Sacrament of Confession - Is there any instruction from the Vatican


Is there any instruction or recommendations from the Vatican as to administering the Sacrament of Penance at a parish level? How often it ought to be available (not just by personal request to a priest) how it ought to be administered etc?

Is there any instructions from CDW on this? Is there anything in Canon Law?


Here is a link to the relevant canons.
From a quick glance, the answer to your question is ‘NO’

It is up to the Bishop to decide on the norms for his diocese.


Catechism of the Catholic Church

1464 Priests must encourage the faithful to come to the sacrament of Penance and must make themselves available to celebrate this sacrament each time Christians reasonably ask for it.70

Vatican II and the Sacraments: Penance

Christus Dominus (1965), Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops

  1. Pastors should also be mindful of how much the sacrament of Penance contributes to developing the Christian life and, therefore, should always make themselves available to hear the confessions of the faithful.

Presbyterorum Ordinis (1965), Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests

  1. This is true in a special way when in the** performance of their duty in the sacrament of Penance they show themselves altogether and always ready whenever the sacrament is reasonably sought by the faithfu**l.

Six years into His incredible twenty-seven year Pontificate…Blessed John Paul II wrote this incredible Apostolic Exhortation.


I have always wondered if Canon Law should demand/require at a minimum that all bishops of their Particular Churches…and hopefully all pastors/priests of parishes…must read and promulgate/include in their homilies…some of the catechesis points these Papal pronouncements of the Holy Father…(at least advise the faithful in the pews of the encyclical/exhortation and its general content/subject areas.)… but I doubt that Canon Law will ever decree any such thing. What a shame…what an injustice to the faithful that our local ministers…especially our bishops…do not read and preach/promulgate these types of Papal catechesis…catechesis from Christ’s Vicar on Earth.

Pax Christi


This question made me curious because, I have taught children making their first Confession for over 30 years. Here is what I found on wikipedia:
“A revised rite of the Sacrament of Reconciliation was given to the Church by Pope Paul VI on December 2, 1973. The new rite presents the sacrament in three different ritual forms:
The first form — The Rite for Reconciliation of Individual Penitents — is similar to the way most Roman Catholics remember “confession”; however, provision is made for the reading of sacred Scripture, and the penitent is given the option of speaking to the priest face-to-face or remaining anonymous (usually behind a screen). The priest may offer advice and gives a suitable penance. The priest pronounces absolution (the prayer for absolution was revised and extended) and the rite concludes with a short thanksgiving.[41]
The second form — The Rite of Reconciliation of Several Penitents with Individual Confession and Absolution — usually begins with readings from scripture, hymns, prayers, a homily and an examination of conscience, followed by a call to repentance. Private confession and reconciliation follow and a final thanksgiving, blessing and dismissal. Paul VI said in 1974 that he hoped this communal rite would “become the normal way of celebration.”
The third form — The Rite for Reconciliation of Several Penitents with General Confession and Absolution — is similar to the second, except that the penitents do not make an actual confession, but only manifest contrition (general confession). The prayer of absolution is given collectively or “generally” to all those gathered to celebrate the sacrament (general absolution). The penitents are obliged to actually confess each grave sin in their next confession.[42] Form three is intended for emergencies and other situations when it is not at all possible for the priest(s) to hear all the individual confessions. This rite has been discouraged for widespread use by the Vatican in many countries recently.”
When I started teaching in 1976, this new rite was being introduced in the US. Here is the link the a USCCB bulletin insert describing it:


Thanks for all those useful replies and links. Unfortunately, it seems that a priest (or bishop) could interpret things in such a way that ‘confession on request’ fulfills the priest’s obligation to be always available to hear confession. An unfortunate effect of this would be to discourage, rather than encourage people to attend Confession, as many people do not want to bother the priest in this way and will only go if there is a regular time for Confession in a Confessional box in their parish. This hardly fulfills what is supposed to be the duty of a priest to ‘promote’ Confession.

Bcuster, you make an interesting point regarding the 1973 revised rite of Confession. I was never aware of this, until a priest I met on a course recently told me about it and how he would like to use this in his parish, but everyone who comes into his Confession just starts off, “Bless me Father for I have sinned…” and he can’t get a look in with introducing scripture.

I do think that we are getting let down with regards to Confession and that the CDW should give some instruction to the effect that the general norm should be at least one regular weekly slot for a small, one-priest parish, with medium and larger parishes requiring more slots, in addition to Confession on request from the Faithful.


Our pastor is available for Confession every Saturday from 1-2pm and we can tap him on the shoulder any time – I’ve done that a couple of times when I couldn’t get to confession during the regular hours.

Personally, I wish they would use form 2 once a month instead of only during Advent and Lent. I greatly appreciate the formal penitential service followed by private confession. When done well, with lots of time for reflection during the examination of conscience, it works very well.

The last time we had one we did a very adult examination of conscience, very similar to this one. Some people were offended by it. Guess we can’t name sin any more, even in church while preparing for confession.


Our priest is a lovely guy, very personable, genuine, and hard to get angry with, but Confession is (in my opinion) being somewhat neglected at the moment. I will often ask him for a Confession if I’m talking to him about something else, and he gives a lovely Confession, but what about the parishioners who don’t have a lot of general contact with him? They’re less likely to come knocking on his door.

When you have a priest that administers such a lovely Confession, that you’d feel comfortable opening up about anything at all. He puts you at ease, gives great advice, makes you feel valued, and you always come away feeling totally uplifted. He should be putting himself about administering this vital Sacrament, not cancelling Confession slots because he’s up to his eyes in other business… He should give the people a guaranteed regular slot, come what may. and getting into our Catholic schools and get the young people, and teachers to Confess to him, they’d definitely come back again. To me it seems such a waste. I need to tell him this, but I need to curb my tendency of going in all guns blazing quoting Vatican documents.


How could anyone be offended by that? Are we to pretend that things we like doing, but are wrong, are not sinful?

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