Question about penance


I should know the answer to this, but I’m not sure that I do. Is penance required for absolution? It’s not usually a problem b/c people who go to confession are obviously (usually) Catholic and have no problem with penance and no reason not to say what they’ve been given. But speaking completely technically, if someone chooses not to say the penance, for whatever reason, does that render the absolution invalid? I’ve always understood penance to be dealing with the “stain” of the sin on the soul and not on the forgiveness of the sin. Am I wrong?


Penance is absolutely necessary to receive absolution, if I remember correctly.


Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to make an argument against penance. And willfully thinking that one doesn’t need to do penance is a sin in itself, I’m sure. Maybe even mortal?? My dilemma in my conversation with my friend was this: “The problem I have with confession is penance, if you don’t say your penance you claim you’re not forgiven.” I understand I need to go into detail about what we believe penance to be, etc.

It’s kind of like taking a verse out of context here, but the catechism says:
“Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused.” Now, this is one sentence out of many and I, again, don’t want to cite this statement in order to tell her we don’t need penance, we do. But can I answer her with a yes or no here with the intention of hopefully getting to all the reasoning behind penance, but maybe not in that conversation?


I am almost positive that the penance does not impact the absolution. One is absolved the instant the priest absolves him. Were one to fail to do his penance, it would be another mortal sin against obedience, but it would not render the previous absolution of his sin invalid.

I am currently seeking to document this.


No. Once absolution has been pronounced, presuming that the person is genuinely sorry and genuinely intends to sin no more, and has held nothing back deliberately in confession, nothing further is strictly required. All the sins of the person’s life up to that point are forgiven, regardless of whether a person does the penance set or not. In fact priests can and do sometimes impose absolutely no penance at all, and the absolution is still valid. The priest, speaking on Christ’s behalf, says ‘I absolve you’, and that applies immediately he says the words, not at some later point.

HOWEVER, and it’s a big but, failure to do the penance your priest gives you in confession can reflect on how sorry a person genuinely is for your sin - it may indicate a lack of true sorrow for sin.

At the very least we are bound to be obedient in everything that isn’t sinful to our legitimate authorities, including our confessors. So if you deliberately fail to do a penance it IS a sin, but a fresh sin - the sin of disobedience.


Ah, thanks for the correction. It’s sinful, but it’s a new sin. Sorry if I misled bookgirl.


Satisfaction is atonement for the order disturbed by sin and for the consequent insult to God. It is imposed by the priest. According to the present custom, ordinarily it consists of special prayers; in ancient times, however, penances were very severe and were, as a rule, performed publicly. If a sin is in any way injurious to other human beings, the perpetrator is obliged to repair the injury done so far as he is able. The validity of confession requires at least the will to make satisfaction. If its performance were afterward omitted, the confession remains valid notwithstanding, but if the omission were deliberate, then a new sin would be committed. Satisfaction, like confession, is a service to the community. The objective order disturbed by sin has to be restored in accordance with the judgment of the priest who is the representative of the community (the Church).


In fact, in the early Church, penance often had to be completed before absolution was granted, which makes sense if the absolution absolves from sin apart from penance, and they wanted to make sure that the penance was done.


As I understand it, absolution remits the eternal punishment for past sins and penance ameliorates the temporal punishment for past sins. If one receives absolution, the eternal punishment for past sins is remitted. If one does not perform the prescribed penance, the temporal punishment for past sins remains. (Even if the prescribed penance is performed some temporal punishment may still remain.) If, after absolution, one decided without just cause to perform the prescribed penance, then a new sin is committed. If one went into confession resolved not to perform any prescribed penance, I suspect that the confession would be invalid and, consequently, the absolution would be invalid as well.


This is all good to know. I can explain all of it, it’s just that she was really focused on penance being the catalyst for the forgiveness. She believes in once saved always saved so I dont’ know why she has a hang up about it.


They seem to get hung up on everything, because they are trying to get you to get all hung up about it. They want to plant doubts in your mind and cause you to lose your faith; they really don’t care one way or the other, for themselves.


Oh I don’t know about that. She’s my best friend and has been for fifteen years, I know she sincerely loves me. And I know she sincerely believes what she does. It’s just as scary for her if she’s wrong I think.


I tend to agree with you on this. She understands that if you’re right about the Catholic Church and ALL that She teaches, then your friend has to be wrong and that she’s denied the very Church that Christ built.

That’s a tough nut to crack for anyone who truly loves the Lord with all their heart (which I don’t doubt that your friend does). That’s why they’ll go through mental triple-back-flips to prove that they are not following the wrong path.


She believed me about the penance thing by the way, didn’t try to talk me into what I believe. Now it’s the much longer task of explaining to her that not doing the penance would, for the most part, just creat another need to go to confession:juggle:


I wrote just the opposite of what I meant. (I hate it when I do that.) I should have written:
If, after absolution, one decided without just cause not to perform the prescribed penance, then a new sin is committed.


I asked a similar question on the AAA forum but haven’t received an answer yet. I wanted to know if one could receive the Sacraments (esp. Eucharist) if they had not completed their penance. I was always taught that you could, because your sins were absolved, but there was some disagreement among posters.

The reason I asked the apologists was because nowdays some priests give penances that can’t be completed right away because they involve more than saying prayers. I was given a penance once that took a whole week to complete because it was a daily meditation for a week. Some people are asked to perform certain acts of charity, etc., things that can’t be done if you made your Confession at 3:15 and Mass is at 4:00, for example.

I’m still waiting for an answer, I looked in the CCC, but it does not specifically address that issue. However, I tend to believe that what I was taught is correct, that your sins are absolved when the priest gives you absolution, not when you complete your penance, because the absolution is a definitive act.


The same question was asked in the “ask an apologist” forum. The answer given was:

“A person who has been absolved of a mortal sin and thus restored to sanctifying grace can receive Communion again as soon as he is absolved. If he has been given a penance to perform to rectify his mortal sin, it is presumed that he will do it as soon as he is reasonably able to do so, but he may certainly receive Communion in the meantime.”


I once received a penance to receive Holy Communion every day for nine days - so, I would say that it’s possible to receive Holy Communion while you are still doing your penance. :slight_smile:

I also received a penance to read in the Gospel of Matthew for three days in a row, and I was specifically told by the same priest to receive Holy Communion at the next Mass that same day, as well.


I do that all the time, and then you post your correction but it’s at the start of a new page so someone always corrects you anyway before they see your post:eek:


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