Absolution & Penance


#1

I receive mainly penance of decades of the rosary,litany of the Sacred & Immaculate Heart,and when I'm feeling "extra pious,"I ask my confessor for severe penance which he is always glad to oblige by making me attend 7:15am mass for 5 consecutive days,etc.What forms of expiation did the early Christians undergo?Was it physical labour?Did they do penance for a year before receiving absolution?I'm guessing things were judged with much more severity in the early Church?Do we have any recorded testimonies to the "trend" of the day?


#2

I don't recall if it's in the book I'm reading now (Why do Catholics do That) or the one I just finished (Evangelical is not Enough) but many times the early Christians were to travel to the Holy Land and walk the road Christ walked to His execution. This is where we get the tradition of the modern-day Stations of the Cross. In those days this was a hard penance, because violence was high and hatred toward Christians higher...to my understanding.

I'm fairly certain this is in the first book I mentioned.


#3

Oh, I forgot...the author also mentions that some had to stand in front of the Church with a sign around them stating their sin...sometimes for weeks or months.

My take on it: The first type of penance would be to prove your love for God...since there was a chance you would not make ti home alive from a trip like that. The second would be for cultivating humility and a contrite heart, I suppose.


#4

[quote="ahs, post:3, topic:293125"]
Oh, I forgot...the author also mentions that some had to stand in front of the Church with a sign around them stating their sin...sometimes for weeks or months.

My take on it: The first type of penance would be to prove your love for God...since there was a chance you would not make ti home alive from a trip like that. The second would be for cultivating humility and a contrite heart, I suppose.

[/quote]

Thanks a bundle mate,this is very interesting,so being a Christian in those days really was a matter of life and death any way you looked at it.With these conditions I think even venial sins were at a minimum?So in hindsight every practising Christian really believed without any shadow of a doubt and possessed unmovable faith to live under such austerity.How edifying.

God bless,

JMJ


#5

The early Church emphasized the justice of God ("justice" means the penalty is equal to the offense). The modern Church has a stronger emphasis on the mercy of God (where the penalty is less than the offense).

Both are theologically correct, since God is both just and merciful. From a pastoral standpoint, it is probably better to emphasize mercy, although I think some priests go a bit to far, completely neglecting the attribute of Justice. If a priest imposes three Hail-Mary's no matter what was confessed, that guy is probably neglecting the attribute of justice, IMHO.

But, then again, I am reminded of a very old story told of the ancient desert Fathers. The "head priest" went away for awhile, and left a junior priest to say Mass and hear confessions. When the prior returned, he asked if anyone had visited, and was informed that one person had come for confession. The prior asked the junior priest if he had imposed a penance, and the junior replied, "I told him to say the name of Jesus three times." The prior was aghast, and said, "My son - don't you know that saying the name of Jesus just once is penance for all the sins of the whole world?"


#6

[quote="Bravo_6, post:1, topic:293125"]
I receive mainly penance of decades of the rosary,litany of the Sacred & Immaculate Heart,and when I'm feeling "extra pious,"I ask my confessor for severe penance which he is always glad to oblige by making me attend 7:15am mass for 5 consecutive days,etc.What forms of expiation did the early Christians undergo?Was it physical labour?Did they do penance for a year before receiving absolution?I'm guessing things were judged with much more severity in the early Church?Do we have any recorded testimonies to the "trend" of the day?

[/quote]

Absolution is not conditional upon a penance being done.


#7

It used to be.


#8

[quote="Deo_Gratias42, post:7, topic:293125"]
It used to be.

[/quote]

Wrong.


#9

[quote="Deo_Gratias42, post:7, topic:293125"]
It used to be.

[/quote]

(Regarding absolution being conditional upon completion of a penance)

From what I understand, nothing has changed except the severity of some acts of penance. But the penance is only for the temporal punishment...and to correct a wrong (perhaps a sin that gave public scandal was countered with a penitent act publically decrying the sin, etc...) Absolution is given at the moment the words are spoken, "...I absolve you..." but a penance is given to provide a means by which some of the temporal punishment is executed and the sinner learns not only to avoid the sin, but can learn a virtue with which to replace the sin.

That's just my understanding though...I'd have to check the Catechism for a more "Catholic" answer...unless someone will provide it first.


#10

Lent is well-known for its time of contemplation, penance, fasting, and preparation for Easter both now and in the early church. You are asking about absolution and penance in the early church and Lent was the prime time for this to be done.

In the early church, Lent was used as a time for public penitence (no longer practiced in this same fashion). Basically, the public penitence involved publicly confessing one’s sins/crimes and take part in a period of penitence over the course of Lent. Here’s an excerpt from the Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs about this period of public penitence:

Public sinners approached their priests shortly before Lent to accuse themselves of their misdeeds, and were presented by the priests on Ash Wednesday to the bishop of the place. Outside the cathedral, poor and noble alike stood barefoot, dressed in sackcloth, heads bowed in humble contrition. The bishop, assisted by his canons, assigned to each one particular acts of penance according to the nature and gravity of his crime. Whereupon they entered the church, the bishop leading one of them by the hand, the others following in single file, holding each other’s hands. Before the altar, not only the penitents, but also the bishop and all his clergy recited the seven penitential psalms. Then, as each sinner approached, the bishop imposed his hands on him, sprinkled him with holy water, threw the blessed ashes on his head, and invested him with the tunic of sackcloth.

After the bishop placed the sackcloth on the penitents, they were led out of the church and prohibited from re-entering the church until Holy Thursday when they would be received back into full communion with the church. Until the penitents were allowed back into the church, they were required to spend time apart from their families at a place of solitary confinement, such as a monastery, and occupy themselves with prayer, manual labor, and works of charity. This whole process was called the “expulsion of the penitents from the church”.

Furthermore, there are also records that describe the process of acclimating sinners back into the church written in Tertullian’s letters, as well as (if I’m remembering correctly) in the Didache.

Sorry about the long post…I guess this is what happens when one writes papers on these topics. :shrug:


#11

Here it is:

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.62 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."63

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.64 (emphasis mine)

From here:
vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P4D.HTM


#12

From my study of the sacrament in the ancient Church confession of sins was not made in public, but the process of reconciliation was public. A sinner was enrolled in the Order of Penitents, banned from the Mass but had to undergo regular instruction and acts of penance. It was seen as more of a remedy rather than a punishment. The Faithful were urged to pray with them and for them. Once it was determined that they could return to the flock, it was done on a Holy Thursday, they would receive absolution by the bishop and then welcomed by the Assembly back to the celebration of the Eucharist. There is a book called the Order of Penitents that gives a great history of the process.


#13

These are all very interesting accounts of our History.


#14

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.