Communal penance services

Is it some sort of general confession? Is it something I could or should go to and watch? Or is it simply there are a bunch of people and priests and the priests hear individual confessions, only it’s like a marathon?

Well, this is what it hopefully is…

It would be a Liturgy of the Word, possibly some kind of communal act of contrition, and individual confessions.

Often the priests from surrounding parishes will be there.

I will tell you what a penance service should be:

The Faithful gather and a gathering hymn may be sung. Then there will be an opening prayer, readings from the Bible, perhaps a Psalm & homily. The priest may have the group pray the Act of Contrition together. Then, the priest(s) will go to the confessionals to hear private confessions.

It is not permissible and is against canon law if the group of penitents receives a general absolution. The only case where this would be permitted would be in dire circumstances, ie: in a war situation where the penitents are facing possible immediate death and there is no time to hear private confessions.

We have one at our parish each Advent season and then again during Lent. There are usually 4 or 5 priests available to hear confessions.


I’m actually setting up a penance service for my teen Catechism class next week.

Because it’s a fairly small group, the order of the service will be:

Introductory remarks
Opening Prayer
Petitions (Prayers of the Faithful)
Examination of Conscience (read aloud by two students in a dialogue format)

Short break while the priest sets up the Confessional.

Individual Confessions followed by individual penances.

Gather back in the Church
Our Father
Sign of Peace
Closing Prayer

When it’s a larger group, the service itself is shorter, and the individual Confessions happen after the dismissal.

It’s OK to go to the service even if you’re not Catholic. Just don’t go to confession. When I was sponsoring a guy in RCIA, he and his fiancee both came to the penance serve, although she was not Catholic and not planning to become one. But she stayed with him thru the service, just didn’t go to confession.

Hmmm. I was baptized Catholic. I’ve been told I’m just one confession away from the Eucharist…I think about that a lot.

Well, that’s true. It might even be a way to short circuit having to go thru RCIA!

The Rite of Penance describes “Penitential Services” in n. 36 - 37. It has examples of them in Appendix II. It does not includes the sacrament of reconciliation, (also called the “sacrament of penance” or the “sacament of confession”). The correct title for what is described above in post #4 is “Rite of Reconciliation of Several Penitents with Individual Confession and Absolution”. It could be that someone has chosen the term “Penance Service” for this.

But a “Penitential Service” is a “Celebration of the Word of God” which does not require a priest. As described in the Rite of Penance:
36. Penitential services are gatherings of the people of God to hear God’s word as an invitation to conversion and renewal of life and as the message of our liberation from sin through Christ’s death and resurrection. The structure of these services is the same as that usually followed in celebrations of the word of God [footnote 51: See Sacred Congregation for Rites, Instruction *Inter Oecumenici, September 26, 1964, nos. 37-39] and given in the Rite for Reconciliation of Several Penitents.
It is appropriate, therefore, that after the introductory rites (song, greeting, and opening prayer) one or more biblical readings be chosen with songs, psalms, or periods of silence inserted between them. In the homily these readings should be explained and applied to the congregation. Before or after the readings from Scripture, readings from the Fathers or other writers may also be selected that will help the community and each person to a true awareness of sin and heartfelt sorrow, in other words, to bring about conversion of life.
After the homily and reflection on God’s word, it is desireable that the congregation, united in voice and spirit, pray together in a litany or in some other way suited to general participation. At the end the Lord’s Prayer is said, asking God our Father “to forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us … and deliver us from evil.” The priest or minister who presides concludes with a prayer and the dismissal of the people.
37. Care must be taken to ensure that the faithful do not confuse these celebrations with the celebration of the sacrament of penance. …”
(The Rites Volume One, Liturgical Press, 1990, ISBN: 0-8146-6015-0, page 541-542).

Appendix II has numerous examples, with the following headings:
I Penitential Celebrations During Lent
First example
Second example
II Penitential Celebrations During Advent
III Common Penitential Celebrations
i Sin and Conversion
ii The Son Returns to the Father
iii The Beatitudes
iv For Children
v. For Young People
vi. For the Sick

Couldn’t hurt to give it a shot. The priest might recommend that you do RCIA Catechesis, anyway, especially if it’s been a long time, or if you haven’t been Confirmed yet - but yeah, go. (Do a good Examination of Conscience ahead of time if this is your First Confession, and mention to the priest that this is your first time. Don’t worry about taking too long - simply mention your sins in groups - “I did this from age four until University. I did that every week once a week when I was a teenager, but stopped in high school.” Etc.) :thumbsup:

At our Penance Service last night two of our normal priest were running late there was about 80 people so to speed things along so people wouldn’t be there all night our priest had people write their sins down on paper and give them to either him or the visting priest for absolution now correct me if I’m wrong but that is totally against canon law correct? The late priests did arrive after about 15 minutes and I went to one of them to confess like normal but others were still doing the paper with my parish priest it was such a travesty.

