The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (commonly called Penance, Reconciliation, or Confession) is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church (called sacred mysteries in the Eastern Catholic Churches), in which the faithful obtain absolution for the sins committed against God and neighbor and are reconciled with the community of the Church. By this sacrament Christians believe they are freed from sins committed after Baptism. The sacrament of Penance is considered the normal way to be absolved from mortal sin, by which one would otherwise possibly condemn oneself to Hell. Catholic theology regarding the forgiveness of sins debates whether Christ at the judgment of the individual after their death would allow those with unconfessed mortal sins a chance to repent and save themselves- especially those who had not made plans to confess, or were not mentally ill, coerced, or suicidal (which the Church has said all would reduces one's culpability). While persons with certain unconfessed mortal sins that were under some form of censure still at their death might not be allowed a Catholic Funeral Mass and burial rites, and while Catholics with unconfessed mortal sins may not receive Communion (unless in some circumstances, ameliorating factors were present), these matters, though related, are not the same as whether an individual with unconfessed serious sins is condemned to Hell.
As Scriptural basis for this sacrament, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: "The words bind and loose mean: whomever you exclude from your communion, will be excluded from communion with God; whomever you receive anew into your communion, God will welcome back" (1445; John 20:23).
The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is also known as "Penance", "Reconciliation", and "Confession".
The sacrament has four elements: three on the part of the penitent (contrition, confession, and satisfaction) and one on the part of the minister of the sacrament (absolution).
Catholics distinguish between two types of sin. Mortal sins are a "grave violation of God's law" that "turns man away from God". Someone who is aware of having committed mortal sins must repent of having done so and then confess them in order to benefit from the sacrament. Venial sins, the kind that "does not set us in direct opposition to the will and friendship of God", can be remitted by contrition and reception of other sacraments but they too, "constituting a moral disorder", "are rightly and usefully declared in confession".
Every sin involves "an unhealthy attachment to creatures", purification from which is called the temporal punishment for sin (as opposed to the eternal punishment merited by mortal sin). The satisfaction required of the penitent is not an essential part of the sacrament, because the primary effect of remission of guilt and eternal punishment is obtained without it; but it is an integral part, because it is required for obtaining the secondary effect of this purification or remission of temporal punishment.
The 1983 Code of Canon Law states: "A priest alone is the minister of the sacrament of penance." While in the English language, the term priest usually means someone received into the second of the three Holy Orders (also called the presbyterate) but not into the highest, that of bishop, the Latin text underlying this statement uses the Latin term sacerdos, which comprises both bishops and, in the common English sense, priests. To refer exclusively to priests in the more common English sense, Latin uses the word presbyter. In order to be able to be absolved validly from sin, the priest (sacerdos) must have the faculty to do so granted to him either by canon law or by the competent Church authority. (In the ordinary course, most penitents assume that the confessor purporting to exercise this faculty is entitled to do so. In an instance where that belief is legitimately misplaced, the Church supplies that jurisdiction under canon 144 "to protect the 'innocent' faithful".)