in many quarters of Christianity these days? Are we aware of how often the depth and scope of these prayers is replaced with some version of feeling moderately bad about our lives for not being wonderful?

And please deliver us from the new liturgists who pen confessional prayers about whatever the politically correct issues of the day happen to be. A corporate confession should be prophetically unfashionable.

The confession should, in some way, be a response to the description of God that is presented in the call to worship or opening music. This is God. This is us. The contrast is undeniable. The confession will be followed by the assurance of pardon, and without the right preparation and response, it makes the wrong statement. It must serve the cause of the Gospel.

There’s little reason to do anything other than let these wonderful prayers show us the value of the corporate confession, and to encourage those planning worship to use these and similar prayers to help us all learn the true nature of sin and the attitude of humility. These are some of the real treasures of any liturgy.

Comments

  1. These posts have been wonderful. Makes me long for the day to go to a liturgical church. Left to myself these things will not come to pass.

  2. This is the one thing I miss the most about the church where I grew up. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a confession of sins together with a congregation of people I know, and I miss it terribly. And also, the lone voice reading the assurance of pardon—usually directly from scripture. It’s a powerful one-two punch that I appreciate more and more (even in memory) as I get older and more aware of my brokenness.

  3. I am Catholic and therefore pray the prayer above that begins with, “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters…” I like it very much. It is humbling. And I like it that it is written in contemporary language. It makes it more “real” to me.

  4. More evidence that the BCP is one of the English language greatest treasures both as literature and theology.

    You know, until I attended an Anglican service i had no idea what a corporate confession. It was one of my favorite parts.

    But you are right Imonk, I might be able to get away with a few things, but If I tried a corporate confession It would be met with rabid disaproval.

    Any ideas why that is Imonk? I mean I guess some might object, wrongly on my opinion, to the whole not being extemporaneous thing, but evangelicals are supposed to be all about repenting.

    • I’m sure others more wise than I can speak to this but I’ve been thinking about this myself recently as we’ve just moved to a new part of the country and have been attending many different churches. First, having been in non liturgical churches my whole life, I appreciate the public prayers of confession. I believe all churches need this practice. I have also enjoyed receiving the words of absolution. We need human voices confessing together and reminding us that Christ forgives our sins.
      However, the tension I experience is a bit of “worm” theology I hear in some of the confessional prayers. We do sin as believers. But we sin as his children. We are his people, by the grace of his Spirit, he has come to make his home in us. When I sin it grieves him but I’m not sure he turns his back or leaves me out in the cold until I am really penitent. Remember the rehearsed prayer of the prodigal son. I believe we benefit from corporate confession. I believe we need to “humble ourselves” before the Lord together in non liturgical settings.

      Jesus, who knew no sin, taught us to prayer “Our Father… forgives us our sin…” I like liturgical and written prayers but want to stay grounded to the intimacy of the relationship with have in Christ.

    • Maybe some would disapprove of a ‘corporate confession’ if they held the belief that their salvation was irrevocable and their sins no longer were something to be repented of, and confessed?

      A question: Does lack of examination of conscience, repentence, and confession
      result from an attitude of ‘I’m eternally saved, so even as a sinner, I’m still going to heaven’?

      I suspect a connection between the attitudes, but I am not sure about it.

      • Jason Cebalo says:

        No, I dont think so, most of the men who drafted the original Anglican Prayerbook were Calvinists who believed in the imposibility of falling from grace.

  5. When my wife and I visited Michigan’s UP a few weeks ago, we stopped on our last night to visit a friend, and worship at the Lutheran church he pastors. When we got to the point of the confession, it nearly brought tears to my eyes. When we celebrated communion, it did. Liturgical prayers are the one thing, though, that isn’t too hard to incorporate. We have a congregational prayer, and I encourage people to write them out. I’ve been able to incorporate some of the Anglican liturgy here, and always include confession. To date, it has been well received.

    • You were allowed communion at a Lutheran Church, yet are not Lutheran? That is unheard of in my area!

      • I slip into a local Lutheran church twice or month or so because I so miss the lcorporate worship elements, and most of all, communion. I am part of Xenos Christian Fellowship, a home-based church, which is wonderful in most aspects, but the extreme casualness of it all sometimes leaves my soul a bit unsatisfied. I feel like I need the corporate worship occasionally – that it kind of “rights the ship”, so to speak.

