God forgive us

My wife has assumed responsibility for a new parish and she was doing some housekeeping in the office.  Among the things she discovered was “A Form of Confession for Boys an Girls.”  Wow.

It’s old and yellowed, but I have a feeling it isn’t old enough, let alone dead and gone.  This little gem, which is probably less a page of text reads as follows:

SAY: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

THEN SAY: Bless me Father for I have sinned.

THE PRIEST WILL BLESS YOU.

THEN SAY: I accuse myself of the following sins since my last confession which was (say when).

NEXT TELL THE PRIEST YOUR SINS:

_____I have not always said my morning and night prayers.

_____I have not always said my prayers carefully.

_____I have sworn.

_____I have used bad words and language.

_____I have laughed at religion and holy things.

_____I have missed the Holy Eucharist on Sunday when I could have gone.

_____I have not behaved as I should in Church.

_____I have cheated in my school work.

_____I have cheated in games.

_____I have been unkind to others.

_____I have been unkind to animals.

_____I have tried to get my own way.

_____I have been lazy.

_____I have not made a preparation for Holy Communion.

_____I have not gone to confession when I should.

_____I have not obeyed my parents and teachers.

_____I have fought with others.

_____I have hit others.

_____I have been selfish and not shared what I have.

_____I have thought I was better than others.

_____I have been impure and unclean alone or with others.

_____I have eaten too much.

_____I have stolen.

_____I have told lies.

_____I have talked unkindly about others.

_____I have taught others to do wrong things.

_____I have not kept the fast days.

_____I have hated others.

_____I have made fun of people.

_____I have been cross and unpleasant.

_____Anything else.  (ARE YOU, SERIOUS?!?  SORRY, THAT’S NOT IN “THE FORM”)

NOW SAY: For these sins and all other sins I cannot remember, I am sorry and ask to be forgiven and ask you, Father to give me penance, advice, and forgiveness.

LISTEN TO WHAT THE PRIEST SAYS.

AFTER YOU HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN AND BLESSED SAY: Thank you, Father.

LEAVE THE CONFESSIONAL, SAY YOUR PENANCE IN CHURCH, AND THANK GOD IN YOUR OWN WORDS FOR FORGIVING YOU.

Let me be clear: As the old proverb says, “confession is good for the soul.”  The need for it arises naturally and organically out of an experience of God — presenting itself when needed and in ways that bring us closer to God and remind us of God’s love.  That’s why some churches have a sacrament of reconciliation.

But note the emphasis.  The purpose is to provide a place for people to name the things they have done which impede the work of God’s love in their lives.  It is not a sacrament of blame-laying, guilt-inducing misery and it is not about a God who is trying to trip us up over violating divine law.

But this isn’t the way to teach children to assume moral responsibility, nor is it an effective way to teach children to love God.  A form of this kind is no sacrament at all, in fact.  It’s the product of neurotic adult preoccupation relieved of its guilty conscience by projecting its own darkness onto another generation.

It’s also a fantastic way to create a generation of legalistic neurotics who rummage through their lives, looking for ways to feel guilty.  The rest of the children subjected to this ritual will probably never darken a church door again.

God forgive us.

The Lenten Life: Falling and Getting Back Up Again
PB & J
Beyond Partisanship
Rare Prayer: Cries of Lament
About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Rueben Job Institute for Spiritual Formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and consulting editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, as well as several books: A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009), and The Dave Test (Abingdon, 2013). He and his wife, Natalie (who is also an academic and an Episcopal priest), live in Highland Park, Illinois, with their Gordon Setter, Hilda of Whitby. They have four children and four grandchildren: Henry, Addie, Heidi, and Sophie.


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