Small Catechism (5): Confession

How Christians should be taught to confess.

What is confession?
Confession has two parts: first, that we confess our sins; second, that we receive absolution, or forgiveness, from the confessor, as from God Himself, and that we in no way doubt, but firmly believe, that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.

What sins should we confess?
Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even those of which we are unaware, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer. But before the confessor we should confess only those sins which we know and feel in our hearts.

Which are these?
Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments. Are a father, mother, son, daughter, employer or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful or lazy? Have you grieved anyone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, neglected or wasted anything, or done other harm?

A Short Form of Confession

[Note: this is the form proposed by Luther in 1529. Other forms are generally used for individual confession today.]

The penitent says:
Reverend and dear confessor, I ask you to hear my confession and to pronounce forgiveness according to God’s will.

I, a poor sinner, confess myself before God guilty of all sins; especially I confess before you that I am a servant, a maid, etc. But, alas, I serve my master unfaithfully; for in this and in that I have not done what they commanded me; I have provoked them, and caused them to curse, have been negligent and have permitted damage to be done. I have also been immodest in words and deeds, have quarrelled with my equals, have grumbled and sworn at my mistress, etc. For all this I am sorry, and pray for grace; I want to do better.

A master or mistress may say this:
In particular I confess before you that I have not faithfully trained my children, servants and wife for God’s glory. I have cursed, and set a bad example by rude words and deeds. I have done my neighbour harm and spoken evil of him. I have overcharged, sold shoddy goods, and given short measure.

The penitent should add anything else he has done against God’s commandments and his own duties. 

If any one does not find himself burdened with these or greater sins, he should not trouble himself or search for or invent other sins. This would make confession a torture. Instead, he should mention one or two that he knows. For example: “In particular I confess that I have cursed, or that I have used improper words, or that I have neglected this or that, etc.” Let this suffice.

But if you know of no sins at all (which seems unlikely), then mention none in particular, but receive forgiveness upon your general confession which you make before God to the confessor.

Then the confessor shall say:
God be merciful to you and strengthen your faith. Amen.

Do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?

Yes, dear confessor.

Then let the confessor say:
Let it be done to you as you believe. And by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you your sins, in the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Depart in peace.

The confessor will other passages of Scripture to comfort and encourage those who have great burdens upon their consciences, or who are distressed and tempted. This is only a general form of confession for ordinary believers.

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