        At Xenos, we really do not worship in any traditional sense. The centerpiece is the homechurch fellowship, where there is teaching and prayer, and then the central teaching piece, where two or so songs may be sung by the “worship team”, of various degrees of quality. There is rarely any group (congregational) singing or prayer and never any responsive reading. The teaching quality is often great – don’t get me wrong – and the community building is terrific, but these other elements are apparently not considered important. I doubt I’m the only one in this fellowship that encompasses thousands of people in our city to sneak off for a bit of traditional worship from time to time.

        Anyway, point being – I am not Lutheran and never have been. I just like the pastor and the people there, and they don’t seem to mind who I am or where I’m coming from. I worship with them and share in the Lord’s supper with them, and that’s about it.

        They are ELCA, if that makes any difference.

      • Willoh, it depends on the flavor of Lutheranism. Some have open communion (all baptized Christians) while others desire that all communicants be in full doctrinal agreement with that particular flavor of Lutheranism. Even that varies among the Missouri Synod churches, although technically it’s not supposed to.

        • For what it’s worth, there’s a LCMS church in my small town that not only practices open communion but has women distribute the elements, along with the pastor. I’m not a member there, but I like both those features very much.

      • It was an ELCA church, the pastor is a good friend, and he knows and accepts our confession of faith.

  6. “In most worship services, we need liturgy to do for us what we are lazy and unwilling to do for ourselves.”

    That is so right. We also need liturgy, especially confession, to meet us in our ignorance and teach us to say true things that we would never think about God and ourselves, if left to ourselves.

  7. Awesome post and series. Here’s what I need from anybody who can help.
    What are 3 or so practical steps I can take to influence my church (I am the worship/music director) to consider adopting this as part of our service? We are SBC and very mainstream in our style at the moment.

    • Maybe work it once into a special service, like during Advent, and see what people think. I bet the spirit will move some of them.

      I visit an Episcopalian service just so I can kneel during the confession. It makes it much more meaningful.

  8. *The confession should, in some way, be a response to the description of God that is presented in the call to worship or opening music. This is God. This is us. The contrast is undeniable. The confession will be followed by the assurance of pardon, and without the right preparation and response, it makes the wrong statement. It must serve the cause of the Gospel.*

    The spirituality of Law and Gospel, as at least this Lutheran sees it. Both parts, confession and pardon, are essential. Too much of one and not enough of the other skews our understanding of ourselves and our relationship with God.

  9. Don in Phoenix says:

    Amen.

    Corporate prayer, (confession, the Lord’s Prayer) is, along with the Creeds, one of the features of liturgical life that reinforces a believer’s connection to the ‘one holy catholic and apostolic church’. Doesn’t go well with the “just me and Jesus” mentality so prevalent among American evangelicals, though…

    I’d recommend the “Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness” from the 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship, which is nearly identical to the 1979 BCP contemporary language.

  10. I complain about spontaneity all the time. Why is spontaneity preferred?

    Also, there seems to be a difference between “We have erred” and “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness”. Wouldn’t the best confessions of sin use the word sin?

    I think most people like confession (of sin) for two reasons. First, it makes clear who we are: sinners in need of a Savior. Second, there is an unequivocal declaration of the Gospel immediately following the confession. In my experience, more contemporary confessions of sin are gutted by being unclear about sin (“we mess things up”) and mixing in things that we have to do. It’s “i am a sinner. Lord have mercy. The Lord grants, pardon, forgiveness, mercy, etc…” Not “i’ve messed things up by my sin. I will amend, forgive, etc…”

  11. It’s quite timely — I wrote about the same topic, Corporate Confession, on my blog within the last week. It’s been one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had since I started attending the Anglican Church. I still attend an evangelical church, too, because I respect my husband’s wishes and because I still find value in the evangelical church, too, at times. So I keep both feet firmly planted in both the liturgical and evangelical traditions, gleaning what I can from both and worshiping God with all my heart, soul, and strength.

