As a fresher away from home, I found myself in the position of having to reorient my ecclesiastical itinerary. I chose the local Lutheran parish, which was modern Catholic in the Haugen-and-holy water sense, for Sunday mornings and their midweek Communion. A retired couple from the parish volunteered to drive me and two other students who joined us irregularly, one young man and one young woman. Although she did not know the specifics of her church background, a little probing made it evident she attended a Lutheran Church - Canada congregation at home. The pastor's stance was the same as an Anglican priest confronted with a Roman Catholic at the altar rail: fine by us, how you square it with your people is your business.
For absolution I sought out the campus chaplain. While she could be described as having been in the theological mainstream of the Diocese of Niagara, I respected that she was well-versed in the Anglo-Catholic tradition of her upbringing and that our disagreements were mutually well thought out. And so once a month she gamely donned her purple Guatemalan stole to shrive me, as she would say with tongue in cheek, according to a truncated form of the Ministry to the Sick in the Book of Common Prayer. (My pastor himself firmly held the Lutheran line on numbering Penance as the third Sacrament).
At the time, I felt quite strongly about the older book's retention of the "I absolve thee" considered essential by Rome. The relevant prefatory material in the BAS notes only that this form is a "later development." Like the explanation offered for the gutting of the Daily Office Lectionary, I thought it a bit weak. But there are, I think, good Catholic grounds for the reversion to "Our Lord Jesus Christ ... absolve you through my ministry."
Obviously, the basic substance of the BAS revision is more satisfactory. Instead of being buried in the Ministry to the Sick, the rite is printed in a section with Baptism to emphasise the intimate relationship between the original washing at baptism and the ongoing repentance to the baptismal convenant. Orders in the psalm-heavy Byzantine and quick-and-dirty Western style are offered.
The transition from I to God reflects the corporate nature of sin and reconciliation, even when administered in private. In the same way the celebrant's vestments de-emphasize his individual identity or the humeral veil makes apparent our Lord's place as font of blessing, so the new formula points to God as the source of absolution, who "hath given power and commandment to his Ministers, to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their sins." The priest is not offering forgiveness as an individual on his own behalf, but corporately, as a Minister of Word and Sacrament, in the Reformed idiom which is helpful to recall.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with the old form, and some are too eager to consign the Book of Common Prayer to retirement, but there are insights to be gained from reading the material in the Book of Alternative Services. Because our Anglican doctrine is found in our liturgy, I have been making a point of re-reading the services of baptism and of the ordination of deacons in the BAS to make sure I remember where I have come from and where I hope to be going. Anomalous as it may be, we are oddly blessed with our two-book system, which provides us with two very different expressions of our one common faith.