Penance Services

I unfortinatly could not attend our parish Easter Penance Services due to sick pregnant wife and children. I have not ever attended one. I do know what penance is but am unfamiliar with the service. Can anyone explain it and did I commit a sin by not going (day of obligation)?

A Penitential Service is a communal preparation for Confession, not something anyone is obligated to attend.

At such a service you will usually have:

A Liturgy of the Word, homily and general intercessions.

A led examination of conscience: Did I do this? Did I do that? Did I fail to do such and such? This is not something you are expected to answer aloud, just think upon.

A Penitential Rite such as “I confess to Almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters that I have sinned…” and possibly an Act of Contrition.

Then you are offered private Confession, often with several priests to choose from.

Some use the Penitential Service to prepare for a later confession, some opt to go immediately.

At a Penance Service there are usually several priests, most from neighboring parishes or cities, who are present to hear confessions. At our Penance Service we had seven. The Service begins with the priests processing in. There is usually a reading from Scripture, a homily or sermon and a reading of an examination of conscience. Usually we all recite the Act of Contrition together before going to Confession. It saves a little time with so many people going. Besides the Confessionals and Reconcilliation room, stations are set up on each side of the sanctuary with a kneeler and a screen. Our pastor is keen about making anonymous Confession available.

You did not commit a sin by not going to the Penance Service. But there is a church law that Catholics should go to Confession at least once a year. There usually are other times when Confessions are available. Check your local schedule.

Usually during Holy Week you can go to Confession just about everyday around here, perhaps it is that way there too and you just didn’t know. Check into it. You probably have many Catholic Church’s, perhaps a Shrine, Cathedral or a Mission Church in your area where you could go one day, you could probably find them online to read their schedule or call them and they may have a recorded message or if you call during the day, someone to talk to tell you the schedule if it wasn’t in your Parish bulletin.

Workingman, I see you are a candidate for reception into the Church - congratulations! I also see that you are a former Lutheran, which presumably means you have been baptized. That means that you will need to confess your sins in the Sacrament of Penance before you are received - and I imagine that will be this Saturday at the Easter Vigil. So you have just a couple of days to find a parish where confessions are offered or call your priest for an appointment. Alternatively, you could give your RCIA director a call and see if he or she has any suggestions for you, since you missed the penance service. This person will be more familiar with your options for finding confession on short notice.

God bless you and welcome home!


Thank you all for the replies and explanations. It is very helpful as I continue to learn more.

baltobetsy, Yes I am on my way into reception and thank you. Unfortinatly not at this Easter Vigil. I came late and our parish is so small that our priest is just going to start a cource out of scheduel. I still since I was baptized Catholic to see if I can utilize the sacrament of connfession.Thank you for your welcome home and help.

In the Rite of Penance it describes the Penitential Service, but makes these points. “37. Care must be taken to ensure that the faithful do not confuse these celebrations with the celebration of the sacrament of penance.” And: “It is desirable to arrange them especially for these purposes: … - to help the faithful to prepare for individual confession that can be made later at a convenient time;” (The Rites Volume One, Liturgical Press, 1990, ISBN: 0-8146-6015-0, page 542).

So I would not see individual confession as a usual option immediately after the Penitential Service. A priest might not even be part of the Penitential Service, there may not be one available.

Other reasons are given for the Penitential Service: “to help catechumens during their conversion” and “to help children gradually form their conscience …”. So here it is available for those who are not permitted to have the sacrament.

Another ceremony is “Rite for Reconciliation of Several Penitents with Individual Confession and Absolution”. This is the “sacrament of penance” not to be confused with the “penitential service”.

The term “Penance service” is confusing. “Penance” sounds like the sacrament of Penance. “Service” sounds like the Penitential Service.

What we celebrate is the Second Form of Penance which has a service and individual confession. Rightly or wrongly, this has for years been known as a Penitential Service. Anyone can attend without going to private confession at that time, which is in fact what happens in my parish. While not many attend, fewer still actually go to confession – most leave after the communal part of the service.

From the CCC

1482 The sacrament of Penance can also take place in the framework of a communal celebration in which we prepare ourselves together for confession and give thanks together for the forgiveness received. Here, the personal confession of sins and individual absolution are inserted into a liturgy of the word of God with readings and a homily, an examination of conscience conducted in common, a communal request for forgiveness, the Our Father and a thanksgiving in common. This communal celebration expresses more clearly the ecclesial character of penance. However, regardless of its manner of celebration the sacrament of Penance is always, by its very nature, a liturgical action, and therefore an ecclesial and public action.90

One tiny addition. The Church Law is once a year if you have mortal sin.

This is what they do at our parish, twice a year, but well attended with 7-8 stations (priest). They started this 5 or 6 years ago.
This is what I dislike about it: Before this there were 2 confessional boxes & was always a line on Saturday afternoons for 2 hours.
And after this, they tore out the confessionals & now you seldom see people even going to confession on Saturdays before evening Mass for the 30 minute slot that’s allotted for it. In fact, if you wish to go to confession you have to hunt the priest down.:frowning:

And really odd, lines are very long for communion.:shrug:

We have no ‘confessional box’ either but rather a Reconciliation Room which provides an opportunity for either ‘face to face’ or ‘anonymous’ confession. Unfortunately, the last two pastors have opted to not sit in the Reconciliation Room for 30 minutes before each of the Sunday Masses as their predecessors had done: “I am NOT sitting there for 30 minutes when I know nobody will show up.” So for the last 4 years now you have to go tap whoever is celebrating the Mass on the shoulder and tell him you want to go to confession – ‘anonymous’ is out the window. This problem is compounded by the fact that they don’t bother to show up until 10 minutes before Mass.

Since they preach “God loves us no matter what” without the addition of “repent and confess” they don’t have many who think they need confession. It’s produced a vicious cycle of
Few people going to confession LEADING TO Fr. not wanting to sit in the Reconciliation Room for nothing LEADING TO still fewer people going to Confession because Fr. is not available.

But yes, the Communion line is long and includes more than a few couples who don’t have benefit of the sacrament of Marriage including most of the parents whose children have been baptized in the last few years.

WOW! That is pretty much, exactly the same here and you said it much better that I could have. Of course I have never been called the smartest kid on the block.:blush:

What has happened to the priest using that time waiting in the confession room for praying for his parish or whatever.:shrug:

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit