The Small Catechism
What is private confession?
Private confession has two parts. First,
we make a personal confession of sins to the pastor, and then we receive
absolution, which means forgiveness from God himself. This absolution we
should not doubt, but firmly believe that thereby our sins are forgiven
before God in heaven.
What sins should we confess?
Before God we should confess that we
are guilty of all sins, even those which are not known to us, as we do in
the Lord's Prayer. But in private confession, as before the pastor, we should
confess only those sins which trouble us in heart and mind.
What are such sins?
We can examine our everyday life according to the Ten Commandments - for example, how we act toward father or mother, son or daughter, husband or wife, or toward the people with whom we work, and so on. We may ask ourselves whether we have been disobedient or unfaithful, bad-tempered or dishonest, or whether we have hurt anyone by word or deed.
How might we confess our sins privately?
We may say that we wish to confess our sins, and to receive absolution in God's name. We may begin by saying, "I, a poor sinner, confess before God that I am guilty of many sins." Then we should name the sins that trouble us. We may close the confession with the words, "I repent of all these sins and pray for mercy. I promise to do better with God's help."
What if we are not troubled by any special sins?
We should not torture ourselves with imaginary sins. If we cannot think of any sins to confess (which would hardly ever happen), we need not name any in particular, but may receive absolution because we have already made a general confession to God.
How may we be assured of forgiveness?
The pastor may pronounce the absolution by saying, "By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
Those who are heavily burdened in conscience the pastor may comfort and encourage with further assurances from God's Word.
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