The Ash Wednesday liturgy in our Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) includes as part of the confession of sin a prayer that was also traditionally in the Compline liturgy. The new Compline in the ELW simplifies the language a bit so it doesn't have the repetition in it that I find so valuable and meaningful. So I decided to look at and compare the two a bit. Here's what I mean. The Ash Wednesday confession reads like this:
Most holy and merciful God,
we confess to you and to one another,
and before the whole company of heaven,
that we have sinned by our fault,
by our own fault,
by our own most grievous fault,
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done and by what we have left undone.
The Ash Wednesday is in the first person plural (We) whereas the Compline liturgy has it in the first person singular (I). As in:
I confess to God Almighty,
before the whole company of heaven,
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have sinned by my own fault
in thought, word, and deed.
I pray God almighty
to have mercy on me, forgive me all my sins,
and bring me to everlasting life.
The Compline liturgy in the old LBW had it in the first person singular, but also repeated that phrase "by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault," instead of just "by my own fault."
When I used to gather on retreat with others who keep the daily office more regularly than I do now, we would pray that prayer, and there was a tradition of making a fist with the right hand, placing it over your heart, and then bringing the fist in over your heart and tapping your chest three times with the phrase. There was something powerful about that repeated physical gesture, together with the heightening of the tri-fold phrase, that made the confession real, and serious.
Last night, as I prayed the prayer while leading the congregation in it, my hand naturally drifted up and I completed the gesture. I wondered whether I should teach it to more people. Confession is such a seldom exercise aspect of daily prayer (most prayer is more likely supplication or intercession, less often is the daily prayer I hear focused on acclamation or confession), that I think maybe a gesture, and some way of truly emphasizing my fault, my own fault, my own most grievous fault, is important.
It is not important for the confession alone, but for the sake of the absolution, where we hear the others in the community of prayer, as the very voice of God, saying to us, "Almighty and merciful God grant you healing, pardon, and forgiveness of all your sins." I love that part of the prayer too, where first the leader confesses and the congregation extends forgiveness, and then vice versa the congregation confesses and the leader extends absolution. It is a prayer that exercises the mutual consolation of the saints. It is a prayer that really does something.