When was the last time you stood inside a confession box before God and apologized for the wrongs you’ve done? Do you often include times of confession and seeking forgiveness in your prayers?
It’s possible that you haven’t given the reasons why confession is so crucial much thought.
Why should we take the time to unburden our emotions to God in more ways outside simply at the communal prayers of confession on Sunday mornings? This includes being honest about our sins, and most importantly, asking God for assistance in overcoming our sins and becoming better people.
What is the Confessional Box?
In certain Christian churches, penitents go to a special chamber called a confessional to have their sins heard by a priest.
Typically made of wood, a confessional’s interior is divided into three sections: a central one where the priest sits behind a door or curtain; a side one with a latticed aperture through which penitents can talk; and a kneeler’s step. In this setup, the penitent is on display while the priest remains unseen.
Many beautifully designed examples of confessionals from the late 16th and 17th centuries may be seen in churches across the continent of Europe. Saint Michael’s Church in Leuven is a great place to see an example of Renaissance architecture. However, confessionals are often freestanding pieces of furniture.
Nowadays, many Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican churches provide private Confession and Absolution at the chancel rails or in a reconciliation chamber, in addition to the more public penitential rites performed by the congregation as a whole.
Confession in Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches does not take place in a sealed confessional, but rather in plain sight of other believers (such as those waiting in line), yet at a safe enough distance so as not to break the seal of confession.
The History of the Confession Box
The modern confessional was developed during the 16th century; Du Cange notes that the term “confessionale” was first used to describe the sacral poenitentiae tribunal in 1563.
The name originally referred to the burial site of a martyr or “confessor” (meaning “one who confesses Christ”). However, there are cases (such as the confessional of the Church of St. Trophime at Arles) in which the name was linked to the area, whether cell or seat, where well-known saints had a practice of taking confessions.
Auricular confession is linked in the minds of many Reformed Christians to scandals of the past and present. However, they were designed to prevent such controversies by separating the priest and penitent, therefore guaranteeing both necessary publicity and a fair level of seclusion.
In the Middle Ages, canon law established strict regulations on the admissibility of confessions made by women, notably nuns. Publicity was considered the finest kind of protection in pre-Reformation England.
Allow the priest select for himself a public location for hearing confessions, where he may be seen generally by everyone in the church; and do not let him hear anyone, and especially any lady, in a secret place, except in severe need,” said Archbishop Walter Reynolds in 1322 in his Constitutions.
Confessions were likely heard by the priest either at the chancel door or at a bench end in the nave close to the door. Some churchwardens’ records, however, do describe a designated area to sit: the “shriving stool” “shriving pew” or “shriving place” (in fact, the holiday of Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the ritual of shriving and confession).
Confession Box in England
An old stone recliner, with a stone seat and steps out to the side, seems to have been used as a confessional at Lenham, Kent. The introduction of confessionals into several Anglo-Catholic churches coincided with the resurgence of auricular confession within the Church of England.
However, some have contended that they are not covered by the “the furniture of the church” in the Prayer Book since they were not part of the “second year of King Edward VI” in the “Ornaments Rubric” The case of Davey v. Hinde (vicar of the Church of the Annunciation in Brighton) was heard before Dr. Tristram in the consistory court of Chichester in 1900, and the subject of their validity was challenged.
Since they are not “on the ground that they are not articles of church furniture requisite for or conducive to conformity with the doctrine or practice of the Church of England about the reception of confession” they were deemed inappropriate.
The term “confessional,” meaning “a fee charged for the privilege of hearing a confession,” is now archaic.
Why Must We Confess Our Transgressions If They’ve Already Been Pardoned?
Paul extolled God for his unmerited favor in giving us his beloved Son. Because of him, God has provided us with salvation via his blood and forgiveness of sins, in line with the overflowing riches of his grace that he bestowed on us in Christ (Ephesians 1:6-8).
When we are saved, our sins are cast as far as the east is from the west, and God forgives us of our transgressions (Psalm 103:12).
The Two Types of God’s Forgiveness
God’s judicial mercy is what it means to trust in Jesus Christ as Savior. If we have ever sinned, and no matter how many times we sin in the future, we have been legally forgiven and will not be held accountable for those sins in hell. However, the question at hand arises because we still have to deal with the fallout of sin while we’re still on Earth.
In contrast to Ephesians 1:6-8, 1 John 1:9 focuses on what we term “relational” or “familial” forgiveness, such as that between a father and a son.
When a son displeases his father by failing to meet the latter’s standards or abide by the latter’s regulations, the son has broken fellowship with his father. Despite the strain on their relationship, he will always be his father’s son.
Until the son apologizes to his father, their relationship will suffer. The same is true with God: we cannot have the right relationship with Him unless we acknowledge our sins. When we acknowledge our wrongdoing to God, He restores our relationship with Him. This is an example of forgiveness in a relationship.
Every follower of Christ receives “positional” forgiveness which is also known as judicial forgiveness. All of our sins, past, present, and future, are forgiven because of our fellowship in Christ’s body, the Church.
Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was sufficient to appease God’s anger against sin; no other offering is required. Jesus’ words, “It is finished,” were not a casual declaration. There and there, we were granted pardons for our respective positions.
The Lord’s punishment can be avoided via repentance and confession of guilt. The Lord’s punishment will continue to come until we acknowledge our wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness.
Even though our sins are pardoned permanently at the moment of redemption (positional forgiveness), we nevertheless need to maintain the right standing with God daily (relational forgiveness). Having sin in our life that has not been acknowledged prevents us from having the right communion with God.
Therefore, if we want to keep in close relationship with God, we must confess our sins to God as soon as we become aware that we have sinned.
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