The sacrament of Penance is oftentimes confused with “Confession,” as in the Roman Church where the priest hears the “Confession” of a parishioner, pronounces “absolution,” and gives pastoral counsel.
While “Confession,” in that sense is encouraged in Anglicanism, the term “Penance” is more inclusive and centers around “Absolution.” It more readily signifies “loosening” or “release.”
We find that, as a sacrament, Absolution was instituted by Jesus Christ after his resurrection. John records this in his Gospel (20: 19-24):
“Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so I send you. And when he had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.”
We must remember that the power to absolve lies within the Church. By the authority given him, the priest, in absolving, acts in the name of and on behalf of the Church. The power of remitting sins was not intended to send with the Apostles.
There are several places where the Prayer Book addresses the power of Absolution: in Morning and Evening Prayer, in the Communion Service, and in the “Order for the Visitation of the Sick.”
In all cases, absolution is preceded by confession.
There is provision for “Confession,” when a person seeks further counsel of a priest out of conscience. The priest hears the confession, offers counsel, and pronounces absolution when assured of the sinner’s repentance.