indulgences for them, so that the temporal punishments due for their sins
may be remitted.
Like all the sacraments, Penance is a liturgical action. The
elements of the celebration are ordinarily these: a greeting and
blessing from the priest, reading the word of God to illuminate the
conscience and elicit contrition, and an exhortation to repentance;
the confession, which acknowledges sins and makes them known
to the priest; the imposition and acceptance of a penance; the
priest’s absolution; a prayer of thanksgiving and praise and dis-
missal with the blessing of the priest.
The Byzantine Liturgy recognizes several formulas of absolution,
in the form of invocation, which admirably express the mystery of forgive-
ness: “May the same God, who through the Prophet Nathan forgave David
when he confessed his sins, who forgave Peter when he wept bitterly, the
prostitute when she washed his feet with her tears, the publican, and the
prodigal son, through me, a sinner, forgive you both in this life and in the
next and enable you to appear before his awe-inspiring tribunal without
condemnation, he who is blessed for ever and ever. Amen.”
The sacrament of Penance can also take place in the framework of a
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.
In case of grave necessity recourse may be had to a
celebration of reconciliation with general confession and general absolu
Grave necessity of this sort can arise when there is imminent danger
of death without sufficient time for the priest or priests to hear each
penitent’s confession. Grave necessity can also exist when, given the
number of penitents, there are not enough confessors to hear individual
confessions properly in a reasonable time, so that the penitents through
no fault of their own would be deprived of sacramental grace or Holy
Communion for a long time. In this case, for the absolution to be valid the
faithful must have the intention of individually confessing their grave sins
in the time required.
The diocesan bishop is the judge of whether or not
the conditions required for general absolution exist.
A large gathering
of the faithful on the occasion of major feasts or pilgrimages does not
constitute a case of grave necessity.
92 Cf. CIC, can. 962 § 1.
93 Cf. CIC, can. 961 § 2.
94 Cf. CIC, can. 961 § 1.