11 June 2009

Regarding the Practice of Individual Confession and Holy Absolution

Reverend fathers and brothers in Christ, the Blackbirds have received another question to ponder and discuss, this time from one of our colleagues in the Office of the Holy Ministry, the Reverend Greg Truwe, Associate Pastor of Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Texas.

Pastor Truwe is interested in studying the practice of Individual Confession and Absolution, and to that end he has requested the input of those pastors who have been able to incorporate such a regular practice within their parishes. He has posed the following questions, which I encourage not only the Blackbirds but any of our brother pastors to answer in the comments here. Depending on how things develop, a follow-up post could be offered to move things forward. But to begin with, here are Pastor Truwe's initial questions:

For those of you who are currently offering (and encouraging) regular opportunities for private Confession/Absolution, I’m wondering if you might respond to the following questions:

1) If this was a practice that you initiated, how did you go about preparing the congregation to receive it well? Did you make use of adult Bible Class, pre-confirmation catechesis, newsletter articles, sermons, etc.?

2) How has the practice been received? Are many making use of C/A?

3) What does your current practice look like? In other words, how often do you offer it? Are people encouraged to make an appointment at their convenience, or is there a time (say, 2 hours on a Saturday) that is publicized during which you will be available for C/A? Do you prepare a printed order for the confessor? Do you hear the confession in you office, the sanctuary, or some other place? Are you vested? Etc.

4) What resources do you use to teach the people to prepare to make confession?

5) What resources did you use to prepare yourself to hear confession? What resources do you recommend?


chaplain7904 said...

If Rev. T. will supply me with his email address I will email him some of the writings I prepared for my congregation.

We taught for about 5 months via special articles which were handed to each member. Then we established regular hours of Sunday mornings 8:30 to 9:00. (SS begins 9:15, Mass 10:30) Also we offer it on Lenten Wednesdays.

It's been very well received by the newer set of people, but not at all troubled or assaulted by the long-standing set of members. They have a very high trust level for their pastor and emeritus pastor who are both sober gentlemen.

I've made clear that I will not force or embarrass anyone into taking advantage of this sacrament, but that I will continue to offer it, teach about it and encourage it.

To date we've had a number of takers, including a child as young as 5 who was instructed by her father. This same father once brought his 2 year old son with him to the kneeler so he could observe. The confession mentioned no particular sins per Luther's order.

The only thing I'd change from Luther's order (and will change at our church next year) is the generality that gives the person an option of confessing no particular sin(s). If a person has worked up the courage to come, then he should just as well mention a thing or two. As time goes on, he'll get braver.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Chaplain7904, I sincerely urge you not to do as you have suggested. I believe this is contrary to our Confessions, and the writings of Dr. Luther. You cannot in good conscience require someone to confess specific sins. I think you should seek the counsel of your fellow pastors and brothers in the Ministry before doing such a thing.

Susan said...

From the laymen's perspective, I can tell you how very important it is to me that my pastor have posted hours weekly. Yes, I make appointments frequently at other times -- now. But especially when I first started going to confession, I had to know that I wasn't "bothering" the pastor, that he would be sitting there in the confessional, whether I or anyone else showed up or not, so that I knew I wasn't taking him away from anything more important like shut-in calls or sermon prep or his family time.

I might also suggest that Pr Truwe contact CCA for audio recordings of the symposium held in 2000 where a lot of his questions were discussed and answered.

Pastor Peasant said...

We've been carrying on this practice in my parish for several years. I'll try to answer your questions from my perspective:

1) I initiated the practice, and made and continue to make ongoing use of Bible Class, catechesis, newsletters, etc. to teach about it. To my knowledge I have not spoken specifically about it in a sermon.

2) How has the practice been received? Are many making use of C/A?

Not too many make use on a regular basis. Some do. Others come in sporadically. I think this just takes time and patience to sink into people and become a part of their piety. It hasn't been for so long.

3) What does your current practice look like? In other words, how often do you offer it?

We offer it the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month, before Bible Class and the DS on Sundays. During the seasons of Lent and Advent it is offered every week.

