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Why Do We Do Penance for Lent? The Two Big Reasons

Mar 04, 2017 By Gretchen Filz

In the Catholic Church, the season of Lent is a time for increased prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in preparation for the greatest feast on the Church calendar: Easter.

Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are forms of penance. Penance simply means the repentance of sins by taking some form of action in reparation for our sins.  Just as we sinned by actually committing or omitting something we shouldn't have, so we should do penance by actually committing or omitting something to "make up" for it. And this is for our benefit.

 

Just as sin did something real in our souls by causing damage, in the same way penance does something real in our souls by bringing healing; doing penance spiritually turns our hearts away from sin and back on the right path of reconciliation with God and a life of holiness lived according to his will. (This is why the Sacrament of Reconciliation is also called the Sacrament of Penance; the priest always gives a prayer or an action to perform after we confess our sins).

"Wherefore, we ask, urgently and prayerfully, that we, as people of God, make of the entire Lenten Season a period of special penitential observance." - Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinance, USCCB, 1966.

And penance is hard work! But the saints tell us that health of our souls depends on it.

"Let us chastise our body crucifying it with its vices, concupiscence and sins, because by living according to the flesh, the devil wishes to take away from us the love of Jesus Christ and eternal life and to lose himself in hell with everyone else." - St. Francis of Assisi

Penance simply means the repentance of sins by taking some form of action in reparation for our sins.

THE TWO PRIMARY REASONS WE DO A LENTEN PENANCE

 

1) To make reparation for our sins: We need to grow in our understanding of the depth and seriousness of our sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross, so that we do not fall into the deadly trap of thinking "it's no big deal." All sin is an offense against God, and something for which we must make amends in order to restore our right relationship with Him. The saints and holy men and women did great penances for themselves and also for the souls of many others.

2) To grow in virtue: We do not do penance for the sake of suffering.  We should not choose what is going to make us suffer the most, that isn't the point. We do penance in order to deny ourselves the movements of the lower parts of our nature, thus making our will grow stronger towards the higher parts of our nature, so that we will be better able to resist temptations to sin. Virtue is only gained by choosing it over against the vice that is most opposed to it (for example, to conquer pride, one must practice humility).

WHEN CHOOSING A LENTEN PENANCE, WE SHOULD

 

Choose something that will help you grow in virtue: Our model for Lent is Jesus who endured the wilderness for 40 days while denying his bodily appetites. When we choose a Lenten penance, we should choose something worthy and something that will help us to rely on grace to accomplish, so that we will be closer to the heart of Jesus Christ by Easter than we were at the start of Lent.

The point of doing penance during Lent is to accomplish something good in our lives, and to remove obstacles to loving God with our whole heart.

What is your Lenten penance this year? Share in the comments below.

This article has been updated and was originally published in February 2015. © The Catholic Company. All rights reserved.

Comments

Phil
Phil says
Apr 17 2018 7:26AM
So you mean the Bible and catechism don't agree with each other...Isaiah 8:20,
Hi Phil - what is the context of your response?...
This is a good site to get information and it tells lots of people about religion.
Mary
Mary says
Feb 26 2018 6:21PM
No coffee in the early morning waking hours before Mass at 7. That is hard for me.
gina
gina says
Apr 12 2017 4:20PM
Thank you so much for this.We can all become a better catholic for a simple reminder we need to keep us on our toes in regards to our faith.
Mildred
Mildred says
Mar 30 2017 6:36PM
May God give you fortitude to keep fighting until the end! Thank you for sharing this...
Leticia
Leticia says
Mar 4 2017 12:35PM
Love your reply to JHL. Thank you Grechen for clarifying.
Frances Wilson
Frances Wilson says
Mar 4 2017 11:58AM
Gretchen Filz, I am so thankful I was inspired to read this post! I am in the process of converting to Catholic and my kids think I've been brainwashed, or something. I think this may help them understand so I am going to copy and share with them. God bless!
Thank you, Frances! I'm very happy to hear it helped, and that you will soon be in full communion with the Catholic Church!
This all sounds good but is not supported by the Bible. Where are the references to scripture? Man-made ordinances for a man-made religion. Where is God in this? Each man is responsible to God and God alone, not a man who we confess our sins to for absolution. Without the Bible it is worshipping man and idolatry.
Hi JFH, to better understand the Catholic Church and the doctrines you are arguing against, we recommend reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church: https://www.catholiccompany.com/catechism-catholic-church-osv-hc-sc-i713/. With that resource you will find many references to Sacred Scripture, including for the doctrines on penance mentioned in this post. If you have an interest in theology, you will certainly find it fascinating and worth the read. However, first you must understand a foundation difference between Catholicism and a "Bible only" view which you espouse: the Bible itself does not teach a "Bible only" view, rather it encourages the faithful to hold on to the traditions they have been taught (2 Thess. 2) and that the visible Church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth (1 Tim. 3). A Bible only view would have been foreign in all those years of Church history before the Bible was completely written, before the canon of scripture was officially determined, before the Bible was affordable in print, and before lay people were widely literate. In fact, the Bible only view was a sinister doctrine invented about 500 years ago by the Protestant Reformers in order to justify their rejection of the Church. The Bible is a divinely inspired book of the Church and it belongs to the Church, but it does not replace the Church. It is to people that Christ gave his doctrine and authority (the Apostles); if Christianity were a Bible-only religion, then Jesus would have written it himself and just handed that to his Apostles. Instead, he wrote nothing and promised them the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth. Some of this God-inspired truth was recorded in the Bible, some was handed down orally and through the liturgy. The teaching on penance mentioned in this post is part of the truth taught by the Apostles and handed down through the Church. That does not mean it is not supported in Scripture, it just means it is not clear as such from the conditioned lenses with which you currently view it. Keep in mind that Jesus founded a visible Church with visible people in authority over it, which still continues uninterrupted to this day. To call this institution and her doctrines man-made is ultimately a rejection of the promise of Jesus Christ that he would sustain it until the end of time.
Denise Cantu
Denise Cantu says
Mar 2 2016 9:57PM
Thank you! I will do my best to be a better person and not sin. I love you Jesus. ?
Carrol Chambers
Carrol Chambers says
Mar 10 2015 12:35PM
Thanks for the explanation of "the reasons why we do Penance" It is more clearer as to why we enter this period of fasting. GREAT POST.
Thank you Carrol!
Timothy Camille
Timothy Camille says
Feb 19 2015 8:00PM
Now I fully know the true meaning of lent and the two big reasons behind it....Thank you so much for all the information redeemed.
Eugenie Clement
Eugenie Clement says
Feb 19 2015 3:16PM
Great Post! It is so important to know what you are doing and why you are doing it. Congratulations to Gretchen for conversion and vocation....and her job of course.

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Commentary by

Gretchen Filz Gretchen Filz

Gretchen is a Lay Dominican with a passion for fostering an increase in Catholic faith and devotion through content writing and journalism. She works as a digital content writer, creator, and marketer for The Catholic Company. In addition to blogging at GetFed.com, she is also editor of the MorningOffering.com daily devotional email and author at GoodCatholic.com. She holds an M.A. in Christian Apologetics and converted to the Catholic Church in 2011. She is also active in R.C.I.A., pro-life work, and various faith-based web projects.

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