How Do Anglo-Catholics Practice Confession? In order faithfully to live out the full Catholic vocation in the Anglican Rite, one should receive the Sacrament of Penance at least once a year, preferably in Holy Week or Eastertide, in preparation for the making of one’s Easter Communion.
In Anglicanism, the reception of Penance is absolutely voluntary— no Anglican must receive this Sacrament in order to be considered a practicing Christian. However, this Sacrament is vitally important, and should certainly be received by any person who is troubled and disturbed in conscience because of sin, or by any Christian who wishes to deepen one’s spiritual life and advance in holiness. No one should approach Our Lord’s Precious Body and Blood in the Holy Communion in a state of sin; for this reason, if there is any question at all about the state or health of one’s soul, one should seek the spiritual counsel and advice of a Priest, and receive this Sacrament for the forgiveness of all sins— then one can approach the Holy Mysteries properly and reverently.
As the 1662 English Prayer Book reminds us in the exhortation at the Mass: ‘let him (a penitent) come to me, or to some other… Minister of God’s Word, and open his grief; that by the ministry of God’s holy word he may receive the benefit of Absolution, as may tend to the quieting of the conscience, and the removing of all scruple and doubtfulness.’
To use a version of the old Anglican adage about Confession: All may, none must, most should. All Anglicans should use this great sacramental gift to their spiritual benefit, which gift increases grace, guarantees forgiveness of all sins, and allows the penitent carefully to examine the conscience and soul— as one faces the brutality and horror of sin and its consequences, and seeks to amend one’s life from sin. Only by confessing our personal sins to the Priest, who awaits in love to offer spiritual advice and counselling, and to provide the gift of forgiveness, do we truly recognize the impact, consequences and error of sins, and the need to eliminate sin from our lives. No one should ‘enjoy’ the painful process of Confession, but all should rejoice in its ultimate benefits and graces for the soul.
It is most unfortunate that more traditional Anglicans do not take full opportunity to receive the gift of Absolution, and the special graces of this Sacrament. Unlike Catholics of the Roman Rite, Anglo-Catholics are not required to go to Confession at any time in order to be in good standing in the Church; however, like all branches of the Universal Church, we possess and use this glorious Sacrament.
In the Anglican Rite, there are characteristically no confessionals or ‘confession boxes;’ rather, the penitent makes his Confession before the Priest as he kneels at the Altar rail, facing the Altar. The Priest is seated within the Sanctuary, poised to hear the Confession quietly. Holy Penance is mentioned twice in the 1928 American BCP, in the second exhortation in the Mass (page 88) and in the office of the Visitation of the Sick (page 313).
Penance clearly has an important function within the life of the Church, especially for those who are troubled in soul after having committed particular sins or who are sick or near death and wish to enter Paradise free from all stain of sin. However, we all should use this Sacrament at every opportunity for our spiritual welfare, for it is a ‘school of sanctity,’ a teacher of repentance and amendment: it is the divinely-appointed means by which God imparts forgiveness of sins to penitent sinners, a Sacrament of grace in which God and God alone forgives sins and communicates His life, through the instrumentality of His Priests in the Church. Always remember that Priests do not, from any individualised or personal power, forgive sins: they administer a Sacrament of forgiveness as they act in the Name and Person of Jesus Christ, representing in their ministry the Holy Catholic Church.
What three actions, again, are necessary for a penitent rightly to receive the Sacrament of Penance?
- Repentance. True repentance from sin begins with contrition, true sorrow of heart for sins committed, for without contrition there is no desire for forgiveness and for the amendment of life. Contrition, which should arise from Faith, is the hatred of sin because of love for God. A contrite heart sees sins as a horror, an outrage against God’s love for man, and perceives the Passion and Death of Our Lord as the necessary result and cure of its sin. Real repentance through contrition brings us reconciliation with God and forgiveness of sins. Our repentance should flow from our love for the Thrice-Holy God and for God’s Church. Even attrition, mentioned earlier, is a grace of God, because it is a prompting of the Holy Ghost which leads a person, albeit through fear of hell or punishment for sins, to seek forgiveness of sins through the Sacrament of Absolution. However, contrition is the true source of real, life-changing, life-healing repentance.
- Confession. If we are truly repentant, truly contrite for our sins, we will naturally confess our sins, that is, we will acknowledge before God our sins and trespasses in order that we may be forgiven. Real confession is self-accusation, the truthful and honest admission of speaking, acting, and thinking wrongly. The fact that we confess our sins demonstrates that we are really sorry for our sins, we really are repentant. Confession, a sincere and sorrowful acknowledgment to God of our sins, is the proof of contrition, and of our desire to be forgiven and to be granted the grace to change. For this reason, God requires us to confess our sins to Him. ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins’ (1 St John 1.9). In confession of sins, we are set free from slavery to sin: we take responsibility for our sins and reopen ourselves to the grace and mercy of God. In the Sacrament of Penance, one should confess all known and remembered serious sins committed since one’s last Confession. We should not withhold any known sins, for ‘if we, as sick persons, are unwilling to disclose every wound to the doctor, the medicine cannot heal what it does not know’ (St Jerome). Regular reception of this Sacrament helps us to develop a right conscience, and empowers us to fight temptation and evil desires. In Penance, we are healed, sanctified and transformed by Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost. In the Anglican Rite, this is the traditional Confession prayer:
“I confess to Almighty God, to Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin, and to all the Saints, and to thee Father, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed, by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault – and especially I confess I have committed the following sins … – For these and all other sins which I cannot now remember, I am heartily sorry, I firmly purpose amendment of life; I humbly ask pardon and forgiveness of God and of thee, Father, penance, counsel, and absolution: Wherefore I beg Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin, and all the Saints, and thee Father, to pray for me to the LORD our God. Amen.”
- Amendment of life. We must forsake sin and change our lives— this is the ultimate test of genuine repentance; amendment is the sustained and determined resolve to sin no more and to live a better and holier life. If we have hurt others, we must make restitution for the injuries done. Real repentance demands that we do better, and change, by God’s grace. In the Sacrament, before Absolution is given, the Priest may give the penitent an act to perform, such as a prayer or a reading from Scripture, as a sign of the repentant person’s willingness to change: this is called a ‘penance.’ Doing the penance demonstrates our willingness to amend our lives and manifests our union with the Crucified Lord— it helps us to contemplate the change which is required for the health of our soul; our spiritual father gives it to us for our own good.
Posted by The Right Reverend Chandler Holder Jones, SSC