Litany of Penitence

The Litany of Penitence (adapted from the Book of Common Prayer for a first-person reading):

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

I have not loved you with my whole heart, and mind, and strength. I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I have not forgiven others, as I have been forgiven.
Have mercy on me, Lord.

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

I confess to you, Lord, all my past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of my life,
I confess to you, Lord.

My self-indulgent appetites and ways, and my exploitation of other people,
I confess to you, Lord.

My anger at my own frustration, and my envy of those more fortunate than myself,
I confess to you, Lord.

My intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and my dishonesty in daily life and work,
I confess to you, Lord.

My negligence in prayer and worship, and my failure to commend the faith that is in me,
I confess to you, Lord.

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

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

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

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

Accomplish in me the work of your salvation,
That I may show forth your glory in the world.

By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,
Bring me with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

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19 thoughts on “Litany of Penitence”

  1. Hm. I'm not sure I like it.

    But that could be because I'm quite fond of the original, and the 'we' which is not just I confessing my sins, but us confessing that as a church, as a society, as humanity, have erred. And we, as members of church, of society, of humanity, are slowly but surely turning this boat around.

  2. I like the original as well for the exact same reasons, to recognize the communion of saints I'm praying with.

    But I sometimes use the first person when praying alone with the BCP because the first person shocks me.

    For example, in the Litany of Penitence when I pray "Accept our repentance Lord...[for] our indifference to injustice and cruelty" my mind slides into a judgmental mode. Please Lord, forgive all those indifferent Christians out there and amongst us. But when I pray for "my indifference to injustice and cruelty" I'm brought up short. What? Me, the good and kind Richard Beck, indifferent to cruelty? I'm forced by the first person into self-examination in a way the use of "we" and "our" does not.

    Psychologists might call this "social loafing" in liturgy.

  3.  That is interesting, because C. S. Lewis commented that he liked the liturgy becoming memorized, because then we could participate in it and actually think about the meaning of the words.  Something us C-of-C ers don't really experience.

  4.  "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

    I don't know if that is a personal comment, or a quote from the Litany, but I believe it is wrong at the most basic and fundamental level.  However, if it is, in fact, true, then all of the Litany is meaningless, and "this" life is null and void -- for naught, useless, and good for nothing.

    I am not my body,  Thank Almighty God.

  5. It's not a personal comment. It's a quote from Genesis 3.19 and it's what is said to you during the imposition of ashes on your forehead on Ash Wednesday. 

  6. Thanks for the clarification.  I do not wish to be negative, only express a belief which has become now central to my own personal *theology*, and in which I find the greatest meaning.  It may smack of mysticism, but it has become, quite literally, the only reason I have left to hope -- without which I would have surely by now myself returned to the dust.

  7. A timely and thought provoking blog. Us free church folks need a lot more exposure to this kind of liturgical content. I know I do. I agree that both corporate and personal usage have their values. Thanks for sharing these timely thoughts.

    I once had a friend and member of my congregation who simply refused to sing, "for such a worm as I" from At the Cross in our old C of C hymnals. "I am not a worm!" he protested. "I'm made in the image of God.". So he didn't sing that verse. All the rest of us did, however, and I think for good reason which is very simple. Most of us think far too highly of ourselves, especially considering our end and our Saviour's sacrifice. We're singing about the CROSS after all! Thankfully, there was no church split over this minor blemish in our orderly ways.

  8. I was wondering where you copied the text from, whether a website or hard copy of the bcp. If the later, maybe you could point me to where I might find it. As an old c o cer, my familiarity with the bcp is essentially nil, intact I just discovered it a few months ago when I stumbled across a old copy from the 1940s which I now have begun exploring a bit. Anyways any help or pointers on navigating it would be greatly appreciated.

    P.s. also I really needed to read that today, so thanks for posting it!

  9. Sigh... After reading this I felt weary and reminded of a whole bunch of other stuff I need to be sorry about... :(

    I usually absolutely LOVE liturgy and yet sometimes it tires me and weighs me down rather than uplifting and refreshing. I don't want to keep saying sorry - I want to just live and move and have my being in His Being and love God and enjoy Him forever... I might have said different on a different day...

