The following entries deal primarily with the history of the sacrament of reconciliation in the West and, after the Protestant Reformation, in the Roman Catholic church. From the New Testament onward, Christians were convinced that sin disrupted relationships with God and within the church. Hence the church was responsible to deal with sin. From the broader topic of how the church maintains discipline, the following focuses more narrowly on post-baptismal confession of sin and reconciliation...
Baptism is the primary means of reconciling sinners to God. But what happens when Christians fall into sin after baptism? In the sacramental traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, the Eucharist itself has been a means of restoring relationship with God and other Christians. But highly visible or habitual sinning required special attention if the integrity of the Christian community was to be maintained. In the Western tradition this led to the sacrament of penance: confession, absolution, and satisfaction for wrongs done. Although Protestants rejected many aspects of this sacramental practice, they retained a deep concern about church discipline and used both individual and corporate means to maintain discipline. In recent decades, Roman Catholic practices have changed markedly. Recently, Protestant groups have largely replaced formal church discipline with pastoral counseling. (For a renewed emphasis on corporate repentance in one wing of Protestantism, see chapter 19,"The Solemn Assembly. ")
Sin estranges and alienates people from God and each other, but God reconciles the world to himself through Christ. Christians celebrate their reconciliation to God in Christ by means of baptism and the Eucharist. Yet, admission of guilt and genuine sorrow for sin, as made evident in fasting, almsgiving, and other acts, are part of the way the church deals with sin after baptism.
Lent and Advent are the two penitential seasons of the church year. They are times of preparation and waiting. The most important way we as Christians prepare for the coming of the Christ, the one who reconciles us, is to examine ourselves and repent of sin. The following liturgy is set within the context of Advent. By changing the prayers and Scripture readings, it can be suitably modified for other seasons of the year.
The service of reconciliation should be planned with the needs of the local worshiping community in mind. The following checklist highlights concerns which should be addressed by worship planners.