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For the Final Fantasy boss, see Penance (Final Fantasy); for the Marvel Comics character, see Penance (comics).

Penance (from the Latin Poenitentia, the same root as penitence, which in English means repentence, the desire to be forgiven, see contrition; in many languages only one single word is derived) is the actual name of the Catholic Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (formerly called Confession).

In this Sacrament, the penitent (repentent sinner, known as confessant) accuses himself of his sins to an ordained priest (known as confessor). The priest may then offer advice and imposes a particular penance to be performed. The penitent then prays an Act of Contrition, the priest administers absolution, thus formally forgiving the penitent of his sins, and finally sends him out with words of dismissal.

Penance, as imposed during the Sacrament, may consist in prayers, fasting, or the giving of alms. The most common penances are prayers, such as the Our Father and Hail Mary, while corporal punishments such as the wearing of a cilice and public humiliations have become rare, even in monastic practice.

Penance also may be self-imposed, especially during the Lenten fast (mainly the Passion week, inspired by Christ's suffering; hence also flagellantism or even voluntary crucifixion) and Advent. Self-imposed penance, also called mortification of the flesh (because its natural weakness endangers the salvation of the soul unless duly controlled by the devout spirit), serves to detach the penitent of his worldly passions, as to draw him into closer union with God.

  • In eastern religions (Hinduism, etc.), acts of hardship committed on oneself (fasting, lying on rocks heated by the Sun, etc.), especialy as part of an ascetic way of life (as monk or 'wise man') in order to attain a higher form of mental awareness (trough detachment from the earthly, not punishing guilt) or favours from (the) God(s).

Penance in fiction

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