“When he celebrates the Sacrament of Penance, the priest is fulfilling the ministry of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, of the Good Samaritan who binds up wounds, of the Father who awaits the prodigal son and welcomes him on his return, and of the just and impartial judge whose judgment is both just and merciful. The priest is the sign and the instrument of God's merciful love for the sinner.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1465)

The Sacrament of Penance is the Sacrament of spiritual healing. Reconciliation involves contrition, confession to a priest, absolution by the priest, and penance.  After making an examination of conscience, the penitent confesses his/her sins to the priest, who is the minister of Christ’s mercy. The purpose of this Sacrament is to provide healing for the soul as well as to regain the grace of God, lost by sin.

Jesus said to them again,
"Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them,
"Receive the Holy Spirit.  
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." 
--John 20:21-23

What happens in the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
In the Sacrament of Penance, "the sinner who, by the grace of a merciful God, embraces the way of penance and comes back to the Father who ‘first loved us' (1 Jn 4:19), to Christ who gave Himself up for us, and to the Holy Spirit who has been poured out on us abundantly.

What is the role of the priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
According to the Rite of Penance, "the Church exercises the ministry of the Sacrament of Penance through bishops and priests. By preaching God's Word, they call the faithful to conversion; in the name of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, they declare and grant the forgiveness of sins. In the exercise of this ministry, priests act in communion with the bishop and share in his power and office . . ."

What is the role of the community in this Sacrament?
According to the Rite of Penance, "the whole Church, as a priestly people, acts in different ways in the work of reconciliation which has been entrusted to it by the Lord. Not only does the Church call sinners to repentance by preaching the Word of God, but it also intercedes for them and helps penitents with maternal care and solicitude to acknowledge and admit their sins and so obtain the mercy of God who alone can forgive sins."

Guide to confession

The priest will greet the penitent and welcome him/her to the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance.

Priest: "In the name of the Father..

Penitent: Amen

Penitent: "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been (name time) since my last confession, and these are my sins.....

{In naming the time since one's last confession, the important aspect is to give the Priest a general indication of the length of time since the previous good confession.}

Confession of Sins

{Here, we should name all of our mortal sins of which we are aware after a good examination of conscience. All mortal sins need to be confessed in kind and in number. For example, if someone has missed Mass on Sunday or Holy Days five times through one's own fault, then one needs to mention that he has missed Mass on Sundays five times rather than saying: "I have missed Mass on Sundays." It is not necessary to confess venial sins, but it is recommended for a more thorough confession. For more information: Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church nn. 1455-1458}

The priest may give you some brief counsel to help you. He will then give a penance after which he will ask the penitent to make an Act of Contrition.

Act of Contrition

O 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 they offend You, my God, who are all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.

The priest will then pray the following words of absolution:

"God, the Father of mercies, through the Death and Resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Penitent: Amen

Priest: The Lord has freed you from your sins. Go in peace.

Penitent: Thanks be to God.

Taken from FOCUS