  10. Humm  For me the
    whole point, during this time, is a reminder and realization that without Him we
    are worms and full of sin which is "tiring" causing us to feel "weighed down and sorrowful...,".  Celebration of resurrection is not far, thank
    God!  A continuous reminder “just live and move and have my being in His
    Being and love God and enjoy Him forever...”  Indeed, "uplifting and refreshing."  Hallelujah!!


  11. Goodness, is that really the case? God made us 'worms'? I thought that He'd made us in His Image, fallen, broken, fragile - yes, but worms???? And sin-ridden ones at that!!! If I truly believed that this is the status of all those that I love but are outside God's Kingdom then I'd be a LOT more than merely 'tired' or 'weighed down'.
    I guess we'll have to just agree to disagree on our respective views of humanity and God's purposes... :)

  12. Hi Flipper, 
     I would push back on equating human beings to worms, though I know that analogy is frequently used in church to illustrate the distance between man's sinfulness and God's holiness.  Jesus became a man, and he never treated sinners with contempt and derision (excepting the pharisees, whom he called vipers, who in fact treated other people as if they were mere worms). In his story, the prodigal son doesn't become like a worm to be stepped on, crushed and destroyed, or used for fish bait, in his father's eyes for leaving home. He remains a son, dearly loved and longed for, and waited for with unfailing hope and expectation..

  13.  You may find the Book of Common Prayer online at  The Ash Wednesday liturgy is under "Proper Liturgies for Special Days."  My (Episcopal) parish observed this service last night, and it is very powerful and moving.  "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; in your great compassion blot
    out my offenses. 
    Wash me through and through from my wickedness and cleanse me from my sin..."  The Miserere, Psalm 51, also recited in this liturgy, is very meaningful to me.  Allegri wrote a painfully beautiful choral setting of this psalm, which my choir sings:  (not my choir, but a great rendition.)

  14. Hi Martyn, emphasis on the negative (e.g., my total depravity) generally feels like the nail in the coffin of my already overactive sense of guilt/shame/unworthiness.  Last night at our Ash Wednesday service, our pastor presented the season of Lent to us in a refreshing way.  Essentially, he acknowledged that we are imperfect and incomplete.  Every one of us struggles with at least one weakness or flaw, including himself.  But!  Above all, God cannot ever stop loving us, and in His love for us, he never stops trying to make us *whole.*  Do you hear the similarity in "holy" and "whole?"  Striving for perfection is futile, because we never can be (and this is a Methodist minister who was talking!)  But, rather than striving for perfection through penitence and self-mortifying talk and gestures, can we say that we desire to be made "whole?"   That we seek to know what God desires for us, and submit to cooperating a little with him during Lent?  I really liked that way of explaining it.  More like an invitation than a harsh judgment or command.  ~Peace~

  15. Thank you for your comment, Patricia

    You know, I really don't equate human beings to worms.  Humanity is created in God's image; hence my strong, unquenching desire and wish to become more and more like Jesus.  When I slip I feel "wormy."  Before I began to know and understand (as much as I can) about Jesus, I was living in sin--a "wormy" world.   Thankfully, I now know better and am free and secure in God's love, forgiveness and mercy and know that is extended for all mankind.  I am and forever will be so very thankful that I am, as you write, "...dearly loved and longed for...with unfailing hope and expectation."  


  16. Actually, Martyn, I'm in agreement with you-- Really, I am.  :)   "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him," that's my view of God's purpose.  Being created in God's image gives me great pause; am in awe.  Unfathomable.

  17. Hello Susan.
    The story you communicate here made me sigh peacefully and positively, as compared to my previous sigh of disatisfaction. Yes, I much prefer the outlook of your Methodist Minister than that of another liturgy that promotes the litany of my already overactive propensity to overjudge myself and my actions. Peace, grace and love right back atcha... :)

  18. Thanks for responding, Flipper. I appreciate your words. Growing up in a deeply fundamentalist, literalist church, the overarching emphasis was always on man's sinfulness, worthlessness, worm-status, etc., rather than God's love, grace, forgiveness and embrace.  I'm intrigued and blessed by Dr. Beck's post on Psalm 22's worm reference. I think over emphasizing the negative to almost exclude the positive is one reason there are so many people in church who are truly unhealthy in how they view themselves and others. And it's justified by a fear of "we can't forget how sinful we are." As if anyone could.

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