33. Penance

Catholic Position

¶1459 Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in
order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the
reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple
justice requires as much. But sin also injures and weakens the sinner
himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution
takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has
caused.  Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his
full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the
sin: he must “make satisfaction for” or “expiate” his sins. This
satisfaction is also called “penance.”

¶1460 The penance the confessor imposes must take into account the
penitent’s personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. It must
correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins
committed. It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy,
service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all
the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. Such penances help
configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all. They
allow us to become co-heirs with the risen Christ, “provided we suffer
with him.”

The satisfaction that we make for our sins, however, is not so much
ours as though it were not done through Jesus Christ. We who can do
nothing ourselves, as if just by ourselves, can do all things with the
cooperation of “him who strengthens” us.  Thus man has nothing of
which to boast, but all our boasting is in Christ . . . in whom we make
satisfaction by bringing forth “fruits that befit repentance.” These
fruits have their efficacy from him, by him they are offered to the
Father, and through him they are accepted by the Father.

Scripture Says

Hebrews 10:17-18
17  And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.
18  Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.

Psalm 86:5
5  For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.

Galatians 2:16, 21
16  Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law,
but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus
Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by
the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be
21  I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.


  • Penance seems designed to appease a guilty conscience.
  • Can anyone other than God cleanse you from your sin?