What is the name of this sacrament?
It is most often called the Sacrament of Penance, sometimes also the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. The liturgical rite is called the "rite of penance" and its different forms are known as "rites of reconciliation". The names really describe two aspects of the same sacramental reality; its process and effects. Through penance, the process of sorrow, forgiveness, absolution, and expiation for sins forgiven, we are reconciled with God and each other.
How often must I receive the Sacrament of Penance?
A frequent reception of the Sacrament of Penance is recommended for all. After reaching the age of discretion (commonly accepted to be seven years of age), the faithful are to confess serious sins at least once a year. (Code of Canon Law, canon 989).
What sins must I confess?
Serious sins must be confessed in number and kind. It is recommended that venial sins also be confessed. (Code of Canon Law, canon 988)
Do I use the confessional or may I confess face to face with the priest?
The penitent always has the option to use a confessional. In the United States a confessional may be a reconciliation chapel or room, which allows the option for the penitent's kneeling at a fixed grill. Confessions may be heard outside a confessional for a just cause. (Code of Canon Law, canon 964, NCCB, decree, BCL Newsletter 10 (1974) 450)
What about the "Act of Contrition"?
After the penitent confesses his or her sins, the priest asks the penitent to express sorrow. This may be done in one of the traditional forms or in the penitent's own words similar to the traditional forms, or in other forms (Rite of Penance). Other forms include these prayers from scripture or tradition:
Wash me from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin. I acknowledge my offense; my sin is before me always.
Luke 15:18; 18 13
Father, I have sinned against you and am no longer worthy to be called your son. Be merciful to me, a sinner.
The "Jesus Prayer"
Lord Jesus, Son of God have mercy on me, a sinner.
I haven't been to confession in a long time, how will I know what to do?
The rites are outlined above, but let the confessor be your guide. His ministry is that of Christ. His task is reconciliation. He is most concerned with helping you experience the graces of the sacrament, not how well you remember the rite. In a communal celebration there are always programs to help the assembly. In addition, the presider will give instructions at various points during the service.
Why is it that communal celebrations of the sacrament of penance seem to differ from parish to parish?
"It is for priests, and especially parish priests (pastors):