Reconciliation of Penitents: The Sacrament of Confession
Those who come from different religious traditions often ask Does the Episcopal Church believe in confession? The answer is yes, but not necessarily in the same way they may have experienced it in other churches. Reconciliation is the ministry that Jesus commended to his Church. At one time or other, we all need to be reconciled. We do it in a number of ways. First, at almost every Holy Eucharist, we make a confession of sin (what Episcopalians call the General Confession). Following this prayer of confession, the priest pronounces an absolution in the name of the Church. In celebration of the knowledge that Christ has died for us and has forgiven all our sins, we give and receive the Peace.
There is also a rite in the Prayer Book for private, individual confession of our sins to the priest. There may be times in our lives when we feel the need to do this or when our priest suggests it as a way of more fully experiencing God’s grace and forgiveness. Anything we disclose to the priest in this confession is completely confidential. Clergy are bound by what is known by the seal of confession which prohibits the priest from divulging anything heard in this sacramental rite.
Finally, there may be communal celebrations of the Rite of Reconciliation (sometimes combined with the Rite of Healing) in which we gather to reflect on the nature of sin, examine ourselves in terms of our own faults, and receive individual absolution from the clergy.
To sum all this up, the Episcopal Church believes the following about the need to go to individual, private confession: All may, some should, none must.