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About Confession (Rite of Reconciliation)

What is Confession?
Confession is also called the Reconciliation of a Penitent. Reconciliation of a Penitent, or Penance, is the rite in which those who repent of their sins may confess them to God in the presence of a priest, and receive the assurance of pardon and the grace of absolution. (BCP 861) 

When is Confession Practiced? The sacramental rite of Reconciliation or Confession may be practiced at anytime and anywhere by anyone who desires it. The penitent should contact a priest and prepare to make confession and to through the rite privately. The Reconciliation of a Penitent is not limited to times of sickness. Confessions may be heard at any time and any place.

How do I Prepare to Make my Confession? One should prepare oneself by the examination of their life prior to making a confession. A general confession is said at most worship services and is followed by the assurance of absolution pronounced by a priest or a bishop. However, a personal, private, confidential confession requires preparation and council by a trained confessor. 

Do I need to be baptized in the Episcopal Church to go through the Rite of Reconciliation? No. Any person may go through the rite. However, one may also desire to become more familiar with the Episcopal Church and its practices prior to asking for the Rite of Reconciliation. 

What is involved in Making a Confession? The Book of Common Prayer provides two forms of service for the Reconciliation of a Penitent. Only a bishop or priest may pronounce absolution. When a confession is heard in a church building, the confessor may sit inside the altar rails while the penitent kneels nearby. The confession may be heard in a place set aside for greater privacy. It is also appropriate for the confessor and penitent to sit face to face for a spiritual conference that leads to absolution or a declaration of forgiveness. After the penitent has confessed all serious sins troubling the conscience and given evidence of contrition, the priest offers counsel and encouragement before pronouncing absolution. Before pronouncing absolution, the priest may assign an act of penitence, psalm, prayers, or hymn to be said, or something to be done, as a sign or penitence and act of thanksgiving. 

Is the Rite of Reconciliation Biblical? The modern practice of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (confession) recalls the early Christian use, going back to biblical times. When Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’” (John 20:21-23). The church's ministry of reconciliation is from God, "who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18) 

Who may Administer Absolution? Only God can forgive sin. However, Bishops and priest have the ministry of granting absolution and have been given the authority to pronounce to God’s people, being penitent, the absolution and remission of their sins. The Priest, in the sacrament of Penance, does not redeem us; he or she is but an agent of the one Mediator, Jesus Christ, assigned and empowered by the one Mediator. Confession is but one way of applying the mediation of Christ to humanity - Baptism is another. 

Is Absolution Guaranteed? No. True repentance is not only a change of heart, but sometimes requires restitution and reconciliation. Failure to engage in the practice of penance will hinder a pronouncement of absolution by the confessor. 

What are the benefits we receive from Penance? Confession helps us to know ourselves better. When it comes to private confession in the Episcopal Church, "ALL may, none must, some should" is usually the way it's received. However, the grace we receive from the Sacrament of Confession helps us combat our faults and failings and break our habits of vice much more easily. Guilt from the sins we commit can make us feel all mixed up inside and cause us to lose our peace and joy. When we hear God’s forgiving words to us from the lips of the priest in Confession, a burden is lifted off our shoulders and we can again feel the peace of heart and soul that comes from being in a good relationship with God. 

Is the Seal of Confession Private? The secrecy of the confession is morally absolute for the confessor and must not be broken (BCP, p. 446). 

What is a Sacrament? Sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace (God’s favor for us), given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace. 

Other questions? Please feel free to ask the priest about specific questions regarding the Rite of Reconciliation and other aspects of the Episcopal Church.

The Rite of Reconciliation of a Penitent can be found in the Book of Common Prayer pp. 447 - 452.