Church of St. Uriel the Archangel Sea Girt, New Jersey
The Sacrament of Reconciliation
Giuseppe Molteni The Confession (Detail), 1838
Gallerie di Piazza Scala, Milan, Italy
"If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (John 20:23).
The outward and visible sign of the Sacrament of Penance (also known as the Sacrament of Reconciliation) is the confessions of sins by a penitent to a priest, who in turn offers penance, counsel, and Absolution. The inward and spiritual grace is the forgiveness of sins and the grace of continued conversion to the pattern of life in Christ.
In the Anglican tradition, private confession to a priest is not a requirement but a privilege. There is no rule for how often Anglicans should come to the Sacrament of Penance: the traditional formula is "All may; some should; none must."
Anyone whose conscience is burdened by grave sin should make their Confession before receiving Holy Communion. The traditional Exhortation on pages 316-317 of the 1979 Prayer Book includes these lines:
"And if, in your preparation [for Holy Communion], you need help and counsel, then go and open your grief to a discreet and understanding priest, and confess your sins, that you may receive the benefit of absolution, and spiritual counsel and advice; to the removal of scruple and doubt, the assurance of pardon, and the strengthening of your faith."
Beyond that, regular Confession is a powerful aid to spiritual growth in the struggle against temptation and sin. Some practicing Anglicans find it helpful to make their Confession once a year (e. g. during Lent or Holy Week), or quarterly (e.g. before the principal festivals of the Church Calendar), or even once a month.
In the Episcopal Church, as in other branches of the Church Catholic, the seal of the Confessional is absolute and must under no circumstances be broken (The Book of Common Prayer, 1979, p. 447).
At St. Uriel's, Confessions are always available by appointment and (in cases of urgency) upon request. At certain times (e. g. during the Season of Lent), regularly-scheduled times of Confessions may be announced.
The prospect of making a Confession can be daunting to those contemplating doing so for the first time. But with practice it becomes a joyful experience of spiritual healing and renewal. If you need help in preparing for this Sacrament, please do not hesitate to ask! The clergy are eager to be of assistance.