November 18, 2004

A Little Confession Is Good For The Soul

We had an interesting speaker for our Adult Forum at Church last Sunday, a religion professor from Georgetown who gave a lecture on the similarities and differences between us Episcopalians and other Christian denominations.

I won't go into all of it, but I did want to pass along what I thought was a very droll joke. The subject came round to confession and the speaker relayed a little story about a Catholic friend of hers who went around Dee Cee taking confession from various religious orders, including some convents. This friend bemoaned this particular duty to our speaker, stating that taking confession from a nun was like getting stoned with popcorn.

Aside from being humorous, this got me thinking. I happen to chair the Lenten Task Force at my Church and am responsible for putting on a program suitable to the season. The last couple years, we've had a series of lectures on various topics that has, frankly, left me rather unsatisfied. ("But you're the Chair," you say. Well, yes. But our Rector rules the Parish with an iron fist. If he wants lectures on gay bishops during Lent, then, by golly, that's what we're going to have.)

This year, however, we are working on something different, a series of much more interactive, hands-on offerings, activities that are designed to actually aid people in the spiritual purification that is supposed to be the hallmark of Lent, leading up to the celebration of Easter. Our goal is to provide a number of different kinds of activity. One possibility is the erection of a labrynth, something that apparently has got quite trendy as a meditiation device, although it is too New Age-y for my taste. Another possibility is some plainchant or other musical offering. There is even talk of a rosary course. (No word yet on whether ecumenical outreach is going to extent to include sacrificing virgins with golden sickles under mistletoe-decked oak trees, but we're working on it.)

But, keying off the professors remarks, the one that has caught my personal attention is the possible provision of confession. We undertake a general confession as part of our worship service every Sunday, of course, but it is generic and corporate, a prayer recited by the entire congregation. Here, we would be offering the opportunity for the kind of personal, one-on-one, priest-penitent experience of the Catholic Church. (I believe there is provision for this kind of confession within the Anglican tradition. I don't know if it is formally incorporated into Episcopalianism as well. I'll have to look this up.)

I've never taken this kind of confession before. What is the form? Does one simply tell off the kinds of sin one has committed (pride, lust, envy)? Or does one give specifics (names, places, dates)? It strikes me that the advantage of this form is that, by requiring the confessing party to recite his or her own shortcomings in detail, it forces that person to come more honestly face to face with them, to accept guilt for them and to try to change for the better. The trouble I find with the general confession is that it is rote recitation of a generic formula. Unless one is really concentrating, it is easy to let the mind wander. And the RC's, at least, are very clear that simple recitation of sins, without the accompanying conscious effort of responsibility and atonement, is no confession at all and, if anything, leaves the person worse off than before.

The other thing I don't know is what kind of penitential satisfaction an Anglican confession might call for. Given that the Anglican Church was founded more or less on theories of Pope-less Catholism, I wouldn't be surprised if there were some parallels on this matter. On the other hand, seeing that the relative relationship among God, Church and Congregation is at the very foundation of the Protestant schism, I also wouldn't be surprised if it were quite a lot different.

Whatever the case, I hope the Rector lets us go through with this plan and doesn't hijack the proceedings for another round of "discussion" about Bishop Robinson.

UPDATE: Speaking of baring the soul, the Crack Young Staff of the Hatemonger's Quarterly are all squashed into the confessional, industriously bemoaning their shortcomings.

UPDATE DEUX: Our pal Kathleen the Cake Eater weighs in with a solid discussion of real RC confession. I know it gives my family fits of hysteria every time I say something like this, but over the years I've been gravitating slowly but steadily towards Rome as my faith developes. When I read something like this - which makes perfect sense to me and chimes very closely with the way I think about things- I feel myself inching that much closer.

Posted by Robert at November 18, 2004 12:10 PM | TrackBack

What church do you go to, exactly? Sounds like fun....

Posted by: Adrianne Truett at November 18, 2004 02:40 PM

I think there is something in the BCP about reconciliation. But I don't know if there's anything for penitance beyond "sin no more."

Posted by: Sarah at November 18, 2004 03:52 PM

Sarah, I think you're right. Read Kathy's piece I linked to - it goes into considerably more detail on this matter.

Adrienne - Why, it's St. Loony-Up-The-Cream-Bun-And-Jam, of course.

Posted by: Robert the LB at November 18, 2004 06:05 PM

Yes, traditional Anglicans observe the sacrament of confession, preferably once a month or more. I can tell you, after the first time, which is pretty hairy cause you have to bring it up to date, it's enormously helpful and relieving.

Here is the preparation and liturgical form our church uses. Would be very similar to pre-Vatican II RC usage.

Posted by: margaret davis at November 18, 2004 10:57 PM
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