Wednesday, June 11, 2014
The Half Sacrament of Absolution. . .
The Apology (XI, 60-61; XII 40-41; XIII 4-5) attests to the Lutheran willingness to call private confession and absolution a sacrament. This is far more than the mere refusal to abandon the practice as some Lutherans have suggested. In fact, private confession is never treated as mere holdover from Roman theology or practice that eventually might disappear (FC SD XI, 37-38; SA III, IV, 1)
Kenneth Korby, commenting on AP XII, 2-6, said that if it is indeed wicked to remove private confession and absolution, then it is equally as wicked not to restore it where it has fallen into disuse. If we think of sin but lightly, we also, by implication, think of Christ and His cross lightly. One dare not forget that it is precisely the keys which Jesus gave to His apostles on the evening of that first day of His resurrection.
I grew up and was catechized at a time when even the official catechism of the LCMS omitted Luther's Brief Order for Private Confession. A few questions remained but without a form to assist this from being mere theory or a blueprint to help teach actual practice. For generations this was missing from our catechism and it became so alien to our people that to resurrect what had been an essential part of Lutheran piety was often seen as Romanizing.
The AP (XV, 40) insists that those who commune are first instructed (as to the Our Father, Creed, and Ten Commandments) and absolved. This only amplifies AC (XXV, 1) where we confess that the usual practice for us [Lutherans] is to commune those previously examined and absolved. It is an interesting reference to First Communion practice in which private confession and absolution (the public and general confession and absolution being unknown at the time) was an essential component.
In other words, whether we have forgotten or not, we Lutherans confess that communicants undergo private confession and absolution prior to receiving the Sacrament of the Altar (at least first communion but the reference here implies every time one desires to receive the Sacrament). Lutherans has then both a discipline of private confession (before communing) and a consolation form of private confession for the relief of the conscience so burdened.
Today it is like the kiss of death for a Lutheran Pastor to begin his ministry in a parish by addressing private confession. Perhaps after some time of teaching and preaching the practice might be restored in form though it seldom becomes normal for Lutheran communicants. How many of us Lutheran Pastors have sat for hours in the chancel awaiting the penitents who never came during the posted hours for private confession? Nonetheless, we continue in the hope that some will come. My own practice requires those who receive first communion to go through private confession and absolution -- at least once in their lives!
What is also interesting is that often those who object most to the occasion omission of the order or general confession and absolution from the Divine Service (as we do for baptisms) tend to be the most vehement against the reintroduction of private confession and absolution. We have retained the discipline of confession prior to communion but it has become a generic form in which there is no personal address and in which we name no sins specifically (except perhaps in our hearts).
Some of this you can find in the excellent article by Jody Rinas in the current issue of Logia; the article is entitled The Sacramentality of Private Confession.