Reconciliation of a Penitent
Sacramental rite in which those who repent may confess their sins to God in the presence of a priest and receive the assurance of pardon and the grace of absolution (BCP, p. 861). It is also called penance and confession. 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 Cor 5:18). The ministry of reconciliation has been committed by Christ to the church. It 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 the church and its ministers declaring absolution (BCP, p. 446). The Reconciliation of a Penitent is not limited to times of sickness. Confessions may be heard at any time and any place.
The BCP provides two forms of service for the Reconciliation of a Penitent. Only a bishop or priest may pronounce absolution. A declaration of forgiveness may be used by a deacon or lay person who hears a confession. 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 a psalm, prayer, or hymn to be said, or something to be done, as a sign or penitence and act of thanksgiving.
The 1979 BCP is the first American Prayer Book to provide forms for the Reconciliation of a Penitent as a separate office. Form One (p. 447) is shorter and less elaborate than Form Two (p. 449), which includes material similar to the Byzantine form for confession. Form Two begins with verses from Psalm 51 and the Trisagion, and it includes scriptural words of comfort. A rubric in Form Two also directs that the priest lay a hand upon the penitent’s head or extend a hand over the penitent at the absolution. This gesture also may be used at the absolution in Form One. The secrecy of the confession is morally absolute for the confessor and must not be broken (BCP, p. 446).
Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.