Vestry and confessional chapel should be gathered in one place. As the room in which the elder prepares himself to serve for the Holy Communion, the vestry is eminently suited to doubling as a confessional chapel for troubled consciences. That he who comes for auricular confession may draw near to the comfort of the holy gospel, let the chapel contain a crucifix, its cross embraced by Mary and John at Jesus’ feet, and let the ceiling be adorned with images of holy angels.
Private confession is spiritual medicine, not food, and serves the penitent soul’s need for outward assurance of God’s tender mercy. As no works are counted meritorious in the eyes of God (‘the meritorious dignity of doing well we utterly renounce’), the only two parts to be considered are the confession of the penitent and the absolution pronounced by the confessor; at the word of absolution, trust in Jesus’ complete active and passive satisfaction is what inwardly receives the forgiveness and salvation won by him, which is at that point outwardly bestowed to the penitent.
An order for confession
O blessed Lord, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comforts: We beseech thee, look down in pity and compassion upon this thy afflicted servant. Thou writest bitter things against him, and makest him to possess his former iniquities; thy wrath lieth hard upon him, and his soul is full of trouble: But, O merciful God, who hast written thy holy Word for our learning, that we, through patience and comfort of thy holy Scriptures, might have hope; give him a right understanding of himself, and of thy threats and promises; that he may neither cast away his confidence in thee, nor place it any where but in thee. Give him strength against all his temptations, and heal all his distempers. Break not the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax. Shut not up thy tender mercies in displeasure; but make him to hear of joy and gladness, that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Deliver him from fear of the enemy, and lift up the light of thy countenance upon him, and give him peace, through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Here shall the penitent, feeling his conscience troubled with any weighty matter, be moved to make a special confession of his sins. After which confession, the Priest shall absolve him (if he humbly and heartily desire it) after this sort.
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.
And then the Priest shall say the Collect following.
Let us pray.
O most merciful God, who, according to the multitude of thy mercies, dost so put away the sins of those who truly repent, that thou rememberest them no more: Open thine eye of mercy upon this thy servant, who most earnestly desireth pardon and forgiveness. Renew in him, most loving Father, whatsoever hath been decayed by the fraud and malice of the devil, or by his own carnal will and frailness; preserve and continue this sick member in the unity of the Church; consider his contrition, accept his tears, assuage his pain, as shall seem to thee most expedient for him. And forasmuch as he putteth his full trust only in thy mercy, impute not unto him his former sins, but strengthen him with thy blessed Spirit; and, when thou art pleased to take him hence, take him unto thy favour, through the merits of thy most dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.