    If anyone is interested, here’s my blog post on Corporate Confession:
    http://meditativemeanderings.blogspot.com/2009/09/gift-of-corporate-confession.html

    Blessings,
    Susanne

    • Susanne, I enjoyed looking around your blog at http://meditativemeanderings.blogspot.com/ I would have written you privately, but when I click on the place there to email you, my computer tries to set me up with a Mozilla account which I don’t use, though my husband does.

      Anyway, wow, what a lot of reading and viewing of movies you have done and all with four children. Do you know if the lyrics are available to the song written to accompany that four minute video of church history that you gave a link to? (For anyone wanting to see that video, it’s at: http://quoththemaven.blogspot.com/2009/09/we-didnt-start-fire-church-history.html )

      The books you recommended to learn about church history look very good too.

      (Wasn’t the movie “Mamma Mia” fun! I loved that. So uplifting and the light on the Greek island was beautiful.)

      Michael, you can delete this comment if too off topic, but if you could give Suzanne my email address to email me so I can send this directly to her, that would be great.)

  12. I agree that corporate confession of sin can be a powerful thing, but I think that individual confession of sin in a corporate setting can be even more powerful. I have been a part of services that were wholly devoted to giving people a chance to stand up and confess their sins and shortcomings in front of their brothers and sisters in Christ.
    Such an open confessional can be a little awkward at first, but once someone breaks the ice and people start seeing the freedom and release involved, it can be amazing. People even started confessing their sins against their fellow church members, and relationships were healed and restored right there on the spot. By the end, some people got up and, after confessing their sins, made their first confession of faith in Christ and asked to be baptised.
    What impressed me most about these open confessionals was the way they transformed the atmosphere of the church in a lasting way, cutting through that false “I’m okay, you’re okay” front we Christians too often put up in front of each other and opening the door to a level of transparency and honesty I’ve rarely witnessed in a church setting.
    Of course, something of this sort needs to be done under the stern admonition that using what anyone confesses publicly against them or as fodder for gossip would be an extreme betrayal of the church’s fellowship. And you should probably stipulate that people not go into excessive length or detail about their sins. Simply naming the nature of one’s sins will suffice.
    Other than those negative possibilities, I think open confessional services are a powerful tool in breaking the destructive power of hidden sin that haunts most church bodies. After all, Paul did tell believers in the early church to confess their sins to each other, and I think it has been to the church’s detriment that we have traditionally set this practice aside.

    • I think you will need more than a stern admonition.

      How deep do you get in mixed company?

      Maybe it works for your church, but, really people need to feel “safe” for that kind of thing, and I just don’t think that the full congregation on a Sunday morning with all the different people who are in attendance is the safest place. And I know that sounds bad, but it’s true.

      I believe in confession on a personal level, but in an intimate setting.

    • A general confession and a specific, individual confession are too quite different things. I don’t see a public service of worship as the usual place to air private confessions. Quite the show and breeds a culture of dirty laundry.

      • Agree. Which is the reason the Catholic Church gives for practicing private rather than public individual confession.

        • Yea, I see what you guys are saying as to how such a thing could be dangerous or even improper. And maybe I didn’t describe these services well enough. It would be more accurate to say that these services were just a few of many open mic-style testimonial services we had, and that they took on a confessional nature on their own — I guess because that’s what people felt they needed to do. We didn’t give out any mandate to get up and confess your sins in public. And I guess that, for a certain magical window in time, that church fellowship was somewhat unique in that it was really open and honest and loving enough that this kind of thing could fly without negative repercussions.
          Still I think people do need some kind of context to confess their sins individually with one another, be it a small group or a close Christian friend. And I think too many churches follow an unspoken policy of sweeping sin and anything else that is ugly or unpleasant under the rug and out of sight.

  13. Steve Newell says:

    The corporate confessing of sins is a way for us to humbly admit that we are sinners who still need to hear the Gospel of Christ. The confession of sins, while common in many other religions, needs to incorporate that fact that we cannot do anything about our sins and it is only through God’s mercy and Christ’s actions can we find forgiveness. Any place for our confession about “doing better” or “sinning less” is not a true Christian confession of sins. We must confess that we are sinners and that we sin. We sin because we are all sinners, not that we sinners due to the fact that we sin.

    In the Lutheran (LCMS) tradition, we use this as our corporate confession of sins:

    “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.”

