Sunday, January 18, 2009

Peace of Christ

“So, I just want to get this straight,” I asked the priest after mass one morning. “I can’t take the sacrament of the Eucharist, but my baptism counts, so I’ve had one of the Sacraments.”

“So far,” he answered with a smile, enjoying the fact that my friendship with him has given his brain more work than it has had to do since his seminary days.

“Are there any others I can do, or is Baptism the only one?” I asked. “What about Confession? Can’t I confess?”

He squirmed good-naturedly. “I can hear your confession; I just can’t absolve you.”

“Aw, that’s rotten,” I smiled. “You can’t proclaim absolution for a Baptized member of the Church?”

“That actually gets into one major difference between Catholics and Protestants,” he explained. “You tend to be very vertical in your faith; it is a matter between you and God, and confession and forgiveness is a matter of reconciling your individual self to God. For us, faith always must be both vertical and horizontal, so confession and forgiveness must also involve being reconciled with your brothers and sisters.”

Of course, there is good, sound theology behind that picture of the Church. It is why the liturgy includes passing the peace with confession. It reminds me of Ephesians 2, a major salvation-chapter. “For he himself is our peace,” Paul says, right after the famous passage of being saved by grace through faith, “who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross.” The horizontal and the vertical happen together.

I was thinking about that this week in the context of the difference between the Anglican and the Catholic prayers of confession. When I first heard the Catholic prayer, I thought it was missing a significant part, the part a three-year-old once prayed: “You have to forgive me for all the bad things I’ve done.” Perhaps a Catholic hearing our prayer would feel a similar significant hole.
Anglican prayer of confession
Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what I have done and by what I have left undone. I have not loved you with my whole heart. I have not loved my neighbor as myself. I am truly sorry, and I earnestly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and forgive me, that I may delight in your will and walk in your ways to the glory of your name.

Catholic prayer of confession
I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters that I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do; and I ask the Blessed Mary ever virgin, all the angles and saints, and you my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.

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