Project Canterbury

Discerning the Lord's Body
The Rationale of a Catholic Democracy

By Frederic Hastings Smyth, Ph.D.
Superior of the Society of the Catholic Commonwealth

Louisville, Kentucky: The Cloister Press, 1946.

Appendix V. The Liturgical Confession and Absolution

This argument leads to the conclusion that the corporate Confession with its public Absolution within the Liturgy should be integrated specifically with the Offertory. For the Confession and Absolution are necessary in order that the bread and wine of the Divine Community may be brought to the Altar. The Absolution is the final perfecting Act of Our Lord Himself whereby He makes ready His own Offertory. This Offertory has been prepared in and through His Community, but it is marred by human failures in the required complete cooperation in His redeeming enterprise. It is through the Absolution that the bread and wine are ultimately made available for Our Lord's Consecration.

Unfortunately there has been much confusion about the function of Confession and Absolution in connection with the Liturgy. In earliest times it was doubtless not included within the Liturgy proper at all. In more recent times its position in the liturgical sequence has varied to correspond with varying notions concerning its function or application. Western custom has still further confused the matter by causing the celebrating priest to make his own Confession just before the beginning of the Liturgy while a second Confession is made on behalf of the Congregation just before the people receive Holy Communion. In general, both the Latin and Anglican rites seem to regard Confession and Absolution as preparing individual communicants for the reception of the Holy Communion. But if the Absolution is really Our Lord's atoning response whereby He perfects the offerings of His Community for a succeeding reception into the content of His risen Body and Blood, then the Confession should be made and the Absolution should be given while the offerings of the Divine Community, under the forms of natural bread and wine, are being placed upon the Altar. At this same time, of course, and through this very reperfection of the Offertory, the communicants are also adequately prepared for their Holy Communion at the later point of the Liturgy after the Consecration.

The following liturgical suggestions are therefore made. These revisions, with the Confession and Absolution integrated with the Offertory, are based upon ancient Western forms. Therefore they should not seem strange or unfamiliar to anyone who knows the [205/206] traditional Liturgy of the Western Church. The suggested Form of Confession is, however, new. The present Form of Confession found in the Prayer Books of the Anglican Communion is utterly unsuitable on several counts. Prayer Book revisions of the future ought to look earnestly towards its elimination.

Firstly, it provides no opportunity of Confession of the Priest himself to the people, and it provides no Absolution for the Priest from the people. All sense of mutual obligation based upon a mutual corporate involvement in the disorders confessed is conspicuously absent. The absolving power of the laity remains uninvoked. Thus the Prayer Books appear to know nothing of the universal Priesthood of all believers and the exercise of this Priesthood in the Absolution of their Priest by the people is pointedly (and undemocratically) suppressed. Instead, the Priest leads the people in a single confession and then proceeds to give an Absolution without having received before this--as a kind of preparation for the exercise of his own absolving function--any reciprocated Absolution from the people whatever. In the English Prayer Book of 1662 the Priest is not even directed necessarily to participate in the Confession at all!

Secondly, no reference whatever is made to the Company of Heaven nor to the rest of the Church, either in this world or the next, before which great cloud of witnesses Confession must be made if the Confession and Absolution taken together make a corporate act in which corporate imperfections are to be remedied and healed.

Thirdly, the language used seems to strive for a subjective emotional effect of pseudo-sorrow. To attain this technical result expressions like "bewail," "most grievously," "provoking most justly wrath and indignation," "the intolerable burden," etc., are introduced. This kind of literary striving after interior tensions, a striving fortified by rhythmic tautologies like "manifold sins and wickedness" and "from time to time," is thoroughly to be deplored. Our Lord may, of course, grant the grace of compunction to people as they confess their sins. If this happens it ought to be accepted thankfully, but it is not of the essence of contrition or of true penance. The human function in penance is simply to confess sins in a realistic, frank and business-like manner, while making a movement of the will not to repeat them in the future. Any attempt to induce a kind of abject trembling, an emotionally felt shame and sorrow about sins, can only end in unreality for the majority of people on most occasions. Furthermore, this particular attempt to arouse interior tensions by the use of sonorous Elizabethan phrases, more often than not actually distracts the human will and thus, as an inevitable psychological result, makes the future commission of sins confessed not less, but more probable!

Finally, this Form of Confession obviously emerges from a legalistic view of sins as transgressions of a set of rules--the rules, no doubt, [206/207] written in the Jewish Law with which the English Eucharist so unfortunately opens. The concept of a breaking of Jewish Law which "provokes the wrath and indignation" of the "Judge of all men," when put forward in this unmitigated fashion, is thoroughly unchristian. There is no trace or hint here that the redemption of the world is a corporate, re-creative, redeeming enterprise, and that individual sins are essentially defections of individual allegiance to a common social task.

