At St. Barnabas’ the priest is available by appointment to hear confessions in the Church. Since many churches no longer have confessionals the penitent kneels at the altar rail, and the priest sits just inside the rail.
Many people are reluctant to make their confession face to face with a priest, or are skeptical about the value of doing so. It’s easy to suspect that the whole point of the exercise is to make someone feel guilty – but nothing could be further from the truth. Confession helps free a person from the weight of sin and fear, which can so easily govern our lives. The role of the priest is to insist on the declaration of God’s forgiveness (as long as the confession is made in good faith), not to sit in judgment of the penitent. Ideally, a penitent leaves confession feeling refreshed and buoyed by God’s grace and mercy.
“Repentance is the response we are called to make as we meet Christ in the place where we have been brought to a halt, and sense his insistence that we reorient ourselves towards God. … Why are you coming to a halting place in your relationship with God? … God can call us to repentance in an endless variety of ways.”
(from Reconciliation: Preparing for Confession in the Episcopal Church, Martin Smith, SSJE, Cowley Publications, 1985)
A few reasons why someone might be interested in the Sacrament of Reconciliation:
- Guilt about past is felt as a burden too heavy to go on bearing.
- Some people have just emerged battered and bruised after a difficult stretch of life …healing has to take place—one aspect of which involves taking responsibility for the sins they have committed during the struggle.
- Some forthcoming trial makes them see life in a new light and take stock of how they have lived.
- Those in transition from one stage of life to another … to make the passage from one stage to another, they need to make a closure.
- To take up a journey again after having abandoned it years before.
- A dead end which forces them to recognize that the direction they have been following leads away from life and relationship with God.
- Those who experience a conversion or spiritual awakening.
The Book of Common Prayer reminds us that the ministry of reconciliation, which has been committed by Christ to his Church, is exercised through the care each Christian has for others, through the common prayer of Christians assembled for public worship, and through the priesthood of Christ and his ministers declaring absolution.
The Reconciliation of a Penitent is available for all who desire it. It is not restricted to times of sickness. Confessions may be heard anytime and anywhere.
When the penitent has confessed all serious sins troubling the conscience and has given evidence of due contrition, the priest gives such counsel and encouragement as are needed and pronounces the absolution. Before giving absolution, the priest may assign to the penitent a psalm, prayer, or hymn to be said, or something to be done, as a sign of penitence and act of thanksgiving.
The content of a confession is not normally a matter of subsequent discussion. The secrecy of a confession is morally absolute for the confessor, and must under no circumstances be broken.” (BCP 1979, p 446)