  14. “In most worship services, we need liturgy to do for us what we are lazy and unwilling to do for ourselves.”

    I have found this statement to be so true in my own experience. I actually get tired of spontaneity, of always trying to say something meaningful and gin up my own prayers. I have found the BCP and Lectionary in general helps to reign in my wandering mind and orient it the right direction. The words follow. It’s a beautiful thing.

    • Abouna Justin says:

      In the end, spontaneity is really overrated;-) We do not insist on spontaneity in our morning routine, for instance. There is great comfort in being able to make coffee, retrieve the paper, let the dog out and get to the shower without being fully awake. Routine and “ritual” (used broadly in this sense) is part of human life. It allows us to function. There is great value to knowing what is next in the worship service and not needing a book or prompt or whatever.

      As I have listened to the “spontaneous” prayer that folks will say, I hear lots of repetitions, “Praise you” “Glory to you” etc. There really is nothing new under the sun.

  15. The problem with this is that some service leaders (especially those who do not have this in the tradition, but are adding it) have no idea on how to use the right cadence to do this – the congregation ends up fumbling around trying to speak together

    • At the church I was at, one guy said teh prayer, and then the congregation would immediately do the Lords Prayer in unison

  16. What I love about the Roman Catholic penitential rite is the heartfelt request for the prayers of Mary, the angels and the saints, and our brothers and sisters. It is a very real reminder that we are all part of the Body of Christ, and when one sins, it affects all. I love that the Body has “got my back” – and that I’m standing in prayer for the healing of my brothers and sisters, as well.

    Great post, Michael.

  17. I’m pulling some comments out of the spam bin this morning. Too many links.

  18. Is there any particular reason why prayers are almost always so ‘over the top’ as far as how they’re written? Doesn’t seem to matter what denomination they are.

    Wouldn’t “God, I’m really sorry I messed up. I’ll try to be better. Please help me,” work just as well?

    Is it just pure theatrics? Making the believer feel that he has REALLY repented because the prayer is longer?

    I’m just curious.

    • Joe:

      There are different kinds of language, as you can see….the Bible for example.

      Proverbs is one thing. Ephesians is another.

      The language used in liturgy is often old and expressive. Expressive language doesn’t imply simple language is bad any more than A great love poem implies that a simple “I love you” is a stupid thing to say.

      We read Shakespeare because, among other things, the language reveals character and truth in a way our language does not.

      There’s a place for colloquialism, but we ought to remember that when we always choose colloquial language, we lose what more expressive language can do.

      The argument you are making, btw, when taken to its logical conclusion, will reduce the Bible to “God made. Sin ruined. Jesus saves.” True, but is that all there is? God inspired the language of scripture in all its various forms.

      peace

      ms

    • They are only ‘over the top’ when compared to the more prosaic and (imo) uncreative forms of public language used today. For a liturgical church the poetry and expressiveness of language is a part of the worship, and part of the personal/corporate expression.

      Dorothy Sayers wrote quote a lot on this. I think it was her who, when commenting on the initial proposals for a new CofE prayer book (which took another 2 decades after her comments) said that commparing the old opening greeting: The Lord be with you – and with thy spirit with the new version: The Lord be with you – and also with you; in her mind the only return to the newer one was “hmm yes, likewise I’m sure” as it was bland and pedestrian.

      • Not so much talking about quality of langauge as quantity, for example:

        “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.”

        “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,”

        Both are REALLY long.

        • No they’re not. There is no repitition in either prayer, and each takes about 30 – 40 seconds to read corporately. I think it is reasonable to take that length of time considering and confessing our sinfulness.

          • I’m not taking issue with it, I’m just curious about the phenomenon. Is it some human need to express ourselves like this in a religious setting?

    • I think the liturgical language is good because it can keep an over zealous pastor from going overboard and turning confession into an abusive weapon.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Just like the old Soviet public-confession ritualt “Enlightened Self-Criticism Before The Masses”? Both Stalin and Mao were serious fanboys of that one, in both the Great Purge and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

        • Liek that scene in the Killing Fields where the leaders encourage the people to come forward and confess their ‘crimes’ committed during the old reigime; everyone gives them a round of applause and then they are taken out and executed

    • Tom Meacham says:

      As Mike says there are differences in language, and there are also differences in time periods. The Episcopal confession of sin that Mike is appreciating come from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. Liturgical Christians can be quite conservative in their liturgies, perpetuating old forms of language in worship verbatim for ages. Just think, in 1928 most U.S. Lutherans were still worshipping in German. Catholics worshipped in Latin until what, the ’40s or ’50s? Oh, and the Orthodox still use language from 300 AD!

