Sacrament of Reconciliation
One of the earliest crises in the emerging Church was to face the reality of sin, particularly of their fellow Christians not being faithful to Christ and, in the face of persecution, offering sacrifice to idols. Having received the new creation of Christian Initiation it seemed impossible that they would sin again. If they did sin, then how could they be reconciled to the community they had abandoned? Eventually the Church did accept that they could be reconciled to the community and so there developed a ritual for the celebration of their reconciliation.
This ritual began with the person confessing to the Bishop their offence. The Bishop would then assign to them a penance, which may have been over some years, and exclude them from the Eucharistic assembly of the Church. They were enrolled as Penitents to be included in the prayer of the community till they were judged to be ready for reconciliation.
When it was determined that they were ready to be restored to full communion with the Church they would gather with the Bishop and the community in the days before Easter. In this celebration they would be restored to union with the community by receiving Communion in that celebration. They would then take their place with the community as they prepared for the Easter ceremonies.
However the burden of the penances given them became very heavy and people looked elsewhere for restoration to life in the Church. The Irish monks offered them spiritual advice to help them through this period. Eventually this practice became a ritual for reconciliation. No longer focused upon the whole community, the person was reconciled alone with the confessor. The elements of this service were confession, penance and absolution.
The liturgical reform of Vatican II aimed to restore the ecclesial dimension to the celebration of Penance. The ritual was celebrated in the context of a communal celebration of the Word of God, which included individual confession, and a common prayer of thanksgiving. The individual celebration was provided with the inclusion of the Word of God. A third ritual was introduced for the communal celebration of Reconciliation with only a general confession of our sinful condition. This form is rarely permitted these days.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is built upon our conversion, our confession of sins and the prayer of absolution by the leaders of the Church. Through this sacrament Jesus welcomes sinners and reconciles them with the Father. They share in the mercy of God and are reconciled with the Church, the Body of Christ, which they wounded by their sins.