Monday, February 15, 2010

Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday?

I find it very interesting that we live in a culture in which "Fat Tuesday," the outrageous party with all of its excesses, has come to replace our good Anglican Shrove Tuesday. Of course, given the failure of bishops and priests to teach "doctrine, discipline and worship" of the Church over the past half century it should come as little surprise that so many don't know the meaning of that name or the practice which it recommends. Or being more Episcopalian that Anglican, they don't understand that the practice of confession and absolution is part of our Anglican heritage.

Let me quote part of The Exhortations which the English prayer directs to be read when the priest gives warning for the celebration of Holy Communion:
"if there be any of you, who by this means cannot quiet his own conscience herein, let him come to me, or to some other discreet and learned Minister of God's Word, and open his grief; that by the ministry of God's holy word he may receive the benefit of absolution, together with ghostly counsel and advice, to the quieting of his conscience, and avoiding of all scruple and doubtfulness."

Further in The Visitation of the Sick there is provided a form for the sick person to say before listing the sins of which he is repenting. And that is followed by one of the most beautiful sentences in the whole of the English prayer book, one that I very much wish had been retained in our American version but which is used, I believe, by good priests through out Anglicanism when absolving sinners.

"Our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath left power to his Church to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in him, of his great mercy forgive thee thine offences : And by his authority committed to me, I absolve thee from all thy sins, In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."

It is a formula I have heard a good deal because I was lucky enough to be well instructed in the teaching of the faith as set forth in the traditional and classical prayer books in my teens. One of my fondest memories was of setting on the steps of my parish church with my university pals as we each waited for our turn to go in and confess our sins and be absolved. We were unusually happy sinners because we had discovered that the simple practice of acknowledging the particularity of our sins and receiving the absolution of the Church made it easier to grow in grace and charity. It was a way of saying to ourselves and to our Lord that we were serious about our faith and our commitment to live as Christians. I think it was also comforting to know that we were not alone in our habit.

Indeed, I have had other incidents which has ever reminded me that no matter how high or low one's station in life, there are times when noting will quite do the job like confession. First there was a sermon by Michael Ramsay when he was archbishop of Canterbury. He pounded the pulpit as only he could and told us that the best assurance of God's forgiveness of all our sins was auricular confession. And then thee was the time when I found my bishop standing in the center of the quire in the glory of his scarlet rochet and chimere. He called me by name and sent me to fetch the rector, saying, "Tell him that I have come to make my confession."

We live in a world that likes to party and Fat Tuesday as it is celebrated in New Orleans or Mobile is certainly partying at its wildest. But for true Christians there is certainly no better party in this world or the next than the wedding feast of the Lamb. And the best way to go there is in the spotless wedding garment that a good confession provides. It is a good way to start Lent and an even better way to prepare for Easter. And it is certainly not to late to get on your kness and ask God to help you prepare a true bill of your sins, large and small, and then arrange with your priest to come and make your confession.