It would seem, in short, that in order to make a proper Confession of corporate sin, in a way appropriate to the preparation of the Offertory for presentation upon the Altar, we must first be delivered from the intolerable burden of this really preposterous- form of wordy and subjective Confession which we, from time to time, are now compelled most grievously to repeat.


Each member of the Divine Community, upon entering the church building, deposits his money offering in a place prepared at the church door. He receives in return a wafer of bread which thus becomes his individual contribution to the corporate Offertory. Before taking his seat he leaves this wafer in an Offertory receptacle conveniently placed at the rear of the church interior.

The Ordinary of the Mass begins in the customary manner, save that at the time of the Introit the Confessions of the officiating Priest and his Ministers, together with the corresponding Absolutions, are omitted.

When the Priest, having vested, approaches the Altar, he makes the due reverence, and signs himself with the Sign of the Cross from forehead to breast, and says in a loud voice:

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Then with hands joined before his breast he begins the Antiphon:

I will go unto the Altar of God.

The Ministers and all the people respond:

Even unto the God of my joy and gladness.

Then alternately with the Ministers and people he says the following:

Psalm 43

GIVE sentence with me, O God, and defend my cause against the ungodly people: O deliver me from the deceitful and wicked man.

[208] Ministers and people: For thou art the God of my strength, why hast thou put me from thee: and why go I so heavily, while the enemy oppresseth me?

Priest: O send out thy light and thy truth, that they may lead me: and bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy dwelling.

Ministers and people: And that I may go unto the altar of God, even unto the God of my joy and gladness: and upon the harp will I give thanks unto thee, O God, my God.

Priest: Why art thou so heavy, O my soul: and why art thou so disquieted within me?

Ministers and people: O put thy trust in God: for I will yet give him thanks, which is the help of my countenance, and my God.

Priest: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.

Ministers and people: As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

The Priest repeats the Antiphon:

I will go unto the altar of God.

R Even unto the God of my joy and gladness.

He signs himself, saying:

V Our help is in the name of the Lord.

R Who hath made heaven and earth.

V Wilt thou not turn again and quicken us, O God?

R That thy people may rejoice in thee.

V O Lord, show thy mercy upon us.

R And grant us thy salvation.

V O Lord, hear my prayer.

R And let my cry come unto thee.

V The Lord be with you.

R And with thy spirit.

And extending and joining his hands, he says:

Let us pray, and ascending to the Altar, continues in an audible voice:

TAKE away from us, we beseech thee, O Lord, our iniquities: that we may be worthy to enter with pure minds into the Holy of Holies. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

[209] Then, with hands joined upon the Altar, he says, bowing:

WE pray thee, O Lord, by the merits (of thy Saints, whose relics are here, and) of all the Saints: (He kisses the Altar in the middle) that thou wouldest vouchsafe to pardon all our sins. Amen.

Note that the Collect for Purity in the Prayer Book Office may be substituted for the preceding prayers.

The rest as in the Ordinary and Canon of the English Missal or the Book of Common Prayer, with the exception of the changes here noted.

Immediately before the Oblations of bread and wine are placed upon the Altar at the Offertory, the Priest (together with the Ministers, if it be a Solemn Mass) goes to the midst of the Altar, and standing there (the ministers, if they be present, on either side), with hands joined, and bowing slightly, in an audible voice, makes his Confession:

I CONFESS to God almighty, to blessed Mary ever Virgin, to blessed Michael the Archangel, to the whole Company of Heaven, to all the Church, and especially to you my brothers here present, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed, by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault: I confess that I have wounded the Body of the Son of God on earth and that these His offerings of bread and wine are marred through my neglect and my wrong doings.

THEREFORE I beg blessed Mary ever Virgin, blessed Michael the Archangel, the whole Company of Heaven, all the Church, and especially you my brothers here present, to pray for me to the Lord our God: that through the atoning action of His Son, He may forgive my sins, and so perfect these offerings, making them worthy of His Holy Sacrifice.

The Priest then says:

LORD, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the word only and I shall be healed.

All the Ministers and people respond:

ALMIGHTY GOD have mercy upon thee, forgive thee thy sins, and bring thee to everlasting life.

Priest: Amen.

He then stands erect and the Ministers and people make their Confession:

WE CONFESS to God almighty, to blessed Mary ever Virgin, to blessed Michael the Archangel, to the whole Company of Heaven, to all the Church, and to thee, Father, that we have sinned [209/210] exceedingly in thought, word, and deed, by our fault, by our own fault, by our own most grievous fault: We confess that we have wounded the Body of the Son of God on earth and that these His offerings of bread and wine are marred through our neglect and our wrong doings.

THEREFORE we beg blessed Mary ever Virgin, blessed Michael the Archangel, the whole Company of Heaven, all the Church, and thee, Father, to pray for us to the Lord our God: that through the atoning action of His Son, lie may forgive our sins, and so perfect these offerings, making them worthy of His Holy Sacrifice.

