27 July 2008

Confessing Our Sin

How do we Lutherans confess our sins? Well, certainly the preferable form is private confession and absolution, but we have a number of public forms we use as well. What follows are the various confessions used in LSB. Note that rather than having us confess particular sins (that's where private confession comes in!), we confess in general terms our sinfulness. We don't try to hold anything out as beyond the scope of forgiveness, but acknowledge that we need this forgiveness through and through because of the sinful corruption of our nature:

Divine Service I and II and optional in V:

Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways, to the glory of Your holy name. Amen. [Lutheran adaptation of a confession from the Book of Common Prayer]

Divine Service III and optional in V and in Corporate Confession and Absolution and on Maundy Thursday:

O almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them, and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You, of Your boundless mercy, and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter suffering and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being. [Saxony, 1581]

Divine Service III (optional)

(Pastor): Almighty God, our maker and redeemer, we poor sinners confess unto You that we are by nature sinful and unclean and that we have sinned against You by thought, word, and deed. Wherefore we flee for refuge to Your infinite mercy, seeking and imploring Your grace for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(all): O most merciful God, who has given Your only-begotten Son to die for us, have mercy upon us and for His sake grant us remission of all our sins; and by Your Holy Spirit increase in us true knowledge of You and of Your will and true obedience to Your Word, to the end that by Your grace, we may come to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. [Mecklenburg, 1545]

Divine Service IV:

(spoken as the invitation to confession by the pastor): Since we are gathered to hear God's Word, call upon Him in prayer and praise, and receive the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the fellowship of this altar, let us first consider our unworthiness and confess before God and one another that we have sinned in thought, word, and deed, and that we cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition. Together as His people let us take refuge in the infinite mercy of God, our heavenly Father, seeking His grace for the sake of Christ, and saying: God be merciful to me, a sinner.
(to which all respond): Almighty God, have mercy upon us, forgive us our sins, and lead us to everlasting life.


(first option): I confess to God Almighty, before the whole company of heaven and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned in thought, word, and deed by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault; wherefore I pray God Almighty to have mercy on me, forgive me all my sins, and bring me to everlasting life. Amen. [from the ancient Roman Confiteor at the start of the Mass and at Compline]

(second option): Holy and gracious God, I confess that I have sinned against You this day. Some of my sin I know - the thoughts and words and deeds of which I am ashamed - but some is known only to You. In the name of Jesus Christ, I ask forgiveness. Deliver and restore me that I may rest in peace. [adaptation of LBW]

Note that while Confession and Absolution is a regular feature of the Divine Service, in Lutheran use it shows up in the Daily Office only in Compline - unlike typical Anglican use.


Anonymous Lutheran said...

Since you point out that Confession and Absolution in the Daily Office only appear in the Compline, could you also elaborate on the reasons for this? I think I might know, but my thoughts on this are just speculation.

William Weedon said...

Since Compline closes the day, and since it is in a very real sense a practice funeral for ourselves, it is utterly fitting that it commences with a time of self-examination and confession. Before laying down for sleep, we cast our minds back over the day, and remember the many times we have failed to live in God's love and to act upon it, and for this we beg forgiveness. The interesting phrase in the Compline confession is "before the whole company of heaven" which is a condensed form of the Roman original: "to blessed Mary, Ever-Virgin, to St. Michael the archangel, to blessed John the Baptist, to Sts. Peter and Paul and to all the saints." The idea is still beautifully present, though, that gathered before the throne of the Lamb we are present with all God's people and so our confession is made to God not only before the brothers and sisters visible, but before the whole company of heaven itself.

Heather said...

Though this post is primarily regarding corporate confession, it makes me want to ask a question I haven't been able to get answered since LSB made its debut: Why did the rite for individual confession and aboslution change?

This rite is so beautiful in LW, woven together with Psalms recited by Pastor and penitent that add so much. In the moments during this rite, my sin is so very real as I recite those verses from Ps. 102 and 51, and I experience the very real release of forgiveness with those beautiful words from Ps. 30. There is such power in hearing Pastor recite these psalms with me. Through Pastor, Jesus Himself not only forgives my sin, but He is identifying with my sin and then rejoicing with me in the forgiveness He has won. The rite in LSB stands in stark contrast - almost before it is begun, it is over.

Why the change?

William Weedon said...

The LSB rite is modeled a bit closer on the Small Catechism's form, though there is nothing to prevent a pastor and penitent praying TOGETHER one or more of the Penitential Psalms prior to asking the pastor to hear one's confession. Can we ever pray Psalm 51 too often?

Phil said...

My current pastor doesn't use the corporate Confession and Absolution; he maintains that it's an improper use of the pastoral office, and true Absolution should only be administered privately. Instead, he uses the Declaration of Grace.

I suspect that there are more in the LCMS who disagree with him than agree, though I'm not fully convinced. (And I remember there being a bit of a row in Gottesdienst about this.) That aside, one thing he mentions is that the corporate form of Absolution was an innovation in TLH that had almost no precedent in Lutheran churches otherwise. Do you have any insight into the historical practice?

William Weedon said...

Well, that's not accurate at all. In the old Saxon order which Missouri first Englished in 1881 (and which she published for use in America auf Deutsch in 1856), the confession of sins with the absolution - almost identical to page 15 - was contained. Only it followed the SERMON rather than at the start of the liturgy. Since 1581, the general confession of p. 15 and its absolution have been current in Lutheran use.

Anonymous said...

The confession that preceeds DS-III in the new hymnal (the TLH p.15 version) makes it appear like the absolution is dependent upon how heartily sorry we are and how sincerely our repentance for our sins is.

Anonymous Lutheran said...

Anonymous, I might agree with you if the congregation is poorly catechized, but this really is a question of education. Hearty sorrow and sincere repentance are indeed required, but we are not capable of producing these things in ourselves. The Law produces them in us, and so we are driven to confession, where the Law is answered by the Gospel in the words of absolution. None of this is by our own doing.

Anonymous Lutheran said...

Pr. Weedon, regarding Confession and Absolution in the Daily Office, my mind was taking me down a completely different path; but after reading your reply I did a little more research. I was surprised to learn that the Anglican practice seems to have been an innovation, and that in the older historic practice it appears only the Compline contained Confession and Absolution.