"Are people encouraged to make an appointment at their convenience, "

Yes, they can do this as well, but as with Susan's comment, I've found that people are reluctant to do so because they think they're "bothering" the pastor and that I'm too busy. No matter how many times I tell them I'm not, they still think so. I think the regularly scheduled times are vital.

We use the C&A rite out of LW. My folks like the longer order that was in that hymnal.

"Do you hear the confession in you office, the sanctuary, or some other place? Are you vested? Etc."

I am vested and in the sanctuary.

4) What resources do you use to teach the people to prepare to make confession?

I like the "Preparation for Confession" questions in the PCC. A booklet can be made up for folks so they have them.

5) What resources did you use to prepare yourself to hear confession?

I arrive early to confess myself first. The prayers in the PCC. I read the psalms.

Susan said...

One thing I have noticed about my pastor: his love for private confession spills over to the people. He does not teach us about confession because "it's good for us" or because it's what confessional pastors do. He promotes private confession because he needs it, because he loves what he receives from his confessor, because he hates the thought of withholding that joy from us. When Pastor sees private confession as his lifeline and his strength and his power to live the Christian life, it bubbles over in what he says in sermons and Bible class. It's never about what we "should" do but always about what we "get to do."

TruthQuestioner said...

I definitely second Susan in her comment that laypeople may be hesitant to ask their pastor for Individual Confession and Absolution - especially when he is busy.
Regularly scheduled times for C & A relieve that apprehension.

Pastor Jeff Hemmer said...

1. I began offering a weekly scheduled time of private confession almost as soon as I arrived. When I began to offer it, I used bulletin inserts, newsletter articles, and adult Bible Class as avenues of catechesis. Since then, I’ve preached about it, as well. It’s also nice to be able to say “Look, this is not just our congregation, but the synod passed a resolution urging pastors and congregations to make private confession regularly available.”

2. There have been times when I’ve spent several lonely evenings in the sanctuary (I offer it Wednesdays, before a midweek catechetical service). Maybe ¼ of regular attenders have taken advantage of it at least once. A handful of people come semi-regularly.
It’s been fairly well received, even by those who haven’t come yet. Sure, there’s the knee-jerk reaction that people have against all things that the Roman church does, too. But catechesis is ongoing. It’s not a once-and-done deal. Some people will probably need to be taught for years about the benefits of private confession, while others will receive it more willingly, which is why I think it’s a good idea to begin offering it before everyone is catechized and ready for it. That sends the message that “it’s here for you when you need it.”

3. Every Wednesday and any other time by appointment (or, often, following a counseling session). We use the order from LSB. Vested, in the sanctuary. The penitent comes and kneels at the rail, while I’m seated during his confession. Then, I stand at “God be merciful to you and strengthen your faith.”

4. The first time someone comes, I show them the service and point out who speaks when. If they would like, I invite them to sit in a pew for a minute or two to pray the Commandments or the penitential psalms (I direct them to the list in the first rubric in the rite). For those who have the Treasury of Daily Prayer, I encourage them to use the questions on pp. 1460-1462 to prepare for confession.

5. Go to confession. Have a father confessor. You’ll never learn how to hear confession until you know how to confess your own sins out loud. It’s harrowing, to be sure, but delightfully freeing. And, then, the prayer at the beginning of the PCC is pretty good.

WM Cwirla said...

1. Preaching, teaching, catechesis.

2. Generally lukewarm. Newer Christians receive it more readily than old school Lutherans.

3. Weekly hour on Saturday. Other times by appt. In the sanctuary at a kneeler off to the side. Vested.

4. The self-reflective piece in the Treasury of Daily Prayer is quite good. I used to have my own version.

5. The writings of Kenneth Korby and Wilhelm Loehe on the topic are the best.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

4) What resources do you use to teach the people to prepare to make confession?

In addition to Dr. Kenneth Korbey's Self Examination and Reflection, this Pruefungs-Tafel from 1914 has also been made available in English by Rev. Joel Baseley.