Then is said:

LORD, we are not worthy that thou shouldest come under our roof, but speak the word only and we shall be healed.

The Priest, with joined hands and without turning from the Altar, begins the Absolution, saying:

ALMIGHTY GOD have mercy upon you, forgive you your sins, and bring to you everlasting life.

R Amen.

Then, turning to the people, he continues:

THE ALMIGHTY and merciful Lord grant unto you pardon, absolution + and remission of your sins.

R Amen.

The Oblations of bread and wine are now brought to the Altar by a duly appointed representative of the Congregation from the place where they have been deposited by the people. If it be a Solemn Mass, the bearer of the Offertory is preceded by a Cross, lights and incense. The appointed lay man or woman carrying the Offertory should not be vested, but should come forth from the Congregation in ordinary attire.

The Priest receives the people's Offertory by the hands of a Server (by the hands of the Deacon, if it be a Solemn Mass), standing facing the people in the midst of the Altar. He then turns to the Altar and offers the people's breads, together with his own, upon the Paten, the people's Oblations being placed, if convenient, in a Pyx, while all say together:

RECEIVE, O holy Father, almighty and everlasting God, this host, now made spotless by thy Son's atoning power, and which we, thine unworthy servants, offer unto thee, our living and true God, for our numberless sins, offenses, and negligences, and for all our Congregation, as also for all faithful Christians, both living and departed: that it may avail both to us and to them for salvation unto eternal life. Amen.

[211] Then, making the Sign of the Cross with the Paten itself, the Priest places the Oblations of bread upon the Corporal. The Deacon ministers the wine, the Subdeacon the water, in the Chalice: or if it be a Low Mass, the Priest pours both, and blesses with the Sign of the Cross the water to be mixed in the Chalice, saying audibly:

O GOD, who didst wonderfully create, and yet more wonderfully renew the dignity of human nature: grant that by the mystery of this water and wine we may be made partakers of His divinity, who vouchsafed to share our humanity, Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord: Who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God: world without end. Amen.

Then the Priest offers the Chalice, the people together with him, saying:

WE OFFER unto thee, O Lord, the Chalice of Salvation, humbly beseeching thy mercy: that in the sight of thy divine majesty it may ascend as a sweet-smelling savour for our salvation, and for that of the whole world. Amen.

Then he makes the Sign of the Cross with the Chalice, and places it upon the Corporal, and covers it with the Pall: then with hands joined upon the Altar, bowing slightly, he says, together with all the people:

IN THE SPIRIT of humility and with contrite hearts, let us be accepted of thee, O Lord: and so let our sacrifice be offered in thy sight this day, that it may be well pleasing unto thee, O Lord God.

Then the Priest, standing erect, extends his hands, raises them and joins them, and lifting his eyes to heaven and, straightway lowering them, says in an audible voice:

COME, thou Sanctifier almighty, everlasting God: (He blesses the Oblations, proceeding:) and bl + ess this sacrifice, prepared for thy holy name.

The Priest now censes the Oblations (if it be a Solemn Mass) and proceeds to the Lavaho in the usual manner, except that Psalm 26, at the washing of the hands, is said audibly. He then returns to the midst of the Altar, where, with hands joined, and bowing slightly, he says, together with all the people:

RECEIVE, O HOLY TRINITY, this oblation which we offer unto thee in memory of the passion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, our Lord: and in honour of blessed Mary ever Virgin, of blessed John Baptist, of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, of these, and of all the Saints: that it may avail for their honour, and for our salvation: and may they, whose memory we celebrate on earth, vouchsafe to intercede for us in heaven. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

[212] The Priest then kisses the Altar, and turning to the people, he extends and joins his hands, and says:

PRAY, brethren, that this my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Father almighty.

The Ministers and people respond:

THE LORD receive this sacrifice at thy hands, to the praise and glory of His name, and both to our benefit and to that of all His holy Church.

Priest: Amen.

The Preface and Canon of the Mass proceed in the usual manner, save that the Benedictus Qui Venit is omitted after the Sanctus. Amen is not said and the Canon follows without interruption.

Immediately before the Priest's own Communion the words Lord, I Am Not Worthy, etc., are omitted. Instead, the Priest says secretly:

BLESSED is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

The Communion of the people follows the customary order, except that the Confession and Absolution are not repeated at this point.

During the Communion of the Priest the bell is rung and the people come forward.

When the Priest turns himself towards the people in the midst of the Altar, holding the consecrated Host raised above the Paten or Pyx, he says:

BEHOLD, the Lamb of God, behold Him that taketh away the sins of the world.

The people respond:

BLESSED is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.


Priest: ECCE, Agnus Dei, Ecce qui tollit peccata mundi.

People: BENEDICTUS qui venit in nomine Domini. Hosanna in excelsis.

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