Friday, September 17, 2010
Maybe it is time to bring back the Confessional Closets
I remember one who said that after many years of life as a Christian, they heard me say, "As a called and ordained servant of Christ and by His authority, I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." The flood gates of peace entered their hearts and minds as had never been before. It was this that had been missing from their Christian faith and life for too long. And it was this that kept them coming back week after week.
Sadly, even where private confession is encouraged, it is used by only a small minority. Lutherans say we have not done away with private confession but for all practical purposes, we have eliminated this from the practice and expectation of our lives. Yet the folks who desire and use it most in my parish are those who are newer Lutherans, those who have come from no religious tradition at all or one where absolution is missing (in some cases, because sin is also missing). They know and crave the words of absolution said with their name - a personal and unmistakable encounter with this wonderful grace.
What folks find awkward is often the setting. For me, I place a chair next to the altar rail and read the Psalms while the penitent comes forward to kneel at the rail beside me. We have the rite well placed in the hymnal and it is easy rite to learn for both Pastor and penitent. But sometimes, it is hard in a building with a live acoustic and many visitors. I have also used the prayer altar in the sacristy and, eventually, hope to use our chapel for the same.
Part of me likes the visual statement the old confessional booth made. Sitting there in public view, it was a call to make use of this blessed gift of God, a testament to the role that private confession and absolution can play out in the lives of God's people, and a visual reminder to make use of this blessed opportunity often for a salutary benefit to body and soul. Plus, it provides a private setting in which this might take place -- it need not be anonymous and most parish priests knew/know the people who came/come to them in churches that used/use confessional "closets." But it is probably not going to happen... and without the visual cue, it means that some who might receive great benefit from private confession and absolution, will not...
Just a thought...