      So what sounds over the top to us may have sounded conversational at one time. In a sense corporate prayer needs to be familiar, but as a cradle Episcopalian I benefitted when worship was brought up to date (once every 40 years). I greatly enjoy using contemporary confessions of sin in my private prayers (David Coleman, Kathy Galloway) but I think they would elicit more blank stares than contrition in public worship.

  19. We have been using a corporate confession as part of our worship service for several years. We experienced some resistance from certain segments of the congregation. The comment were along the lines of “why do I need to go through this in church when I have already confessed and prayed for forgiveness on my own?” Your statement about how liturgy gives us discipline to do what we would not otherwise do is an excellent answer to that. I also explained that the confession includes corporate sin (sins we may have committed as a church). And then of course, we cannot assume that everyone has as profound and active a prayer life as your own. ;-)

    I haven’t heard much about this for some time so either those who didn’t like it are gone, or folks have just accepted it.

    I always link the confession to a very direct proclamation of forgiveness. I imagine that you will be covering that soon as well.

    • Great post. I’ve told similar objectors that actually HEARING the proclamation of forgiveness is important and necessary, at least for some of us–we really need to hear the words. Maybe some people don’t–I don’t know.

      Jesus was such a radical “forgiver” that it really upset some of the people around him; we continue in his ministry.

  20. In many non-liturgical churches, corporate prayer addressing the issue of sin seems to replace the verbal confession. An Elder confessing all our sins to the body and to God is a powerful tool of self-reflection.

  21. I too have been deeply affected by Anglican corporate confession. What more deeply affected me was puzzling over why I had not encoutered this in my life-long experience in evangelical services. I came to the sad conclusion that if the whole congregation confessed their sins and their loyalty to Christ, then there would be no point in having an alter call! We have already, in essence. prayed the sinners prayer (formula evangelism) and therefore all have been “saved” thereby!

    Oh my, what a small view I have held of sin, forgiveness and repentance – and worship.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      We have already, in essence. prayed the sinners prayer (formula evangelism) and therefore all have been “saved” thereby!

      Over at Slacktivist’s, they call that “Say-the-Magick-Words Salvation”.

  22. I had never encountered corporate confession till i went to a presbyterian church recently. When i attended this church, often I would leave church and drive home and the words that would reverberate loudest in my head were the words of the prayer or corporate confession, moreso even than the sermon. each week the wording would be a little different, but itwas always well done.

    The church offered 3 services per sunday: liturgical, semi-liturgical, and contemporary. I always went to the semi-liturgical, which was like halfway in between the really old style service and the contemporary one with the electric guitars etc.

    The corporate confession was the most emotionally comforting point in the service for me, it set the tone for the rest of the service because it made me feel humbled, yet not ashamed or guilty like other churches i’ve been to. it showed me that you can get right with God in a healthy way.

  23. SearchingAnglican says:

    I love this conversation. Confession of Sin has been a part of my church experience my entire life (first Catholic and now Episcopal), and I have mostly taken the richness and beauty of it for granted. So, thanks for the post.

    Because my church is without a priest right now and our diocese is limited in the number of priests available for pulpit supply, we now only have Eucharist every other Sunday. On the “off” Sundays, we have Morning Prayer, which is a Liturgy of the Word service, meaning no communion and led entirely by the laity. It’s a really beautiful liturgy, with a whole lot of additional recitation of psalms and other portions of scripture not typical during mass.

    I led Morning Prayer last Sunday. After the Confession of Sin comes the absolution, which reads like this:

    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.

    As a lay person leading Morning Prayer, I am required to substitute “us” for “you” as I read the Absolution aloud. It was a really, really powerful “body of Christ” moment for me. Hard to express exactly. Perhaps it’s because it’s usually “the priest’s” job. I’d love to see the Absolution read by the laity even when priests are leading the service :)

    • Don’t you have Eucaristic ministers that could bring Communion to your parish from another Anglican Church?

