The Sacrament of Reconciliation
The Father has shown forth his mercy by reconciling the world to himself in Christ and by making peace for all things on earth and in heaven by the blood of Christ on the cross. The Son of God made man lived among us in order to free us from the slavery of sin and to call us out of darkness into his wonderful light. He therefore began his work on earth by preaching repentance and saying: "Repent and believe the Gospel" (Mk 1:15).
In Roman Catholic teaching, the sacrament of Penance (commonly called confession but more recently referred to as Reconciliation, or more fully the Sacrament of Reconciliation) is the method used by the Church by which individual men and women may confess sins committed after baptism and have them absolved by a priest. This sacrament is known by many names, including penance, reconciliation and confession (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sections 1423-1442). Official Church publications always refer to the sacrament as "Penance", "Reconciliation" or "Penance and Reconciliation", many laypeople continue to use the term "confession" in reference to the sacrament. Roman Catholics believe that priests have been given the authority by Jesus and God to exercise the forgiveness of sins here on earth and it is in Jesus Holy Name by which the person confessing is forgiven.
The basic form of confession has not changed for centuries, although at one time confessions were made publicly. In theological terms, the priest acts in persona Christi and receives from the Church the power of jurisdiction over the penitent. (John 20:21-23)  Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you."  And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
For Catholic priests, the confidentiality of all statements made by penitents during the course of confession is absolute. This strict confidentiality is known as the Seal of the Confessional.
The priest is bound to secrecy and cannot be excused either to save his own life or that of another, or to avert any public calamity. No law can compel him to divulge the sins confessed to him.
The intent of this sacrament is to provide healing for the soul as well as to regain the grace of God, lost by sin.
The Sacrament of Confession and Penance is now referred to as the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as the focus now is less on punishment and more on getting the sinner right with God and man.
According to the Church's command, "after having attained the age of discretion, (Children, “Cradle Catholics”) must go to the sacrament of reconciliation before receiving Holy Communion for the first time) each of the faithful is bound by an obligation to faithfully confess serious sins, mortal sins (A mortal sin must be about a serious matter, have been committed with full consent, and be known to be wrong) at least once a year. Mortal sin, according to Roman Catholic teaching, include for example: murder, blasphemy, and adultery. A person with an unconfessed, un-absolved mortal sin is forbidden to receive the Eucharist, which is the central act of Catholic life.
In order for the sacrament to be valid the penitent must do more than simply confess his/her known mortal sins to a priest.
A person must:
• be truly sorry for each of the mortal sins he committed,
• have a firm intention never to commit them again, and
• perform the penance imposed by the priest. Also, in addition to confessing the types of mortal sins committed, the penitent must disclose how many times each sin was committed, to the best of his/her ability.
Confession of venial sins is strongly recommended but not obligatory. Regular confession (at least once a month) of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father's mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful.
Nowadays confession can take place in a traditional confessional box, or in a private room, face to face with a priest. There are also communal prayers and ceremonies of confession, (i.e. penance service) but they are not substitutes for the private confession of individual sins.
Prior to confessing, the penitent engages in an “examination of conscience,” that is, he searches his mind to try to remember all of the sins he has committed and not yet confessed. For him to do this properly he must have had an adequate “formation of conscience”--instruction in the Church's standards of right and wrong. It is recommend that penitents use the Ten Commandments as a guideline for determining and remembering their sins. Think about what you have done wrong, and why it is wrong. Focus on the main sins that are separating you from God.
Anyone who engages in a thorough examination of conscience will almost certainly come up with a sizable list of sins. It is required to confess all mortal sins in the confessional, and it is recommended that you confess as many venial sins a possible.
Catholics do ultimately confess their sins to God because God is the only one who can forgive sins. The priest is simply a human extension of Christ’s priestly ministry; a human intermediary who can hear and forgive sins on Christ’s behalf. The priest’s words and physical presence are simply a tangible sign that an invisible event (God’s forgiveness) is taking place; a sacrament is being given and received. The act of confession can be an indescribably emotional purging and healing experience.
Frequent confession is a spiritual practice of going to the sacrament of penance often and regularly in order to grow in holiness.
Confession of sin can only be sincere if it is preceded by the process of conversion.
With a realization that all is not right with our values and our life style , by a faith response to God's call, we are called to a conversion that initiates a desire for change.
Conversion is always a response to being loved by God. The most important part of the conversion process is the experience of being loved and realizing that God's love saves us. We need to be open to the gift of God's love and open to grace. A decision to turn away from the evil that blinds us to God's love, and to turn toward God who gives us the gift of love in spite of our sinfulness.
Contrition means examining our present relationships in the light of the Gospel imperative of love, and taking the necessary steps to repent and repair those relationships with others, ourselves and God.
The purpose of doing penance is to help us change that pattern. Penance is for growth, not for punishment. "Doing penance" means taking steps in the direction of living a changed life; it means making room for something new.
Steps in the Rite of Reconciliation
The penitent can go to confession privately behind a screen or face-to-face with the priest.
1. Begin by making the Sign of the Cross and greeting the priest: Bless me father, for I have sinned."
2. Then continue: "My last confession was..." (Weeks, months, years).
3. Confess your sins to the priest. He will help you make a good confession. If you are unsure of how to confess, or you feel uneasy, ask him to help you. Answer his questions without hiding anything out of fear or shame. Place your trust in God, a merciful Father who wants to forgive you.
4. Following your confession of sins, say: "I am sorry for these and all of my sins."
5. The priest will then assign you a penance and offer advice to help you to be a better Catholic. The penance imposed will take into account your personal situation and support your spiritual good. It may be a prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service, or sacrifice; but it joins us in some way to Christ.
6. Say an Act of Contrition, expressing sorrow for your sins.
"Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you. And I detest all my sins because of your just punishments. But most of all, because I have offended you, my God, who are all good and deserving of my love. I firmly intend, with the help of your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen."
7. The priest, acting in the person of Christ, then will absolve you from your sins by saying the Prayer of Absolution, to which you make the Sign of the Cross and respond, "Amen."
8. The priest will offer some proclamation of praise, such as "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good," to which you respond, "His mercy endures forever."
9. The priest will then dismiss you. Because sin often harms others, you must make satisfaction for your sins by completing your assigned penance.
The humility required in confessing and completing penance helps us to submit again to God's will and follow Him more closely. Confession is a blessing, offering peace, and a hopeful heart.
Our attitude toward the Sacrament of Reconciliation is intimately related to our image of God. We need to really believe that our God is a great Lord who is ever ready to reach out in unconditional forgiveness. We ourselves need to forgive as we have been forgiven. Having been forgiven, we are empowered to forgive ourselves and to forgive one another, heal one another and celebrate that we have come a step closer to what makes us the heralds of Christ's Kingdom on earth.