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Penance is a sacrament of healing. Also called Reconciliation and Confession, it is a celebration of God’s mercy and forgiveness that reconciles the sinner to God and the Church community. 

Christ has given the sacrament of Penance to the Church because the new life received in baptism does not abolish the weakness of human nature nor the inclination to evil. That means after baptism Christians find themselves sinning and separating themselves from Jesus and his Church and so are in need of reconciliation. 

The essential aspects of Penance are the contrition or sorrow of the penitent who, on approaching the priest, verbally confesses the sins he or she can remember and asks for forgiveness. The priest will give advice and then impart absolution. The penitent will be asked to perform a penance ro make a new start and try to repair the damage done by sin. 

Those aware of serious sins must approach the sacrament of Penance to be reconciled with God and the Church. Those who are aware of less serious sins are nonetheless encouraged to approach the sacrament as a valuable part of the life-long journey of conversion. The Church asks Catholics to confess their sins at least once a year, preferably I the season of Lent. 

The usual form of this sacrament is individual and private confession of sins to a priest. There are set times in each parish where the sacrament is available, but it can also be requested at any time. 

Another form of reconciliation is individual and private confession of sins to the priest within a communal celebration that includes Scripture readings, a sermon, and common prayers and song. These Penitential celebrations often occur in Lent and Advent and will be advertised by the local parish. 

In emergency or grave situation where there are lots of penitents and just one or a few priests, it is possible for general absolution without individual confession of sins. In this case, penitents should come back to individual reconciliation as soon as possible. 

Who celebrates Reconciliation?

Baptised members of the Roman Catholic Church who feel called to be reconciled with God and with the faith community can take part in the Sacrament of Penance. The minister of the sacrament is a Catholic priest. 

Where does Reconciliation take place? 

The place for the celebration of the sacrament is a dedicated ‘confessional’ or ‘reconciliation room’ in the local church. It is also possible to celebrate reconciliation in the main body of the church. But when there is a need, reconciliation can be celebrated anywhere where privacy can be ensured. 

Catholics who approach the sacrament of Reconciliation have the right to anonymity and may speak to the priest behind a curtain or traditional grille. However, if both the penitent and priest agree, reconciliation may be ‘face-to-face’. 

When will my child celebrate First Reconciliation? 

You can contact your parish for information about arranging for children to make their First Reconciliation. This is usually prior to celebrating their First Holy Communion. The sacrament may take place in a communal celebration or simply individually. Either way, parishes offer Reconciliation to children in a child-safe manner that protects both child and priest. 

Your child will need to complete a period of preparation. This preparation will help the children feel at ease and understand the sacrament and is the responsibility of parents together with the assistance of the parish and the Catholic school. 

Can a priest tell someone else about what they have heard in Confession?

When a person confesses their sins to a priest in the Sacrament of Penance, a very sacred trust is formed. The priest must maintain absolute secrecy about anything that a person confesses for the rest of his life. This secrecy is called “the seal of Confession”. Under no circumstances is the priest allowed to break this sacred seal.