      • SearchingAnglican says:

        To the best of my knowledge, we don’t operate that way. I am a Lay Eucharistic Minister as well . The closest Episcopal parish of any real size is at least an hour away. There is a deacon’s mass where pre-consecrated bread is handed out, but you need a deacon for that :) .

        I don’t mind the situation much at the moment. Historically speaking, the Episcopal Church celebrated Morning Prayer MUCH more frequently than Eucharist. We’re just getting back to our roots ;-)

  24. I blogged earlier this spring about how corporate Confession and Absolution kept me in the church. I can’t imagine worship without it now.
    http://www.newreformationpress.com/blog/2009/03/28/how-the-confession-of-my-sins-kept-me-in-the-church-part-1/

    • Patrick, I read both parts 1 and 2 of your story about confession. That was wonderful writing and an honest portrayal of the time it takes sometimes to assist a person on their journey through life. Thank you for sharing it with the world!

  25. I’ve been out of the Lutheran Church for 25 years, but I still recall the liturgy, and it begins with the corporate confession.

    What Evangelicals have lost in their rush to a personal Jesus is this idea that, collectively, we as the Body of Christ sin, usually by sins of omission rather than commission. It’s a lost concept that MUST be regained if the Church in America is to avoid disconnection and fragmentation.

  26. A corporate confession of sins is indeed a wonderful teaching tool in addition to being an important o part of life as a Christian. We are called to lives of repentance.

    It also is a useful tool to keep us humble. Christians can easily forget that their righteousness is not their own, but has been given them by Christ. When there is no corporate confession of sins, an attitude of arrogance can easily develop. When we confess our sins together, we are reminded that we are all unworthy servants of God, none better than another, but all looking to Christ. As Luther put it, “We are beggars, this is true.”

    Of course, as a Lutheran we never separate confession from absolution. Where there is confession of sins, there is always forgiveness always follows, we cannot separate the two. And the pastor speaks forgiveness to the repentant sinner as from God himself.

    Joyce Meyer grew up Lutheran and loves to say that all she ever heard growing up was that she was a “poor, miserable sinner,” but had she listened should would then also have heard God’s forgiveness.

  27. I have mentioned before on this blog that since I started attending Catholic Mass again when I can, I end up crying at every large Mass. (I attend a few of the tiny daily masses when it works in Ok with work. ) Sometimes the tears happen during this corporate confession. Not sobbing my heart out, mind you, just tears welling up and sometimes falling. It embarrassed me at first, but now I just figure that is the way I am and perhaps if anyone sees me, they will be less embarrassed if they get teary too. Sometimes the songs make me cry (and NOT because they are badly done,,, which they are not!) Sometimes a special ceremony will make me cry. And sometimes after Communion.

    Anyway, the confession can be a powerful moment, especially when said by a large-ish group of people. I think the Sunday Mass I attend may have around 200 people, but I am not a good judge of things like that.

  28. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    And please deliver us from the new liturgists who pen confessional prayers about whatever the politically correct issues of the day happen to be.

    Just like the Proper Revolutionary Prayers of the French Revolution — at least before the next faction seized power and started Total Dechristanization in the name of Reason.

    (The reason this comes to mind first is I’m assisting a writer friend with some historical research about that period; imagine prayers denouncing all today’s Enemies of La Revolution by name, jarringly slipped into the middle of an “Our Father”, and you’ll get a pretty good idea.)

    • HUG,

      That always bothers me, especially in prayer time. Being contrarian, I refuse to respond to those where I know I don’t agree. (Knowing the agenda behind some of them.)

  29. To add an additional layer to the conversation — historically speaking the general confession emerged in the Western rite churches but was not as common in Eastern rite churches. A few Eastern Orthodox jurisdictions have experimented with it since the 1970′s but there isn’t really a corporate confession in the Divine Liturgy. Of course there is plenty of “Lord have mercy…” integrated throughout — but not at a single specific point. Not all liturgical traditions utilize a corporate confession.

    • Brad,

      According to the liturgy published online at http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/liturgy/liturgy.html, they say Psalm 51. I think that will do just fine!

