How can saying vocal prayers be a real penance??
Not sure, as to the actual question. Although here are some things to ponder.
What can any of us do to really repair for our sins? An offense against the infinite is itself infinite, and honor from a gift is proportional to the relation between the honored and the one giving honor… and as we are infinitely small in comparison to God, so too is our gift infinitely small. Therefore we would stand no chance, of our own accord at least, and without Jesus’ sacrifice, to make any sort of reparations for sin. It is only by His mercy that we have such an opportunity to do so in cooperation with Him.
I have heard it said that they switched away from hard penances to prevent people from feeling like they themselves have cleared their own names. Although perhaps it has also damped a good fervor that could have came from harder penances, as well. I do not know.
I think also obedience might be the best thing to look for in completing a penance that you yourself are struggling with accepting. After all, did Mary really have to go to the Temple to ransom God’s son to God? But in obedience she did (and was greatly rewarded). Even if this example can be picked apart, the point remains.
Penance implies suffering doesn’t it?
Penance is clearly a combination of prayers and self discipline but is not limited to just suffering per se. We tend to think of it that way because we are accustomed to offering up our sufferings but that’s not the only type of penance. Keep in mind that we always do a penitential rite at the beginning of every Mass.
Our Lord was confronted with a woman who was surely guilty of adultery - a very serious sin that was punishable by death under Jewish law. Our Lord required nothing of her as penance (but he admonished her to not do it again).
Are you saying that the Church is more lenient than Our Lord? I don’t think so.
After having turned away from God by sin, penance is essentially acts by which we turn back to God and bring forth fruits worthy of repentance. St. John the Baptist and the Apostles preached the need for such acts (for example, see Matt. 3:8, Luke 3:8, and Acts 26:20).
Prayer is the most basic and obvious fruitful act of turning to God, which is why it has become the most common form of penance. Other acts, like those of self-denial, show our willingness to turn away from the selfish acts of sin. Acts of charity, like alms giving, help us to turn to God through love of neighbor, especially as our selfish sins often to harm to our neighbors.
They are all good acts of penance, but prayer really is the most simple and fundamental.
Prayer as a penance makes sense if you look upon a penance, not as a punishment, but as a prescription for spiritual healing or as physical therapy for the soul. You might want to read the part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that discusses The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (1422-1498), especially the sections on Interior Penance (1430-1433), The Many Forms of Penance in Christian Life (1434-1439), Satisfaction (1459-1460), and The punishments of sin (1472-1473).