Reconciliation services have been a bone of contention for some time. Compounded by what has been bad teaching on the part of many within the church for years!
The main problem is that the church in general has not sorted out what the sacrament ought to be. Vatican II, some fifty years ago, changed the name from "Confession" to "Reconciliation", but the old name and concept lingers on.
In days gone by (I must be getting old, I'm starting to reminisce!) the accent was on confessing our many sins to God (via the priest) in order to avoid the consequences. The "absolution" took away the "wrath" of God as it were. This does not fit very easily with a loving father who has already forgiven our foolishness and is not mortally offended and seeking revenge for the silly things we do. The point about reconciliation is that it is ourselves and others who are hurt by sin and we need to come to terms with, to "reconcile", our faults both with ourselves and with those we hurt.
A Reconciliation Service symbolically is a time when everyone acknowledges to themselves and each other that we are jointly hurt by the bad things we do. It is not meant to seek "forgiveness" from God, but we still have the spectre of "absolution" lurking around in the corner.
If we emphasise the aspect of absolution there is, officially, two kinds:
- Particular Absolution - which requires an individual to "confess" to a priest and receive absolution for themselves alone.
- General Absolution - which is identical in "forgiving power" but does not require individual confession. This is discouraged, sadly, and it is usually "reserved" to those situations where a large number of people would not be able to confess individually and need "forgiveness" quickly! An army before a battle for example!!
So, we do not receive absolution (the sacrament is "not valid") if no General Absolution is given at a Reconciliation Service unless we "confess" our sins individually. To my mind, this totally makes a nonsense of the "Sacrament" of Reconciliation and I really do not believe that an infinite ever-loving Father-God works like that!
At the end of the day, it will rest on each person having peace of mind with how they see God and what actions they take as a result of that. Some people might say that is an easy way out, but conscience can make fools of us all at times and "Catholic Guilt" thrives on that.
We cannot continue to hold that God who is "Our Father" loves us without any reservation but still requires "restitution" (in the form of "penance") to keep us "in the palm of his hand".