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Penance Is Not Punishment

Question:

If prayer is supposed to be for good, why do priests use it as punishment (or penance) after confession?

Answer:

The prayers of penance are not punishment. Although our sins are forgiven by God through the sacrament, the effects of our sin are still present in the world. The prayers are given for our penance not as punishment but as an attempt on our part to make up for the effects of our sins.

Then the priest imposes an act of penance or satisfaction on the penitent; this should serve not only to make up for the past but also to help him to begin a new life and provide him with an antidote to weakness. As far as possible, the penance should correspond to the seriousness and nature of the sins. This act of penance may suitably take the form of prayer, self-denial, and especially service of one’s neighbor and works of mercy. These will underline the fact that sin and its forgiveness have a social aspect (Rite of Penance, 18).

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