Ok, really, penance services, but sometimes they can be penance for the priests.
First, Fr. Jay T. has a great post on Communal Penance Services over at Young Fogeys, which was also highlighted by Rich Leonardi.
If you read Rich's post, I have the following comment there:
Also, part of the rationale for celebrating Communal Penance Services is to show the ecclesial dimensions of sin; i.e. that sin not only affects our relationship with God, but also damages our relationships with one another. The thought is, that by celebrating the Sacrament together, it highlights this dimension.
Of course, the corollary to that question is if we lose that first dimension that sin, first and foremost, damages our relationship with God. They have to be kept together, which is not always done.
Unfortunately, last night I was helping out with a penance service as part of a Christ Renews His Parish retreat at a parish here in Cincinnati. (Caveat, it was also a women's retreat, and remember, since I entered seminary in 1996, I've been in male dominated worlds: eight years in seminary, two years in an all boys Catholic high school, and now working with seminaries and potential seminarians again.)
What struck me last night at this parish was that even during the Sacrament of Confession, there wasn't a lot of confessing going on, at least at my station. (I was one of three priests.) Instead, I got the run of the mill psychological excuses that have been substituted for real sins, sins that these people are committing, but have either been deceived into not believing, or never formed with the ability to recognize. (Woe to those who lead astray these little ones, it would be better if they had a millstone strapped around their neck and thrown into the sea!)
I was left scratching my head, not to mention frustrated that it started an hour later than they told me!
Sin is real, people. I see it every day when I walk to work, when I talk to young men who have a vocation, yet cannot respond because the power of the Evil One is over them, and they do not recognize it!
The Devil's greatest trick in the last 100 years is to convince the Modern World that he does not exist. He certainly does, and he is dancing a jig at the success he is having.