Baptism was the sign of the converted person’s new life in Christ and it involved the forgiveness of sin. Baptised persons gained forgiveness through participation in the Eucharist, prayer, fasting and almsgiving. They confessed their sins directly to God. For serious sin the Church gradually developed a process of communal penance.
Gradually formal ritual for forgiveness of sin was developed. It was a public ritual, celebrated by the whole community, presided over by the bishop, in which the person in need of forgiveness was received into the order of penitents.
In England and Ireland the practice of seeking private spiritual help from monks became popular. This led to a private ritual of reconciliation that was frequently used. When monks from England and Ireland came to Europe late in the sixth century, the practice of private reconciliation became more standard.
In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, a pattern for reconciliation developed
At the Council of Trent, Confession or Penance was declared a Sacrament of the Church. This declaration confirmed the practice that was already in place. Catholics were expected to use this sacrament at least once a year.
The Second Vatican Council called for the revision of the Sacrament of Penance. In 1973 the revised Sacrament was announced, promoting the three rites in which it may be celebrated today. There was a new emphasis on God’s love and mercy, and the opportunity the sacrament offered for reconciliation.