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