V. Penance Services
NATURE AND STRUCTURE
36. Penitential services are gatherings of the people of God to hear God's
word as an invitation to conversion and renewal of life and as the message of
our liberation from sin through Christ's death and resurrection. The structure
of these services is the same as that usually followed in celebrations of the
word of God  and given in the Rite for
Reconciliation of Several Penitents.
It is appropriate, therefore, that after the introductory rites (song,
greeting, and opening prayer) one or more biblical readings be chosen with
songs, psalms, or periods of silence inserted between them. In the homily these
readings should be explained and applied to the congregation. Before or after
the readings from Scripture, readings from the Fathers or other writers may also
be selected that will help the community and each person to a true awareness of
sin and heartfelt sorrow, in other words, to bring about conversion of life.
After the homily and reflection on God's word, it is desirable that the
congregation, united in voice and spirit, pray together in a litany or in some
other way suited to general participation. At the end the Lord's Prayer is said,
asking God our Father "to forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin
against us . . . and deliver us from evil." The priest or the minister who
presides concludes with a prayer and the dismissal of the people.
BENEFIT AND IMPORTANCE
37. Care must be taken to ensure that the faithful do not confuse these
celebrations with the celebration of the sacrament of penance.
 Penitential services are very helpful
in promoting conversion of life and purification of heart.
It is desirable to arrange them especially for these purposes:
- to foster the spirit of penance within the Christian community;
- to help the faithful to prepare for individual confession that can be made
later at a convenient time;
- to help children gradually to form their conscience about sin in human
life and about freedom from sin through Christ;
- to help catechumens during their conversion.
Penitential services, moreover, are very useful in places where no priest is
available to give sacramental absolution. They offer help in reaching that
perfect contrition that comes from charity and that enables the faithful to
receive God's grace through a desire for the sacrament of penance in the future.