The Archdiocese of Baltimore requires that a student be in a structured Religious Education program for one year before beginning Sacrament preparation. First Reconciliation is celebrated normally in the Second Grade of Religious Education.
What is Reconciliation or Penance?
Penance is a sacrament of the New Law instituted by Christ in which forgiveness of sins committed after baptism is granted through the priest's absolution to those who with true sorrow confess their sins and promise to satisfy for the same. It is called a "sacrament" not simply a function or ceremony, because it is an outward sign instituted by Christ to impart grace to the soul. As an outward sign it comprises the actions of the penitent in presenting himself to the priest and accusing himself of his sins, and the actions of the priest in pronouncing absolution and imposing satisfaction.
This whole procedure is usually called, from one of its parts, "confession", and it is said to take place in the "tribunal of penance," because it is a judicial process in which the penitent is at once the accuser, the person accused, and the witness, while the priest pronounces judgment and sentence. The grace conferred is deliverance from the guilt of sin and, in the case of mortal sin, from its eternal punishment; hence also reconciliation with God, justification. Finally, the confession is made not in the secrecy of the penitent's heart nor to a layman as friend and advocate, nor to a representative of human authority, but to a duly ordained priest with requisite jurisdiction and with the "power of the keys," i.e, the power to forgive sins which Christ granted to His Church.
Examination of Conscience (Preparing for Confession)
Before celebrating the Sacrament of Penance, one should prepare themselves with an examination of conscience—a "prayerful self-reflection on our words and deeds in the light of the Gospel to determine how we may have sinned against God." (— Glossary, The Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Below are a few examples of Examinations of Conscience that can help you prepare for the Sacrament.
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood* has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
“Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
2 Corinthians 5:18-20
St. Paul says “God hath reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation... For Christ, therefore, we are ambassadors; God, as it were, exhorting through us...”
Many of those who had become believers came forward and openly acknowledged their former practices.
2 Cor 2:6-11
This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person, so that on the contrary you should forgive and encourage him instead, or else the person may be overwhelmed by excessive pain. Therefore, I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, to know your proven character, whether you were obedient in everything. Whomever you forgive anything, so do I. For indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for you in the presence of Christ, so that we might not be taken advantage of by Satan, for we are not unaware of his purposes.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.
“The beginning of good works is the confession of evil works.”
“Do you want to become saints? Here is the secret: confession is the lock; confidence in your confessor is the key. This is how you open heaven’s gates.”