January 19, 2021

Form for Confession in Lent

Last night in our Ash Wednesday service we used the Litany of Penitence from the Book of Common Prayer. I was impressed with it, as a comprehensive form for confessing our sins before God. I plan on using it throughout the Lenten season in my daily prayers.

Perhaps it can be useful to you as well on your Lenten journey.


Litany of Penitence

Most holy and merciful Father:
We confess to you and to one another,
and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth,
that we have sinned by our own fault in thought, word, and deed;
by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength.
We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us.
We have not been true to the mind of Christ.
We have grieved your Holy Spirit.
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness:
the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our self-indulgent appetites and ways,
and our exploitation of other people,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our anger at our own frustration,
and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts,
and our dishonesty in daily life and work,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our negligence in prayer and worship,
and our failure to commend the faith that is in us,
We confess to you, Lord.

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done:
for our blindness to human need and suffering,
and our indifference to injustice and cruelty,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For all false judgments,
for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors,
and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For our waste and pollution of your creation,
and our lack of concern for those who come after us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;
Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.

Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,
That we may show forth your glory in the world.

By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,
Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.


  1. I visited a Evangelical Lutheran church for Ash Wednesday. They used this form as well. I too was impressed with it and was looking yesterday for a copy of it online so I could use it during Lent as well. I couldn’t find it, not realizing its source. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Mike,

    Great Post…quick question, I have not heard a good explanation for the whole lent process could you help me out? I understand the leading up to passion week, but the ashes? OT reference maybe? I have some students in my youth group that go to a Catholic school and they participated in it however they could not explain it to me. Could you help me out?

    Soli Deo Gloria,
    Nathan Cotton

    • I went to an Episcopal service this year that used this form as well. I found it to be very moving and probably the best “form for confession” I’ve ever seen. Once again the BCP stands out as one of the best prayer resources around.

      As far as your question, Nathan, the ashes do indeed come from the traditional sign of mourning in the OT. Typically the ashes used on Ash Wednesday are made from the palms from Palm Sunday and some oil left over from the baptismal oil used on new chatechumens.

      One of the Lenten origins is that it was a time of preparation for new chatechumens who were to be baptized, etc. as part of the Easter Vigil. Hence the oil as part of the mixture. Also, Lent is a symbolic participation in the 40 days Jesus fasted in the Wilderness before being tempted by Satan. Remember that immediately after those 40 days, Jesus began his ministry. More good symbolism for both repentance for those in the Church and new chatechumens who are entering the Church.

    • Nathan,

      The ashes symbolize that we are mortal “ashes to ashes” and is a sign of repentance, “ashes and sackcloth”. On Ash Wedsnesday we repent of our sins and shortcomings in light of the 46 days of Lent.

      I would agree that the BCP is an amazing resource. Most Evangelicals think that Liturgy is rote and rhetorical but in the first 2,000 years of the history of our Church (all churches) we were pretty well ok with it, because it centers us and makes us remember what we should really be praying for and not our selfish desires. I began praying the liturgy of the hours and it has drastically improved my prayer life, making my personal prayer time more focused on the Psalms and repentance.

      I myself am a Candidate in the Catholic Church, though theologically I am pretty much Evangelical. Here in TN the Catholic Church I go to is more Evangelically minded, they sing old Wesley hymns aside the old Latin ones, it is a mixture I would say pretty well defines how I feel about worship, the best of both worlds.


  3. Jonathan Hunnicutt says

    If I’m correct, Chaplain Mike, you are not an Anglican. And yet your church is using the BCP for a service, right?

    I’ve noticed many non-Anglican churches leaning on the BCP for times like this. It’s an interesting phenomenon.

    • Like I said above, the BCP is simply an amazing prayer resource. And though in some circles the current 1979 version is thought of as being a bit liberal-leaning, the profundity and poetic beauty of both the modern-English parts and the traditional Elizabethan parts make it the best yet, in my opinion. Even the catechism in the back is very, very good. Even for non-Anglicans or non-Episcopalians, there’s so much one can get out of it. I really do think the BCP was the greatest contribution Anglicanism made to Christianity.