      • Psalm 51 does work nicely, Ben. Some congregations may want to do a shortened version of it, maybe:

        Create in me a clean heart, O God,
        and renew a right [2] spirit within me.
        11 Cast me not away from your presence,
        and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
        12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
        and uphold me with a willing spirit.

        15 O Lord, open my lips,
        and my mouth will declare your praise.
        16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
        you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
        17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
        a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

        I only mentioned a shortened version because some of us like to say all of this “by heart” during worship and the entire Psalm 51 may be a bit long for some folks to memorize.

      • I wasn’t saying that they lack a penitential dimension in the liturgy — only that they lack a “general confession.” If anything, even though there is no general confession (congregational confession and words of absolution), the idea of penitence is finely woven throughout the fabric of the Divine Liturgy.

        My point is that from a broad historical perspective there has been more than one way to deal with penitence in the liturgy. Furthermore, the EO have an integrated approach that might be a model for others who want to talk about and deal with sin without adding a specific rite of confession into the liturgy.

    • I’ve read that the Confiteor was originally a sacristy prayer (ie. a prayer that the priest says privately before he goes into the assembly) and it only slowly got moved into the prayers at the foot of the altar, which is where it was placed until the changes of 1969. That would follow the Western pattern of moving certain sacristy prayers into a more collective setting (cf. the Introibo), which, I presume, did not happen in the East. The form used in the RCC dates back to the 8th century, at least, although it was not used in a collective setting until the 11th century, so it is a post-schism development.

      Is anyone aware of when the Confiteor was introduced into the Divine Office? It is said at Compline, right before bed.

      I guess another topic for iMonk to explore in this series might be “What ought a minister do to prepare himself for the liturgy?” Catholics and Orthodox have a whole bevy of vesting and purification prayers, before and after the liturgy. I’ve heard Anglicans do too, although I’m not sure. As for Lutherans, I haven’t a clue. I think they say a lot about how a minister approaches his work.

    • L. Winthrop says:

      The “Prayer Before Communion” is largely penitential:

      “I believe and confess, Lord, that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. I also believe that this is truly Your pure Body and that this is truly Your precious Blood. Therefore, I pray to You, have mercy upon me, and forgive my transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, in word and deed, known and unknown. And make me worthy without condemnation to partake of Your pure Mysteries for the forgiveness of sins and for life eternal. Amen.

      “How shall I, who am unworthy, enter into the splendor of Your saints? If I dare to enter into the bridal chamber, my clothing will accuse me, since it is not a wedding garment; and being bound up, I shall be cast out by the angels. In Your love, Lord, cleanse my soul and save me.

      “Loving Master, Lord Jesus Christ, my God, let not these holy Gifts be to my condemnation because of my unworthiness, but for the cleansing and sanctification of soul and body and the pledge of the future life and kingdom. It is good for me to cling to God and to place in Him the hope of my salvation.

      “Receive me today, Son of God, as a partaker of Your mystical Supper. I will not reveal Your mystery to Your adversaries. Nor will I give You a kiss as did Judas. But as the thief I confess to You: Lord, remember me in Your kingdom.”

  30. Almost three years ago I first visited an Episcopal church. It was my first exposure to liturgical worship. The corporate confession (Rite I) completely undid me. I stood there with tears rolling down my cheeks all the way through the absolution. God began a work in my heart that day that had never been done in all my 53 years as an evangelical Christian. We now belong to an AMiA church, and every Sunday the corporate confession continues to move my heart and mind.

  31. I just reread and stumbled upon the phrase: “prophetically unfashionable”. Brilliant. Two word adjective that describes much about the mission of the church. Hold that up to most churches and you will see just how deeply they really are fulfilling their mission.

  32. Steve Polson says:

    OK, I’ll bite. Maybe it’s true to say “there is something altogether impossible to fault about the people of God, together and in familiar words, saying they are sinners and in need of grace” (it depends on what you mean by that). But the first two examples of corporate confessions you gave are “confessions” mitigated by simultaneous accusations (you’re accusing the people you are with of sin when you say “we” have erred) and don’t seem very sincere to me. If you are willing to publically pray “I have erred, I have strayed” it would seem more sincere.

    The third example sounds awfully close to praying to Mary and the saints.