There are many surprising graces to a first confession. At least there were for me and I still feel the power of that first confession twenty-five years later. Having grown up in a community of faith where this sacrament was not formally celebrated, it was for me at age twenty-two an act which helped define who I was going to be as an adult: I was going to put my trust in God and in the institutional Church. When all was said and done, in a period of my life when I wasn’t too sure I mattered very much to others in this world, addressing my own sinfulness in a very elementary way was a great grace.
On my knees I was surprised by how loved I felt. I felt unconditional love, the kind of love we experience only rarely as adults or indeed except as the youngest of children. I, like many people, think my acceptance by others, the love others may have for me, depends on my performance. Yet on my knees in confession there has been no acceptable performance on my part. There has only been sin – and yet the response which overwhelms one is love. This is what God gives us every day. It is what the grace of confession helps us to know.
The Reconciliation of a Penitent, also known as Confession, is the sacramental acknowledgment of our deliberate and conscious choice to act contrary to God’s known will for our lives. It is not about feelings we have. It is about what we have done and what we may be planning to do. It’s not about feeling that something’s wrong with our lives; it’s the articulation of those things which we remember that we have done wrong, again, when we have deliberately chosen to act against what we know to be God’s will.
Not so very long ago I was speaking with a young priest about hearing confessions. He had been a penitent since before going to seminary. Theological study is never unimportant and certainly it is very important in relationship to reconciliation, but one can never learn to hear confessions from reading a book. A priest can only learn to hear confessions by being on his or her knees and making a confession. Priests who do not value confession for themselves – and to be honest I suspect most members of the clergy of our Church do not - will not be able to share its graces with others. They will not know what to say when they hear confessions; they do not know how to prepare others to celebrate it.
We also spoke about something every young priest fears – betraying in any way the secrecy of the confessional. One sign that a younger priest is in fact hearing confessions is that he or she will very soon lose any ability to keep track of what anyone confesses (often disappointing to regular penitents but it does relieve one’s fears of ever betraying the rite). Boredom and inattention in hearing confessions are, frankly, sins I have felt called to confess from time to time because I am not perfect as a priest and it is harder work than you might ever imagine to listen carefully and prayerfully. I will also tell you that a priest only occasionally hears a sin confessed which he or she himself has not at some point committed.
Over the centuries the use of sacramental confession has evolved. At the present time the rote recitation of a laundry list of sins, sexual, monetary and emotional – known in popular culture from movies and television shows – is not really the purpose of the rite. The purpose is to renew our awareness of God’s presence in our lives.
Reconciliation is a normal part of the catholic Christian tradition – and many Protestant traditions make provision for it because it has been practiced one way or another since the time of the Apostles. A priest sits for confession regularly every Saturday of the year at Saint Mary’s except on the Saturday after Christmas Day and the Saturday after Easter Day. Although traditionally Easter confessions should be made before the beginning of the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday, lots of folks make their confessions on Good Friday after the Good Friday Liturgy. This year confessions will be heard following the 12:30 PM and the 6:00 PM liturgy. A priest can usually - but not always - hear a short confession following almost any weekday Mass.
Priests at Saint Mary’s go to confession themselves and know how to hear confessions. (It’s like singing – it’s just part of the drill for clergy here.) If you have never been prepared for confession, please make an appointment with one of the members of the clergy. You will speak a little about your own background so he will know how to guide you. There are different books and manuals available to help a penitent (that is, someone making a confession). Sometimes the Scriptures are most useful, sometimes a manual.
At Saint Mary’s we usually use the confessional boxes. But I also hear confessions while sitting in a chapel. I myself don’t like to do face to face confessions (I personally prefer the box.) but I certainly hear confessions face to face if someone wants to celebrate the sacrament in this way. Sometimes I include a prayer that is not in the present Prayer Book rite but was often used by Anglo-catholics before Vatican II,
May whatsoever good you have done and whatsoever evil you have endured be unto you for the remission of sins, the increase of grace and the blessing of eternal life. Amen.
PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked for Bethany, Jack, Nolan, Harold, Olga, Carl, Harold, Frank, Eleanor, John, Barbara, Roy, Peter, John, Jonathan, Bill, Melanie, Joe, Elwyn, Shirlah, Joyce, Kerstin, Daisy, Naomi, Madelyn, May, Karen, Rodney priest, Charles, priest, and Arthur, priest and for the repose of the soul of Clint . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . April 4: 1987 Clara D. Lewis, 1992: Thelma Bradford Ingersoll, April 5: 1964 Harold Bosworth Libbey.
LITURGICAL NOTES . . . The Sunday Proper: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126, Luke 20:9-19 . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, March 31, by Father Shin and on Saturday, April 7, by Father Garrison.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Altar Servers: Please remember Holy Week Preparation on Saturday, April 7, from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM . . . Father Arthur Wolsoncroft is home from the hospital. Please continue to keep him in your prayers. We hope more than we can say that he can return to us regularly very, very soon . . . What a wonderful Procession & Solemn Mass on the Annunciation! It was a special evening in every way. The congregation, the Mass, the sermon, the music, the flowers, the servers, the reception and of course the special efforts made by our ushers during Mass and during the reception afterwards . . . Our Lenten Series, “Going Outside the Camp” with Fr. Breidenthal, which concludes this Wednesday, April 4 . . . Attendance Last Sunday 196, Annunciation 141.
NOTE ABOUT HOLY WEEK . . . Next week I will write more about Holy Week. But I want to say especially to those who are new to Saint Mary’s that this is the most important week of the year. It’s almost best not to know too much about what is going to happen but to tell you to come with shea
open eyes, ears and heart and enjoy. You will see and experience things that will renew your faith and draw you close, very close, to Christ and to this community of faith. The week is overwhelming in so many ways and each year more of it will reveal itself to you. The center of the week are the three great liturgies of the Three Days (“Triduum”), Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Eve. Of next importance, in the liturgical tradition is the Mass of Palm Sunday and the Evensongs of Easter Day and Palm Sunday. I invite you to come, to have the courage to participate especially in the rites and ceremonies that may be new to you. They come down to us through the centuries. This is one of those rare and precious places where the language of liturgy is available and loved. Learn the language by being here and opening your heart. You will be blessed. S.G.
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Fifth Sunday in Lent
Monday Weekday of Lent
Tuesday Weekday of Lent
Wednesday Weekday of Lent
Thursday Weekday of Lent
Friday Weekday of Lent
Stations of the Cross & Benediction
at the Church of the Transfiguration 7:00 PM
Saturday Weekday of Lent
The Parish Clergy
The Reverend Stephen Gerth, rector,
The Reverend Allen Shin, curate, The Reverend Thomas Breidenthal, assistant,
The Reverend Arthur Wolsoncroft, The Reverend Canon Maurice Garrison, The Reverend Amilcar Figueroa, The Reverend J. Barrington Bates, assisting priests, The Reverend Canon Edgar F. Wells, rector emeritus.