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What is Penance?

Updated on December 26, 2016

Penance is an inward feeling of sorrow and an outward act through which a person makes amends for his sins. In the Roman Catholic Church, penance is a sacrament administered by a priest in which the repentant person is forgiven the guilt of his sins and agrees to perform the penitential works or prayers imposed on him by his confessor. In the Middle Ages, absolution was not granted until severe penalties, such as bodily mortification and isolation, were performed. Today, penances are usually imposed in the form of prayers. Because earthly penance is light, Catholics believe that the temporal punishment that may remain after sins are forgiven in the sacrament of penance must be endured in Purgatory. It is believed, however, that the purgatorial sentence can be remitted by indulgences earned by performing prescribed tasks.

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