      • Jonathan Hunnicutt says

        I’m new to Anglicanism and generally I like the ’79 prayer book. Even some of the ‘liberal’ parts I think could have a major missional impact. I can imagine that merely naming pollution as a sin to be repented of (as well as our prejudice and contempt) is something that resonates particularly well with the current generation.

        Though I will admit, after being soaked in NT Wright’s emphasis on Resurrection and New Creation, the ’79 prayer book falls painfully short in that area.

    • ELCA Lutherans have agreements with folks from other mainline denominations that makes sharing a more regular practice.

    • My Presbyterian church occasionally quotes from the Litany of Penitence for our corporate confession of sin.

  4. I’m a member of an Independent Bible Church but attended an Episcopal Church near my office for Ash Wednesday Service. The Litany of Repentance was recited during the service. It was a powerful moment to hear the thunderous recitation as hundreds of people collectively confessed our sins. Many in my circles would consider such a practice mere rote and too formal but it seems clear to me that the people of God experience a genuine cleansing of soul when such a litany is confessed and recited with sincere hearts.

    • So true! Sometimes formal prayers or the routine of a service get a bad rap, but they can be extraordinarily helpful and moving!

      And there’s definitely some incredible intangible that can be experienced when a whole group of people is confessing together. It’s a shame some people so quickly dismiss it!

    • Jonathan Hunnicutt says

      Not only that, but when the priest put the ashes on my forehead and said the “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” Wow. Talk about coming face to face with your mortality. Especially in a culture that is obsessed with avoiding death.

  5. Thanks for sharing this. I was raised Presbyterian and we had some of the elements of liturgy and I always liked the corporate confession. It’s something I miss in the nondenom church we attend now, and something I think we could benefit greatly from. But how do you convince people of that when they have no experience of it?

  6. I really enjoyed reading this litany but I’m not clear about it. Is it taken from the 1979 (American?) version of the BCP?

    I was raised a pagan in the UK but my high-school was Anglican. It was virtually the only “God influence” I had for the first 20 years of my life and it stayed with me. We had hymns and prayers during morning and afternoon assemblies. I now treasure the hymns in particular. We had a large, 200-year-old organ that boomed out and a pretty good choir. After many years as a Pentecostal, I am rediscovering the beauty of the BCP – and liturgy.

  7. For those of you interested in the history of ashes, go to http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/thepastinthepresent/storybehind/ashestoashes.html to see a good precis of the development of the use of ashes in the West.

    For those of you interested in Easter Eggs, go to http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/bytopic/holidays/fastlenteastereggs.html. Please note, when reading that article, that Easter Eggs have NOTHING to do with pagan goddesses in the West, as the practice is found in the East from early times.

  8. Amen.

  9. I think Lent and most everything about it, is a move towards legalism. Please tell me where the Scipture tells us to confess our sins to God? Like He isn’t fully aware of them and sent His son to die for them. And aren’t we no longer under the law but under grace, forgiven, righteous, accepted, loved, approved, etc. James 5 and I Jon 1:9 do not mention God as the object of our confession.

    I just don’t get the whole lent thing in light of the glorious and completeness of the Gospel.

    • I think 1John 1:9 is a perfect place to begin. The passage is contrasting the views of the false teaching John is combating, which says, “We have no sin.” In contrast, the Christian way is to “confess our sins,” and this must be to God, for the text goes on to say that “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins…”

      I won’t speak for believers from other traditions, but Lutherans stress that we remain “sinner-saints” until the day of glorification, therefore it remains our place every day of our lives to come in humility and repentance before God, looking to Christ alone for his righteousness.

      Lent is simply a time when we remember this in a more formal way.

      • Also, when teaching his followers to pray, Jesus told them (and thus us) to include when praying to “Our Father” the concept/words of “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Psalm 51, traditionally recited on Ash Wednesday says (to God) “against You and You only have I sinned.” The idea of confession and repentance on our part and forgiveness and reconciliation on God’s part are pretty constant throughout both Testaments.

        Our temporal incompleteness means we will need to repent. And that means we need to confess. That in no way contradicts the Gospel’s completeness nor our eternal security. A set season for communal (and individual) reflection and repentance just helps to bring this out. Let’s face it, left to our own ways, most of us wouldn’t do the repentance/confession thing.

