Question About Penance


Is it possible to ask for the penance a priest has directed you to do - to be changed.

I am not RCatholic, but heard recently that this is possible, having the penance changed…and the topic was *specifically *about not having to pray to Mary…that it is a choice…

I.E. - You do not practice and do not want to practice prayer to Mary, but the priest tells you to say some ‘Hail Marys’ for penance - are you allowed to ask him to change the penance for you.

Thoughts please.


You can ask for a new penance if you believe that you will be unable to complete the penance he initially assigned. If someone were to object to saying Hail Marys as a penance, I wouldn’t be surprised if the priest asked for the reason that they were unable to pray a prayer that is known by most Catholics.


The only time I have ever asked for my penance to be changed was during Lent this year when I was told to fast one day during the coming week…but I was already fasting every day that week so essentially the assigned penance would not have represented any change in my behavior. Nevertheless, my request was denied.

I never thought of penance as being something I want to do anyway, so I don’t understand why a penitent would ask for a different penance because that which was given wasn’t something they wanted to do. It would be like being assigned community service for a misdemeanor offense and asking to pay a fine instead because you just don’t want to do community service. Accepting an undesired penance and doing it joyfully seems more penitential to me. But maybe that’s just me. :o


A Catholic who has issues about praying to Mary or the Saints would likely need catechism rather than a change in penance given by the Priest. It is like forbidding all pray for other people in your congregation. Everyone must only pray for themselves. This is what it amounts to when you take out intercessory prayer.

Where Catholic’s disagree with some Protestants is that we believe the Church exists in heaven as well as on earth. Those in heaven are not dead, they are alive and able to pray for us too.

As it is, there is no such rule that ‘not praying to Mary’ is a valid reason to have your penance changed. A change of penance would be something discussed privately between the individual Priest and the person.


If one were to request a change of penance, it would not be because you don’t want to do it. It would be for a more practical reason, like being unable to do it. For example, I was given a penance once to fast but I was under doctor’s orders to eat a certain amount of calories daily from a complication in my pregnancy. I couldn’t do my penance. Rather than saying I would while knowing I couldn’t, I mentioned to the priest my situation and asked for an equally difficult (I guess I’m a glutton for punishment, because he came up with a doozy) yet different penance.

Being asked to pray X amount of Hail Mary’s as a penance is not, as you mentioned, praying to Mary. The penance is humbling yourself to ask Mary to pray for you. If you consider the words of the prayer, they are spoken straight from the angel Gabriel’s lips to her in the Gospels, and the prayer concludes with requesting she pray for us. If a Catholic were to find offense in this, then I personally think more catechism/education would be necessary; not a change in penance.

:slight_smile: You ask really great and interesting questions. God be with you.


Yes, you can ask for a change in your penance or a clarification, if you are physically unable to do it or don’t understand what the priest means by it. If one has difficulty with the Church’s stance on Mary, all the better for him or her to have to say a few Hail Mary’s as their penance, whatever their sins.


Not only can you ask a priest for a different penance, but you can have it abrogated by another priest. I’ll give you an example. We have a priest at a local parish who likes to give a penance that has no end. For instance, he might say, "going forward always add something positive to a conversation (an actual penance I received one time). I had a priest at my parish actually abrogate the penance and assign me something else to do.

I assume this is allowed, but would be interested to hear from anyone else the “rules” on this. By the way, I don’t think it is helpful to speculate. So, if your response is “I don’t know, but I don’t think that’s right,” or something like that, then I don’t think you are helping matters by offering your opinion, just confusing them even more. However, if you know this practice to be wrong or right than please feel free to correct me.


Thank you all for taking the time to respond.
…it seems to appear that there is really no definite answer and variations across the board about the penance part.

Boulder - you’ve given me more to think about in regards to the fact that one priest’s instructions for penance can be changed by another.

Also, it is apparent that the claim that ’ we don’t have to pray to/through Mary if we don’t want to…’ is not quite the case.


Just a quick question - is it required that you be unable to do it, or merely that it be difficult? I’m not thinking of something intentionally difficult, but something that could be much more difficult than would be normally expected.


I think your question is really unique. Requesting a change due to medical or physical reasons is not unheard of, but I’ve never heard of requesting to change due to not wanting to pray to Mary. Penance should be something that changes you one way or another, to teach you a virtue or a value that you find missing in your life, so that you will be able to avoid that sin in the future.

Also, it is apparent that the claim that ’ *we don’t have to *pray to/through Mary if we don’t want to…’ is not quite the case.

No Catholic would be adverse to praying a Hail Mary. In fact, I’m sure many people would want to pray the Hail Mary as penance. Getting to know her more intimately is a good way to imitate her values of purity, obedience and humility. It is our lack of these values that cause us to sin. Our Heavenly Mother can teach us that.

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