Communal Reconciliation: The Second Rite

Although it is quite some time since restrictions were imposed on its use, many Catholics continue to lament the loss of regular celebrations of the third rite of reconciliation. Communal reconciliation is still available, however, through the “Reconciliation of Several Penitents with Individual Confession and Absolution”, the second rite of the Sacrament of Penance. Celebrated as it is intended, this form can fill the void left by the loss of the third rite. 

Sometimes the manner of celebration of the second rite of reconciliation conveys the impression that the first half of the liturgy is a communal celebration but the second part a private one, in other words a combination of the third and first rites. 

I have attended second rites where, after the introduction, liturgy of the word, and examination of conscience, the priests moved to the privacy of the church's confessionals and sacristies. One by one, people entered these rooms, often for a considerable length of time, to confess their sins and receive absolution. In fact, from this point on they were just like Saturday afternoon confessions, but with several priests and a much bigger crowd. People were even told to leave after they had had their “turn” and not wait around for the concluding rites. 

This is not at all what the second rite intends. Such poor celebrations turn people away and deprive them of a wonderful opportunity to experience communal reconciliation which “shows more clearly the communal nature of penance”. (Sacrament of Penance #22) 

The second form of the sacrament of penance is a communal liturgical celebration from beginning to end. It begins with the community listening to the word of God. The homily emphasises our need for repentance and the infinite mercy of God. During the examination of conscience, the assembly reflects together on where and how they have fallen short of their baptismal commitment to follow Christ. 

The individual confession and absolution that follows is communal too in that the penitents approach the confessors in full view of all present. The priests stand at appropriate points around the worship space in such a way that penitents can be seen but not heard by others. This is easily arranged in most churches. Those who wish to confess their sins approach one of the priests. While no restriction is placed on the individual's confession, good manners and common sense dictate that people limit the time they spend with confessors. More time for integral confession and spiritual guidance is available at the first rite. 

It is a moving experience to witness fellow Christians humbling themselves publicly by approaching a confessor for forgiveness. As they do, we pray for them, that they will know the fullness of God's grace and mercy.

After the confessions, the ceremony concludes with a proclamation of praise, a prayer of thanksgiving and a blessing. These are an integral to the celebration, not an optional extra! 

To ensure that the rite is celebrated in a fruitful way, both parishioners and the priests who will take part need to be informed well beforehand about the nature and purpose of the rite and their participation in it.


Elizabeth Harrington