        I think it’s also important to note that at the conclusion of the confessional liturgies is typically words from the minister assuring us of our forgiveness through Christ’s sacrifice. And really, isn’t that the heart of the gospel? We’re desperate sinners who throw ourselves at God’s mercy who forgives and accepts us through Christ?

        I’d submit that rather than legalism, confession and whatnot that we do during Lent is indeed the Gospel.

    • Please tell me where the Scipture tells us to confess our sins to God?
      Matthew 6 — the Lord’s Prayer. And I John 1:9 of course, in which the “he” referred to is clearly God.

      In my experience, one of the things that confession and the subsequent assurance of forgiveness do is remind us that we are under grace and keep us from taking it for granted. Many of the scriptures also connect our own forgiveness of others with our confession, so it’s not only the relationship with God that is affected, but also with others. We are indeed sinner-saints, as Chaplain Mike says, or as Pascal put it, “glorious wrecks.”

    • Furthermore, Rick, your question implies what I imagine a lot of people think about keeping Lent—that it is a season when we put ourselves under a bunch of “rules” and discipline ourselves in order to earn God’s favor. This is in no way what Lent or any other Church Year season is about.

      All the seasons of the Church Year provide us the opportunity to “live in the story” of Christ. During Advent we remember the promises of his coming. At Christmastide we celebrate his incarnation. In Epiphany we recall the various ways Jesus showed God’s glory in the world during his life and ministry. And in Lent, we walk with him to the Cross.

      The Gospels portray the period from Peter’s confession to Holy Week as a time when Jesus taught his disciples specifically about the Cross that he would endure, and also about what it means to be a disciple and to take up our cross and follow him. So, keeping Lent is a way of entering into these teachings—to remember Jesus’ sufferings, that it was our sins that caused his suffering, to join him in taking up the cross and suffering for the sake of the world.

      It is not a set of rules, it is a way of living in Jesus’ story and learning the true meaning of the Scriptures for our lives as his followers.

    • If you want to argue that we’re not under the Law (as many do, saying Jesus was a fulfillment and completion of the Law so it no longer applies to Christians), then we’re certainly under Jesus’ command (“law”) to love one another as He has loved us (John 13:34-35).

      Since we often fail to love others as He loved us (to death!), it is only natural we seek forgiveness for our sins. Luckily we have a Savior who died for us and a Father who always stands ready to forgive!

  10. Good answers, Chaplain Mike and Obed to Rick. Even though we have been forgiven through the grace of God, we still continue to ask forgiveness from the people that we hurt, too. A day does not go by that I don’t say to my husband, “I’m sorry” for something that I did or that he perceives that I did. If we are asking forgiveness from people, then we obviously need to ask forgiveness from God too. It is not like his forgiveness is not already there “waiting” for us to receive at all times, but it is our perception of our own need to be more open to his grace that we acknowledge. As we become more and more open to receiving God’s loving forgiveness, we become more capable of forgiving others and ourselves and thus more like Jesus.

    • David Cornwell says

      Very good. I find myself saying “I’m sorry” to my wife at times also. The people we are closest to will be the one’s we must address in this way. And so with God.

  11. My wife and I have been attending an Anglican church since the beginning of the year. For the 20+ years prior we have attended your typical Non-Denominational church. I had to work but my wife and children attended their first Ash Wednesday service.

    We were talking about our new church the other day and she surprised me when she said that the thing that has impacted her most is the section in the liturgy where we confess our sins. She’s right when she said that all of the churches we have been apart off looked at the worship service as a celebration. The only confession that happened was if we all recited together the sinners prayer during an altar call.

    For me it’s the weekly Eucharist. I find that the sin I personally have struggled with loses it’s grip on me when I consider that I have to come with clean hands and a clean heart to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord.

  12. http://www.catholic.org/clife/lent/story.php?id=35467
    There is a short review there of an homily that Pope Benedict XVI just gave on Ash Wednesday about Lent that some may find useful.

  13. I am not a huge fan of things like Lent etc. – I see far to many hypocrites partaking in it, using it as a means to atone for sin.

    BUT – that is one awesome prayer!

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