However, as a layman I must say that the Beichtspiegel ("confessional mirror") published in The Brotherhood Prayer Book is by far the most helpful to me in examining myself. With permission of the authors, I formatted the following two electronic versions of the Beichtspiegel during Lent of this year for public distribution:

PDF Beichtspiegel

MSWord Beichtspiegel

My pastor subsequently spent a few Bible study periods during that recent penitential season to talk more on the issue of individual confession and absolution - using this particular Beichtspiegel as a springboard for these discussions, and putting this reflective tool into the hands of his sheep.

How to use this tool in individual confession and absolution is explained and encouraged by the authors in the text.

If you find any typographical errors in those electronic versions, please let me know (ehtoothdoctor at gmail dot com) so that I may correct them.

As I already mentione, this Beichtspiegel is published in The Brotherhood Prayer Book, Emmanuel Press, 2007. The authors, Rev. Michael Frese and Rev. Benjamin Mayes, compiled this "confessional mirror" from the writings of the best American and German Lutheran father-confessors. The text is public domain and therefore may be formatted, copied, and distributed as much as you wish without copyright concerns.

You have the blessings, explicit permission, and even encouragement of the authors to distribute this, as they gave me permission to provide it in these forms.

Though it is not required, please acknowledge the authors and The Brotherhood Prayer Book. However, if you modify this text in any way, which the authors say you may certainly do if you wish, kindly do NOT mention the source.

WM Cwirla said...

There is a similar Beichtspiegel-esque treatment ofthe 10 commandments in the Treasury of Daily Prayer (pp. 1460-1462). There is also a good "brief instruction" on confession and absolution on pp. 1458ff.

Chad Myers said...

Catholics have been doing confession since, well, the beginning, so there's lots of resources for you to cherry-pick there. Of course, not all of it would be in line with Lutheran theology, but much of it is. Google for "Examination of Conscience". Requiring people to make an "Act of Contrition" is a good thing to keep in mind and I don't believe that is heretical to Lutherans, from what I understand. Reconciliation is a wonderful, healing thing for people, even if they don't mention specific sins and I'm warmed to see my Lutheran brothers (I grew up Lutheran) strongly considering bringing this practice back.

Susan said...

Isn't requiring people to make an act of contrition the same thing as doing penance?

Sometimes we shortchange the Gospel. We don't believe that it actually has the power to change lives and strengthen faith. Do we want to require something that the Gospel may very well bring about on its own? What actually changes people's behavior -- God's requirements or His grace & mercy?

Chad Myers said...

An Act of Contrition is not penance, it's an act of declaring culpability for the sins committed. If you can't say that you're really sorry for what you did and admit that what you did was wrong, are you really confessing?

It's like requiring the saying of the creed in the liturgy. If you don't believe these things, are you really Lutheran?

It's also like requiring saying "I Baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" during a baptism. These words mark part of the ritual and signify and acknowledge the act being performed is an intentional one.

Likewise, during confession, we mark the intent of full, good, and penitent confession by declaring as such.

Sure, you don't HAVE to say those exact words, ones like them would suffice, but I think it's important that people know this isn't a joke and it's not something they just do willy-nilly. We're here for something serious and you better be really sorry for these sins and understand that what you did was wrong in order to make a full confession and receive true absolution. We cannot presume God's mercy or grace other than what He's promised, but we should at least do our part to make sure that we've honestly made an attempt from our heart to put things right with God again.

The Act of Contrition is a good way of signifying this, but it's not necessarily the only one. It's the best one I've seen. If you want to come up with alternate verbiage, that's fine.

Penance is another matter. Temporal punishment for sins is a separate affair from the contrition of the heart and forgiveness.

You may get drunk and drive through your neighbor's fence. He may forgive you and not bear a grudge, but you still have to pay for the fence.

Susan said...

So what you're saying (I think?) is that an "act of contrition" is not something you do to show how sorry you are, but is essentially a general confession of sin as part of the rite?

Our hymnal does include this:
I have lived as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most. My Lord's name I have not honored as I should. My worship and prayers have faltered. I have not let His love have its way with me, so my love for others has failed. There are those whom I have hurt, and those whom I have failed to help. My thoughts and desires have been soiled with sin.

WM Cwirla said...

Confession itself is an "act of contrition." (see Apology XII.107-8).

Chad Myers said...

