>The following is a liturgy I have written that can be used by pastors, spiritual guides, confessors, mentors, or by accountability groups that are seeking to take confession seriously in a Protestant context. I have long been convinced that the “all pray in silence” that follows many public prayers of confession is a very pregnant silence that often leaves too much hidden from the light of God’s truth and the covenant accountabilty of God’s people.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in the last chapter of his “Life Together,” makes a strong case for recovering the practice of confession for those of us who had a tendency to throw the baby out with the bath water. Even the great reformer Martin Luther went to confession throughout his life, though it was not retained as a sacrament in Protestant Churches.
I have used the following liturgy in several contexts and it continues to be a work in progress. I post it here in hopes that some of my friends and collegues may comment about it, offer suggestions, and help improve it further. It was first composed for use with people suffering from various addictions, but I have discovered that it can be a powerful prayer for anyone who is wanting to live a holy life with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Let us confess our sins one to another and pray for one another so that we may be healed. (James 5)
CONFESSION AND PARDON
Merciful God, we confess that we have not love you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not love our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us we pray. Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Confession of Concrete Sins and Temptations
In corporate prayers of confession, the previous prayer is most often followed by silent confession by individuals. In a private confessing relationship between a pastor and parishioner or a trusted spiritual friend or prayer partner, these sins are named aloud. In some cases, it may be appropriate to recommend certain spiritual disciplines or practices that can assist one with holy living and help one avoid temptation.
After reflection and discussion that has included the confession of sins both done and left undone, the Pastor/Confessor concludes:
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The promise of Scripture is true. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.
In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.
Glory to God. Amen.
Prayer of Exorcism and consecratiOn
The following prayer was adapted and inspired by the early church practice of saying a prayer of exorcism prior to the baptism of catechumens. This was distinguished from the prayer of anointing that follows baptism, and was a very visible, embodied act that explicitly renounced all the spiritual forces of wickedness and evil.
The oil to be used should be unscented and, unlike the anointing that follows baptism, the amount should not be excessive. Depending on the setting and physical abilities of the person being anointed, one can sit, stand, or kneel.
X = Sign of the Cross with oil on the forehead
I exorcise you, every unclean spirit, in the name of God (X) the Father Almighty, and in the name of Jesus (X) Christ, His Son, our Lord and Judge, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, that you depart from this child of God, (persons’ name), and from this body which the Lord has seen fit to call a holy temple, that it may be made the temple of the living God, and that the Holy Spirit (X) may live and reign within its members. Through the same Christ our Lord, who shall come to judge the living and the dead.
The pastor takes oil in and makes the sign of the cross on the ears, eyes, lips, the feet, and then the hands (the whole body being consecrated in the shape of a large cross):
Right ear and then left ear anointed with sign of the cross:
Almighty God, let these ears hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Let the one who has an ear, hear the Word of the Lord and respond in obedience. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sign of cross on eyelids or just above eyebrows saying:
Lord Jesus, you who make the lame walk and you who give sight to the blind; open these eyes to see your truth and rejoice in your light. Guard them against any and all images or visions that denigrate or degrade your good creation. Keep them from flirting with sin; from peeking at perversion, and from glancing at passing fancies that would dim the true light and beauty of Christ’s love and grace. Assist them in seeing injustice, oppression, and human suffering, the images of Jesus in distressing disguise, found in the stranger, the poor, the last, and the least. Let them be open to see the glory of your radiance and the true light of your righteousness, that (NAME) may walk plainly in the way that leads to life. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Make sign of the cross on the lips with these words:
Lord, you have told us that if we fail to give you praise, even the rocks will cry out. May these lips be quick to pray and praise and slow to speak; may this tongue be wary of speaking ill of anyone; may it be used to encourage, to build up, and to serve the Lord with speech and words that edify believers and glorifies the Lord. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Sign of cross on the feet:
Lord, with your holy prophets of old, we proclaim “blessed are the feet of the one who brings good news.” Bless these feet before you now, that they may carry (NAME) into the world with the same Good News of Christ’s mercy, forgiveness, and love. May these feet avoid the places and the company that would take them from your straight and narrow way. Help (NAME) to walk in God’s light, putting one foot in front of the other, as (NAME) continues on the way of salvation. Lord, guide these feet, while (NAME) runs with perseverance the race that is set before us.
Sign of cross on hands (first right then left):
Lord, you appeared to your disciples who believed you to be dead, and you showed them your hands and your feet saying: “It is I.” Lord Jesus, take these hands and mark them as yours. May they be eager to serve others and hesitant to be raised against another person. Make them free of violence and mischief. Keep them from idle curiosities and from touching things or persons in a way that is unfitting. Help them to be godly hands that are always ready to do your bidding. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Before anointing over the heart, these questions may be asked:
Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever form they present themselves?
Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,
Put your whole trust in his grace,
And promise to serve him as your Lord,
In union with the church which Christ has opened
To people of all ages, nations, and races?
Do you believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth?
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord, who was born, and suffered for us?
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting?
Sign of cross on chest (over heart): Lord Christ, you have called us to “Love the Lord our God with our all heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.” Lord take this heart and make it yours again this day. Fill it anew with love and light and the power and presence of your Holy Spirit. As this muscle pumps blood through veins and arteries, may your truth and love course through every fiber of (his/her) body that (NAME) may truly be a living sanctuary for your Holy Presence; a temple where your Holy Spirit lives and reigns daily. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
And now, with the bold confidence of children of God, let us pray as our Lord taught us:
THE LORD’S PRAYER
The peace of Christ be with you.
And also with you.
Signs of peace and reconciliation can be shared before departing.
Update: Some early feedback suggested that concrete confession is so unfamiliar to many people that some might not even know how to start. The following examination of conscience can be used by people who are preparing to make such confession:
Are my relationships mostly made up of giving or taking?
Do I do the right thing or do I choose whatever seems easiest?
Do I consider the commandments when I act?
Do I compete with others too much?
Do I determine my worth based on whether I am better or worse than others?
Am I doing things which hurt my relationship with God?
Do I feel like I have wandered away from God?
Is it because of things I have done?
Do I take time to pray?
Do I go to church?
Do I show reverence for God’s name, or use it carelessly, or in anger?
Am I making full use of my spiritual and intellectual gifts as a student, an athlete, an artist, a full person?
Do I respect my body and the bodies of others, or are they things to me without value? Do I allow peer pressure to make decisions for me?
Do I care for myself, or do I drink? Smoke? Use drugs? Etc.
Do I have respect for my sexuality, and the sexuality of others?
Am I living a chaste life?
Am I respectful and loving to my family?
Do I help create a loving home life?
Do my attitudes, actions, or words, contribute tension in my home?
Do I show care for my world, e.g. school, work, others?
Do I show compassion for people who are suffering?
Do I allow society to fill me with values of greed, competition, violence, or do I follow the values of Christ?
Do I include others, or do I make fun of others?