“I would not give up confession for all the riches of the world.” Luther
Sometimes referred to as “the Third Sacrament”, Luther and the reformers extoled private confession and absolution. The practice had been abused and the human work of contrition had taken precedence over the promise of Absolution. In his Large Catechism, Luther says, “We urge you…to confess and express your needs, not for the purpose of performing a work but to hear what God wishes to say to you. The word absolution, I say, is what you should concentrate on, magnifying and cherishing it as a great and wonderful treasure to be accepted with all praise and gratitude.” Absolution is a gift for the baptized that should not be despised but embraced. Luther said, “Therefore, when I urge you to go to confession, I am simply urging you to be a Christian.”
Christ brings His salvation to the lost sinner by the word of Holy Absolution. The Law of God crushes the sinner. It leaves him no way to escape his sin by his own works. But the Gospel raises him up from the judgement of the Law by proclaiming to him all that God has done for him in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. The baptized Christian “Daily sins much and deserves nothing but God’s wrath and punishment.” Holy Absolution is spoken that the Christian’s faith in Christ might be restored and that his conscience might be comforted and strengthened against the attacks of the devil, the world, and the Christian’s own sinful nature. The Small Catechism instructs, “Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it (absolution) our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.” Private absolution is the sweetest Gospel for the sinner applied to the sinner’s specific need.
In life, the baptized may lose his way and fall into unrepentant sin, including self-righteousness and pride. So, God pleads with us, through His absolution, not to despise His mercy or deny His forgiveness to any baptized sinner who may have lost his way. The Lord has sent out His ministers to seek the lost and bring the dead in sin back to life by the ministry of Holy Absolution. As the Lord says, “I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10)
The rite of “Individual Confession and Absolution” is on pages 292-293 in the hymnal. Please let me know if you would like to know more.