Penance Services are a foolish waste of time and resources, IMHO. Going to regularly scheduled Confession requires no more than 20 minutes of one’s time. Penance Services can last upwards of 90 minutes.

Even if you cannot get to regularly scheduled Confession, one can call their priest and make an appointment for Confession. I’ve never known a priest to not attempt to accomodate a penitent requesting an appointment, and I know of a few priests who, upon being asked for an appointment respond with, “… and I’m available right now if you are.”

The opinion of Pope Benedict XVI is different:
"Together with the Synod Fathers I wish to note that the non-sacramental penitential services mentioned in the ritual of the sacrament of Reconciliation can be helpful for increasing the spirit of conversion and of communion in Christian communities, thereby preparing hearts for the celebration of the sacrament: cf. Propositio 7."
From footnote 62 of the 2007 Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis .

He is entitled to his opinion. I see his point, however, the way I see Penance Services in the US, they are billed as a “time saver” and an attempt to coerce the faithful into the confessional – “Everybody will be doing it!” is the mantra.

If people would make time for confession at the appropriate times in their lives, we wouldn’t need time-saving, feel good services.

I’ve tried going to regularly scheduled confessions(Sat 1/2 hour before Mass)–late priest, several penitents, right before Mass–rushed confession, worry about being “turned away” because it’s time for Mass, etc. That’s not very successful for me…

I like the communal services as they remind me that sin affects the whole community and not just me. Not a waste of time for me, sorry they are for you…thankfully you don’t make the rules, I guess…


I have never run into these kinds of problems, and I attend frequent confession – have in every church I’ve belonged to. I’ve also never had a problem making an appointment for confession outside of the scheduled hours.

thankfully you don’t make the rules, I guess…

Was this kind of comment really necessary?

I go to Confession regularly, too, but I like Penance Services because they help me get back in touch with the reasons behind going to Confession. I like the prayers, the hymns, and the Examen being read out. Sometimes the way the reader pronounces a sentence can give a whole new spin on the meaning of something that I had overlooked before.

I also like having a variety of priests to choose from. :slight_smile:

My, that is interesting; I have never seen one billed as a “time saver”. Was that in the bulletin, or was it billed as such in the diocesan paper? Or was it a reader board in front of the church?

Coercing the faithful? My, how interesting an idea. How, pray tell, do they do that? Particularly as arrival at the service is entirely voluntary? Pehaps you live in an area where they send out - who, the Knights of Columbus, 4th Degree with their swords - to do this coercing? That might be fun to see!

Oh, and now we have mantras! “Everyone is doing it!” Is it to music? And do all clap hands to the beat? Sort of like the chants at the pro basketball games - maybe we can all stamp our feet to it too!

OOOh, and “feel good” services! Wow! I always thought one wa supposed to feel especially bad after being forgiven my sins. Feel Good! How novel! and Time Saving… the last one I went to lasted over an hour and a half. Must be something we need to learn here, something we are not getting.

Of course, doing it in community just might make us aware of the corporate effect of sin! Sure wouldn’t want people to figure that out now, would we!

Yep! Do away with them all! Don’t make it easy to go to Confession (oops, excuse me, Reconcilliation). Gee, if we make it hard enough, some might actually go to Hell because they missed. Serves them right! We sure wouldn’t want to make it easy for some of those slackers to make it back into the Church; after all, it is only a club for the group who’s ever been faithful!

And if I stick my tongue any harder into my cheek, it might come out the other side…:wink: :smiley:

Well, I have, every time I’ve tried the Sat evening confession times. I have 5 children and finding time and a sitter that works with the family is hard. Only 1 of my children is ready for confession and he knows he can ask to go and I’ll figure out a way to get him there, but they go during school hours several times a year. Even scheduling an appointment is hard, as I don’t have a baby sitter and dh works and we don’t live near any family–can’t exactly bring everyone into the confessional…

Was the comment necessary? maybe not, but you seem to think that because YOU don’t like Penance Services then they shouldn’t be offered. Many of us find them useful tools and needed in todays world…I’ve NEVER heard them referred to as time savers and an easy way to confess…


We had ours this morning, and it went very, very well.

I will tell you this - it is an absolutely amazing experience to be in the same room with a large group of teenagers who have just been to Confession. :thumbsup:

:extrahappy: :extrahappy: :extrahappy: :extrahappy: :extrahappy: :extrahappy:

Very few people in our parish go to confession (maybe 1-2 a week in an **extremely **large parish). We have two communal services a year and maybe 3 dozen people show up. The reason the ones who do go to confession prefer the communal service? From what I’ve had people tell me, they like the fact that the Act of Contrition is said as a group so they don’t have to say it by themselves with the priest, and they like that one penance is assigned for the whole group - so they don’t have to hear the priest give them an individual penance.

At our last service for example, we had our choice of penances: writing a letter to someone in prison, giving food to our local food pantry, praying another act of sorrow.

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