Susan, et al: Google for "Examination of Conscience". There's lots of good stuff there for any Christian. Yes,you may end up seeing some Catholic stuff in a few parts, but by and large, it's all solid Christian theology (ten commandments stuff, mostly).

An "Act of Contrition" is something you say. Here is the full text. When Catholics go to confession, this is part of the ritual (although not all Priests ask for it and it's not required for the Sacrament):

Act of Contrition:
O my God,
I am heartily sorry for
having offended Thee,
and I detest all my sins,
because I dread the loss of heaven,
and the pains of hell;
but most of all because
they offend Thee, my God,
Who are all good and
deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve,
with the help of Thy grace,
to confess my sins,
to do penance,
and to amend my life.

Rev. J. V. Scheer said...

I initiated this practice after a very brief introduction. I have taught Bible Studies on it, a newsletter on it, bulletin inserts related to it, and several handouts to the Bible Study and congregation at large. I have used materials from Higher Things. I have also used materials written by Dr. Harold Senkbeil. I encourage its use in private pastoral care, teaching my elders, catechesis, youth group meetings, and during Bible Study.

The practice has been received well. Not too many are willing to partake, although as time goes on, more and more ask very specific questions about it. I have also been visited by other Lutherans in the area that are interested.

I use the rite of Individual Confession and Absolution out of LSB. I have a regularly posted hour on Thursday morning and Saturday evening, as well as any other time by appointment. Confession is heard in the sanctuary and I am vested. Of note, if cases of legal nature come up, the use of a stole is an almost legal guarantee that the communication is protected under pastor-penitent relationship. Many non-denom pastors run into problems because they do not use vestments to clearly mark sacred time.

I have used the questions that are included in Lutheran Catechesis by Pr. Bender. Also pointing them to the simple words of the Catechism (Ten Commandments, Table of Duties, Office of the Keys)

First and foremost, a father confessor of my own. Secondly, a regular review of the pastoral theology behind hearing confession. Third, the prayer of preparation to hear confession from the Pastoral Care Companion.

EBJ said...

I've often wondered if more Lutherans would make use of Individual Confession if they could do it anonymously like Roman Catholics who use a confessional box. I think one of the biggest barriers to confession is people are embarrassed to have their Pastor know about this or that sin they have committed. However, the sins people are most embarrassed to confess are often the ones that have the most need of being confessed. From what I know Individual Confession in Lutheran churches is always face to face, but maybe there are some exceptions.

Chad Myers said...

EBJ: Private/anonymous confession is definitely helpful for a full and good confession -- speaking from personal experience.

It can lead to abuse or lack of reverence/respect for the sacrament, however, so care/emphasis must be placed on proper examination of conscience beforehand.

Also, it's important that people regularly see the same confessor rather than "confessor shopping". Having accountability to a confessor, even if they don't know who you are, is important to conquer addictions and repeated sins of the same nature (habits, etc).

If there's something that needs extra pastoral care, the Priest will normally invite the anonymous to schedule an appointment, or go see a spiritual advisor through the diocese ASAP. I've heard of this being done when, for example, a woman comes in an confesses an abortion. This is a very serious matter and requires lots of pastoral care and attention due to the severity of the pain and suffering that this poor woman will experience the rest of her life. Priests may invite the person right then and there to slide the barrier over and talk face-to-face, or make a separate appointment for more time and better setting.

Susan said...

I have always wondered why people thought they had anonymity in a confessional booth. Wouldn't the pastor recognize the voice and possibly some of the life circumstances that might come up in the confessional (being single, or having kids, or widowhood, or peer pressure in high school, etc)?

Mr Myers suggested that confessor-shopping doesn't allow for as much accountability in conquering besetting sins. My father-confessor told me that it was important not to change confessors, looking for someone different. But for a very different reason. He said switching confessors gives the devil an opening to say, "Now, see, if he knew how long you had struggled with that sin, he wouldn't forgive you." The long-term relationship with one's father-confessor demonstrates that God DOES forgive and forgive and forgive and forgive, even when we cannot overcome our sin, even when we've been to confession 70x7 times. His reason to not "confessor shop" was for the certainty found in the absolution spoken to wretched sinners, not in the amendment of life that may or may not be achieved.