Confession VS. Communal Penance

This sounds dumb, even in my head, but I have to ask:

Are you any more forgiven by doing a 1-on-1 confession than if you do communal penance?

I’m rather shy, and talking to a priest (even behind a screen in a box) about what I’ve done wrong is not something I can easily do. I much prefer doing it with the rest of my church. Is this just as “effective”? Thanks!

In communal penance services there are typically a number of priests hearing confessions 1 on 1. If you are talking about a priest absolving a group of people at once, that is only to be done when there is a danger of death. An example would be if a plane is about to crash and there is a priest aboard. In the event that the crash was averted and everyone survived, those people would still need to confess there sins 1 on 1.

Perhaps my terminology is incorrect. Three or four times a year, my Parish has what i’ve always called communal penance. The priest goes through an examination of conscience, tells everyone what penance should be preformed, and we’re resolved of our sins. I know multiple parishes in my Archdiocese that do this so I hope someone knows what I mean.

Communal Penance must have individual confessions.

Here’s an answer by Father Vincent Serpa, CAF Apologist, to the same question:

That is actually an abuse, unless he speicifies that each and every one present arranges for individual confession before a Priest.

If your shyness stems from sexual sin, please do not worry the slightest about it. The Priest has heard sooooooo many of those in confession that only its level of seriousness and number of times mean a thing to him. Grab your bible and have a look at Nehemiah 9:2 and James 5:16. Public confession was prcticed in the Old Testament. Confession as a Sacrament was established by Christ and taught clearly by James.

Only confess what you want forgiven. :wink:

If one has mortal sin on his/her soul…they are obligated to attend one on one confession.
If only in a state of venial sin, technically not necessary to go to one on one confession BUT HIGHLY ENCOURGAGED!!!

It is a precept of the Church that we confess our sins at least once a year.

We know what you mean.

This kind of general absolution is only to be done in very grave emergency situations. The examples usually given are soldiers about to enter a battle or passengers on an airplane going down. A priest gave general absolution licitly to a group of firemen before they went into the towers on 9/11. If one survives, he/she is then to go to an individual confession as soon as possible.

What you are describing is an illicit use of general absolution. While the absolution is valid (but illicit) it requires that you go to individual confession as soon as possible. If you do not do that, you have incurred another sin and are no longer in a state of grace.

Responding to the person with this question, what you describe is called general absolution. Two things to remember about general absolution are:

  1. General absolution is only allowed in an emergency sort of situation in which there is no time for penitents to confess their sins individually. Times a priest might licitly give general absolution to a group of people would include soldiers right before a battle, passengers on a plane that is crashing, or finally, and I’m not sure if this is more debatable or not, but a situation in a place like Africa where a large group of people have very sporadic access to priests and there is no practical way for them all to confess their individual sins during an occasional visit of a priest.

  2. If you live through whatever crisis is happening and later have an opportunity to confess your sins to a priest, you have an obligation to confess any mortal sins which were forgiven in the general absolution.

Therefore, in an ordinary parish situation general absolution should not be being given by priests, and laypeople should not be substituting general absolution for individual confession and absolution. The fact that this has become common in some places (Canada especially, from what I’ve heard, but even some parts of the United States) does not excuse either the priests or the laypeople from following the Church’s actual norms.

Since you obviously didn’t know this I wouldn’t worry about the validity of the absolutions or having received the Eucharist unworthily as a result, or anything like that. Just get to individual confession and confess any and all mortal sins which have already been forgiven through general absolution, plus of course any more you have committed since. Then from now on confess individually, unless of course you are someday in an emergency situation in which individual confession is not an option.

That technically only applies mortal sins. However, it is still good to confess every month even if you have only committed venial sins. Of course if you have committed mortal sins you should go as soon as possible.

No, if you fall into mortal sin you need to get to Confession ASAP.

The once a year requirement goes in hand with the once a year communion requirement. The both are supposed to be done, if possible, during the Easter Season. If you’re receiving communion every Sunday, you need to go more often.

Not sure why the disagreement. I said the same thing.

You quoted someone who said we only need to go once a year, and you said that technically only applied to mortal sins.

I’ve heard different takes on this, which is why I worded my post very simply in case I was wrong in thinking this applied to everyone regardless of whether they had committed a mortal sin.

In the back of my Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church the second Precept of the Church is listed as

  1. You shall confess your sins at least once a year.

No mention there of mortal or venial- it makes it sounds like we are all simply required to confess our sins at least once a year. The quote from the Code of Canon Law, which of course is the main body of Church law where we would expect to find this kind of requirement officially laid out, definitely seems to strongly support Fr. Serpa’s interpretation though.

Yes, Fr. Serpa confirmed it’s only necessary to go to confession once a year when you have committed a mortal sin. It is a recommendation not an obligation to confess venial sins.


Canon Law of the Latin Rite Catholic Church

Can. 961 ß1 General absolution, without prior individual confession, cannot be given to a number of penitents together, unless:

1ƒ danger of death threatens and there is not time for the priest or priests to hear the confessions of the individual penitents;

2ƒ there exists a grave necessity, that is, given the number of penitents, there are not enough confessors available properly to hear the individual confessions within an appropriate time, so that without fault of their own the penitents are deprived of the sacramental grace or of holy communion for a lengthy period of time. A sufficient necessity is not, however, considered to exist when confessors cannot be available merely because of a great gathering of penitents, such as can occur on some major feast day or pilgrimage.

ß2 It is for the diocesan Bishop to judge whether the conditions required in ß1, n. 2 are present; mindful of the criteria agreed with the other members of the Episcopal Conference, he can determine the cases of such necessity.


In my diocese, if a parish holds a communal penance service, priests from other parishes are invited so that each and every penitent has the opportunity for private confession. Gereral absolution is never given.

there is no versus, a communal penance service also includes individual confession, unless it is the third form of the rite, general absolution in the case of dire emergency such as war, natural disaster or civil disorder. If you are given absolution under any of the 3 rites you are absolved. there is no such thing as a “more or better” absolution.

If you are absolved without individual confession for any reason it is your duty to get to confession as soon as possible, but inability to do so does not negate your absolution.

The Catholic Communion recognizes the orders and sacraments of the PNC (Polish Natil Church) [of course, it is not considered licit].

The PNC has gone completely to communal absolution, without individual confession. They also allow priests and bishops to marry, as I understand it (in contrast to the ancient practice of ordaining married men).

Also, there is a precedent in the Eastern Churches for separating the act of confession and the act of absolution. Confession to one’s spiritual father with absolution form the priest is fairly common. For small towns, it is common for Priest’s wives to confess by phone to the priest in the next town, and then receive absolution from her own husband. And in some cases, the Orthodox and Catholic priest wives to to the other’s husband . . .