[quote="kbwall, post:1, topic:293336"]
I have a question which was brought to me by a non-Catholic, and had no real answer.
I understand where the basis for going to confession comes from. Jesus told the Apostles that whoever sins they forgive are forgiven and whichever they retain are retained. I get that. But where does the idea of reciting prayers come from? Why I have to recite X number of prayers to be forgiven? For instance, he didn't see, and now I'm having trouble seeing how reciting the Lord's Prayer and a Hail Mary undoes my sins.
The prayers are usually "assigned" as penance. They don't undo the sins. The reason is two-fold.
1) Spending time in prayer recalls your mind to your contrition and reminds you to be thankful for forgiveness. Giving up a small amount of time to pray is a tiny sacrifice that demonstrates atonement for the sin. Sacrifice for attonment is a very old biblical concept.
2) It's a head start on working off your time in purgatory for the temporal effects of sin.
But an assigned penance doesn't always involve recited prayers. Sometimes the penitent is assigned a penance of doing a good deed, reading some spiritual book, spending time in adoration, etc.