The Sacrament of Penance (also commonly called the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession) is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church (known in Eastern Christianity as sacred mysteries), in which the faithful are absolved from sins committed after Baptism and they are reconciled with the Christian community. According to the current doctrine and practice of the Church, only those ordained as priests may grant absolution.
In the New Testament there was no specific ritual for reconciliation except Baptism. With the delay of the expected Second Coming, there was a recognized need for a means of accepting back into the Christian community those who had been expelled for serious sins. Nevertheless, the power to forgive sins was already given to the apostles but they did not see the need to exercise that power until the appointed time. Therefore, that there was no confession during that very early period, does not mean that the power was not there. Meanwhile, the power was given to them not as persons but as an institution, hence it could be transmitted from generations to generation through the succession of bishops.
In the middle of the 2nd century, reconciliation with the Church could be granted only once after Baptism, Consequent upon this, baptism was often postponed until late in life and reconciliation to one’s deathbed.
The need to confess to a priest is traced to Basil the Great. Before the fourth century confession and penitential discipline were a public affair “since all sin is sin not only against God but against our neighbor, against the community.” By the time of Cyprian of Carthage, confession itself was not public, although the practice of public penance for serious sin remained.
At Maundy Thursday sinners were readmitted to the community along with catechumens. Confusion entered in from deathbed reconciliation with the Church, which required no penance as a sign of repentance, and the ritual would begin to grow apart from the reality. The history shall continue.