Confession, Liturgical, is the acknowledgment of sins made publicly in certain services of the Church.
I. The Confession Preceding the Celebration of the Eucharist. — It has been supposed by some that the Christian presbyters borrowed the custom of confessing sin before the eucharistic celebration from the Jewish priests, who, before sacrificing, confessed their sin in such terms as these: "Verily, O Lord, I have sinned, I have done amiss, and dealt wickedly; I repent and am ashamed of my doings, nor will I ever return unto them." Whether the precedent of the Jewish sacrificing priest were followed or not, no doubt the same feeling which prompted the use of the 26th Psalm in the early part of the liturgy,.caused also the use of a public general confession by the priest and ministers before the altar.
In many Greek liturgies some acknowledgment of sin and unworthiness forms part of the prothesis, said in the sacristy before entering the sanctuary in the liturgy of St. James, for instance, the priest adopts the words of the publican, "God be merciful to me a sinner," and of the prodigal, "I have sinned against Heaven and in thy sight." The words of the prodigal are also adopted at greater length in the opening of the Mozarabic liturgy.
For the West, many forms of the liturgical confession of the priest about to celebrate have been preserved. These, it is asserted, were formerly used before the offertory, with which the Missa Fidelium began; but in some missals they are directed to be said immediately before the Introit, while the Gloria in Excelsis and the Gradual are chanted by the choir. But the ancient. formularies of the Roman Church contain no trace of a confession in a set form to be made publicly at the beginning of mass. They only testify that the celebrant, after paying his devotions before the altar in a low voice, with bowed head besought God's pardon for his own sins. The very diversity of the form and manner in saying the confession in different churches shows that. no form was prescribed by any central authority, but that the several churches followed independent usages.
The usual place for the liturgical confession before mass is the lowest step of the altar; but there was anciently considerable diversity of practice; for the confession was sometimes made (as in the East) in the sacristy, sometimes by the side of the altar, sometimes in the middle of the presbytery. A peculiar custom, probably derived irom ancient times, was long maintained in the Church of St. Martin at Tours, that the celebrant should make his confession at the tomb of that saint.
II. In the Main Office. — Something of the nature of confession of sin appears to have formed part of the matin office from very early times. This custom is thought by some to have been inherited from the synagogue, which has, in the ancient "Eighteen Prayers," the form, "Have mercy upon us, O our Father, for we have transgressed; pardon us, for we have sinned. Look, we beseech thee, on our afflictions; heal, O Lord, our infirmities." Very similarly, the Greek matin office has, "O most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us; purify us from our iniquities, and pardon our sins. Look down upon us, O Holy One; heal our infirmities." In the 4th century the early matin office of many Eastern churches began with a confession; for St. Basil describes the early matins of the Church of Neo-Caesarea in the following manner: "The people at early dawn seek the house of prayer, and, after confession, made with sighing and tears to God, rising at length from their prayer, pass to the chanting of the Psalms." In the Western matin office the confession is made in the form called Convfiteor (q.v.), from its first word.
III. Confession ,of past sins formed also one of the preliminaries of baptism, as we learn from Tertullian (de Baptismo, c. 20). SEE BAPTISM.
IV. In all liturgies of the Alexandrian family, and in many other Oriental liturgies, there is found, immediately before communion, a confession, or declaration of faith by the recipient, that the bread and wine are now really and truly the body and blood of Christ. In the Coptic of Basil, the priest, holding the elements, says: "The Holy Body and precious, pure, true Blood of Jesus Christ the Son of our God. Amen. This is in very truth the Body and Blood of Emmanuel our God. Amen.