Greetings St. Liz,
The Woods family is very excited to begin our time with you this coming week. It has been a long hot summer for us as I am sure it has been the same for you.
I am writing this after standing outside with our oldest daughter, Harper, as we watched a nice little summer rainstorm pour down upon us. It was just long enough that it knocked the heat out of the air and left a cool breeze in its wake. It was cool enough that we actually felt like spending more than ten minutes outside after the storm passed. ...Read More
Lenten Resources: Psalter + Confessionby The Rev. Daniel P Strandlund on February 27, 2020
First, an idea for a Lenten discipline: read the Psalms. This is a good and ancient practice in its own right, but this year, as I mentioned at our Ash Wednesday service, the Psalms are also the book of the bible Bishop Reed has invited us to study.
We’re giving special attention to the Psalms in two ways at St. Liz. First, our deacon and seminarian, Thom, is leading an adult Sunday School class on the Psalms right now. It’s in the Mission Hall, in between Sunday services, the same time as Godly Play so the kids have somewhere to go, too. Thom is a gifted and insightful teacher; I commend his class to you. Thom will be away on March 22, but otherwise his class should continue through the spring.
Another way we’re attending carefully to the Psalms at St. Liz is by singing them on Sunday mornings. Christians have been singing the Psalms for centuries, letting the weight of the melody sink the words deeply into our memories.
But you can pray the Psalms on your own, too. The Book of Common Prayer encourages this. If you follow the Daily Office lectionary, you’re already praying Psalms morning and evening. If you’re not, however, there’s an even simpler way. (Granted, being simpler to use than the Daily Office lectionary isn’t saying much!)
Turn to page 785 in your Book of Common Prayer. You’ll notice that right above Psalm 132, it says “Twenty-eighth Day: Morning Prayer.” All through the Psalter in the BCP, there are little tags like this. The idea is simple: in the morning of the 28th day of a month, you start reading the Psalms right there, and you keep reading until you see “Twenty-eighth Day: Evening Prayer.” Once you get to the tag for evening of the 28th day, you stop. That evening you pick up your BCP again and start reading the Psalms where you left off, and you keep reading until you see “Twenty-ninth Day: Morning Prayer.”
I start on page 785 because most of us get this newsletter on a Friday morning, and this Friday is February 28th. So, if you were to start today, you would start on page 785 and read Psalms 132-135 this morning. Then, Friday evening, you’d read Psalm 136-138. Then on Saturday morning of February 29th, you’d read Psalms 139-140. On March 1st, you go back to the beginning of the Psalter. And so on.
It’s easy, and you can start and stop as you need. All you need to know is what day of the month it is, and then go find either the morning or evening Psalms. Done!
Second, I want to call your attention to a lesser used sacramental rite of the Episcopal Church: the Reconciliation of a Penitent, or what we usually call “Confession.”
You may be wondering, “Wait, don’t we confess our sins every week?” Yes. The words are familiar. The deacon or priest says, “Let us confess our sins against God and our neighbor,” and then we begin, “Most merciful God…”
These words are part of our general confession, designed to be used together, week in and week out. The words we use to confess on Sundays are deliberately broad—“in thought, word, and deed”—and because we’re all saying them together, this general confession offers us a kind of personable anonymity. All this is as it should be for public worship.
Even though our Sunday confession is general, none of us actually sins in general, but with specificity. It is that coworker against whom I passively scheme. It is this marriage in which I have been a negligent spouse. It is that night all those years ago which still I cannot help but call to mind.
Because this is true, and because sometimes our specific sins continue to haunt us no matter how many general confessions we make on Sundays, in the Episcopal Church we have the sacramental rite of Reconciliation of a Penitent. In this rite, one confesses his or her sin or sins out loud to a priest. There is no anonymous crowd in which to let one’s voice become part of a multitude. When we seek the sacramental rite of Reconciliation of a Penitent, we hear ourselves own what we have done, out loud, and we do so in front of another person. He or she may offer counsel and encouragement, suggest a tangible form of penitence or thanksgiving, or (in extreme cases) temporarily withhold absolution until necessary actions are taken.
In the confessions I have heard, I have done a great deal of counseling and encouraging, some suggesting of penitential practices (usually to repair relationships), and never withheld absolution until certain actions have been taken.
I usually make my own confession in the days before Lent and (some years) in the days before Advent, as well. Both are seasons of preparation, of getting our soul’s house in order, and Lent in particular is a season of penitence. Going to confession is part and parcel of that for me. I made my confession on Monday of this past week. It was long overdue, and I felt more at home in my life afterwards.
I rarely feel as exposed as I do when I’m making my confession. This is why the Book of Common Prayer describes the rite in this way:
“The content of a confession is not normally a matter of subsequent discussion. The secrecy of a confession is morally absolute for the confessor [i.e. the priest], and must under no circumstances be broken.” (pg. 446)
When my confessor hears my confession, not only is the confidentially morally absolute for him as he goes about the rest of his week and has conversations with others, but he also does not bring it up to me again. If he sees me the next week, he doesn’t say, “So, how are you doing with the you know what we talked about the other day?” When absolution is declared, the sins really are absolved. A new page is turned. We are not confronted with them again; they are forgiven.
I offer all of this as a resource, not as a prescription. The rite of Reconciliation of a Penitent is in the Book of Common Prayer, with a description on page 446 and the rite itself beginning on page 447. You are welcome to read it. You’ll notice that there are two forms, one on page 447 and one on page 449. There are some historical reasons for having two forms, but practically speaking, Form One can be better for very specific sins one wishes to confess. Form Two can be better when one needs more space for talking. This can be good if the confession is part of a significant conversion or change of life for the Penitent, or if the Penitent desires to confess a great deal about a portion of his or her life, or if the Penitent lacks the virtue of concision (like me) and is simply more comfortable with talking a lot.
A confession can be heard anywhere that is private. At St. Liz, I usually close the church for a brief time and hear them inside the altar rail. The priest usually sits, and the person confessing can either sit or kneel.
Finally, the Reconciliation of a Penitent isn’t limited to Lent; it’s always available. If ever you are interested, simply reach out, and we’ll set up a time.