Penance (Reconciliation, Confession) | What You Need to Know
When it comes to understanding the Sacrament of Penance (also called the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or simply Confession), we can move quickly from the barest possible outline to one of the deepest documents the Church has issued in the modern era.
- The Catechism on the Sacrament of Penance
- Misericordia Dei (On the Mercy of God) (John Paul II, 2002)
- Reconciliatio et Paenitentia (On Reconciliation and Penance)
A brief definition of the Sacrament of Penance, covering the bare essentials, is found in Fr. Hardon's Catholic Dictionary under the entry Sacrament of Penance.
The heated modern question of whether children might receive First Communion before receiving First Penance was settled definitively in the negative in 1973 by the Congregations for the Clergy and the Sacraments in Sanctus Pontifex. The contrary practice is an abuse.
While the practice of general absolution without personal confession of sins to a priest is possible in emergency situation, its widespread abuse has been condemned many times, perhaps most recently in a 1999 instruction by the Congregation for Divine Worship to the Church in Australia, The Sacrament of Penance.
In the same year Reconciliatio et Paenitentia was issued, the late Bishop Austin Vaughan of New York offered a useful catalogue of questions and confusions which have contributed to a decline in the use of the Sacrament of Penance.
Finally, both popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have frequently emphasized the importance of rediscovering the Sacrament of Penance, not only among lay people but for frequent use by priests as a key to holiness. See, for example, By Going to Confession Priests Become Holy (John Paul II) and Rediscover the Sacrament of Penance (Benedict XVI, 2007).