I had my first, surprising experience of a communal reconciliation service with general absolution last night, and I thought I'd share what happened and see what people's thoughts are on the topic.
I arrived for my parish's usual Advent reconciliation service last night, a little before the start of the service at 7pm. This would be the first such service since our regular priest was reassigned and not replaced, and the first time reconciliation was offered in any way since June (hence my strong desire to participate).
The regular number of people had arrived: about a dozen out of a parish of several hundred. A single priest had arrived, rather than the usual two or three, and he was dressed in a violet cope with an ornate clasp.
The priest walked in front of the alter and introduced himself, expressing his pleasure at the excellent turnout (I'm not making this stuff up; he must have had past experiences with worse turnouts elsewhere) and explaining that we would be celebrating a communal reconciliation service with a general absolution. He went on to give a history of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, "that we used to call the Sacrament of Penance", which as far as I could tell was accurate but misleading. He then gave an apologia for the use of general absolution. His essential point was that one of the two circumstances in which the Church allows general absolution is in the case of a shortage of priests. Since we've been hearing that we have a shortage of priests since the 1970's, he had been offering general absolution all this time. He mentioned that some fellow priests disapprove of what he does, to which he gives the reply "if the Church doesn't like what I do, it should change the law." He wrapped up this part by saying that if anyone had sins that they felt were so serious that they needed "to be brought into the public forum, so to speak" he would stay after the service to hear those individual confessions.
There's no space to describe the rest of the service in detail. There was a homily of sorts on sin (better than I had expected, though it would have been improved by the use of such terms as "mortal" and "venial"), a long responsive reflection on different kinds of sins, a cheesy song played on a boom-box, an Our Father and Hail Mary, and part of a Compline service. Then, after enough time had probably past for all our individual confessions to have been heard, he asked if we were sorry for all the sins of our lives, and we responded "yes" or "I am" or something along those lines. Then he gave general absolution, followed by (not preceded by) an act of contrition that we were to say silently in our heads. No penance was given, though I perhaps that is typical of general absolution.
After this most people left, but I and three others stayed behind. I was going to get my individual confession if I could, especially since it's unlikely I'll have another chance until Lent. I thanked the priest for offering this, and he responded that he would not, of course, force any form of the sacrament on anyone. The rest of the confession proceeded as normal, except that at the end the priest said, with what I thought was a tone of sarcasm (I hope I imagined it), "so those are the sins you felt you needed to bring into the public forum?" I just said "yes", and he gave me an individual absolution and a penance (do something nice for my family).
I'd be interested in people's thoughts on this whole episode, including whether you have experienced anything similar. In particular, I have questions about the double absolution.
Not knowing whether individual absolution or only confession of absolved sins would be offered afterwards, I intended the general absolution to apply to the sins I was about to confess. When I did confess those sins, it was only those I'd had in mind before, and I did not know whether another absolution would be given. In fact it was given, for sins that I assume were already forgiven. Is this standard practice after a penitent confesses sins already forgiven through general absolution? Might the second absolution even have been objectively sacrilegious, since it was not to absolve any new sin (the only new sin I was aware of was lack of due charity to the priest, and I could hardly confess that to him)? My intention during the second absolution was that it absolve me if for whatever reason the general absolution had been invalid. I can't say what the priest's intention was, of course.