Definition of penance in English:



mass noun
  • 1Punishment inflicted on oneself as an outward expression of repentance for wrongdoing.

    ‘he had done public penance for those hasty words’
    • ‘After prayers, penances, and many hardships, they captured it in July 1099.’
    • ‘Worldly attempts to change the state of one's soul through indulgences and penances were meaningless.’
    • ‘There has to be some penance and retribution for these people.’
    • ‘But that, he said, was really a political deal, shored up with appropriate penances.’
    • ‘In the bitter cold of winter, the yogi undertook various penances which, it was said, gave him great powers.’
    • ‘Neighboring monks became upset with him over a theological dispute, and his health deteriorated under the rigors of his fasting and penances.’
    • ‘There are similarities in the practices of both sects: initiation is by tearing out the hair, and the lifestyle is one of extreme austerity involving nakedness, penances, and ordeals.’
    • ‘Unprepared for such transgressions, the sort of penances handed out by the confession booths suddenly seemed rather trifling.’
    • ‘Speaking of which, will the guidelines for penances have to be re-written?’
    • ‘There are all sorts of hidden penances we can do, such as not putting salt or tomato ketchup on our chips.’
    • ‘I simply mean that they are now living the suffering they've inflicted on others as penance for their sins.’
    • ‘But such a desire can be forgiven, as long as one takes the proper penances into consideration.’
    • ‘He confesses and receives penances twice, once on the verge of execution, then finally is deemed insane and committed to an asylum at the close of his third trial.’
    • ‘His earlier life of self-indulgence had been unsatisfying, as was his six-year experiment with ascetic penances.’
    • ‘They appointed rival bishops, collected double taxes, issued conflicting penances, and excommunicated one another's supporters.’
    • ‘As time went on, the ritual and the length of the penances which were given also changed.’
    • ‘Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for purgatory.’
    • ‘I wasn't going to have to start wearing a brown habit with rusty chains underneath as penance for my wrong doings.’
    • ‘They may also lie on beds of nails, walk on fire and undertake other penances to build character and atone for sins.’
    • ‘Some people like to stand miserably in the rain, taking each cold splash of water as flagellation from the heavens, enduring the torrent as penance for their internalised sense of guilt.’
    atonement, expiation, self-punishment, self-mortification, self-abasement, reparation, amends, penalty, punishment
    atone, make amends, make recompense, make reparation, make restitution, make up, redeem oneself, pay the penalty, pay, recompense, pay the price, expiate, redress, compensate
    View synonyms
  • 2A sacrament in which a member of the Church confesses sins to a priest and is given absolution.

    In the Roman Catholic Church often called sacrament of reconciliation
    • ‘A few years ago our parish hosted several priests who provided unusual penance services.’
    • ‘Lent stirs up thoughts of penance and sacrifice and struggle.’
    • ‘This ritual of confession, absolution and penance inadvertently hides as much as it discloses.’
    • ‘This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.’
    • ‘The penitent then leaves the confessional and goes and prays his penance in the church.’
    • ‘He prayed with the unknown man, gave him some penance and suggested he go to confession more often.’
    • ‘In the fragile and apocalyptic early church, penance was conceived as a public reconciliation, necessary to the very existence of the congregation.’
    • ‘Through our open admission of our sins, the priest's absolution, and the acts of penance, we can know God's healing.’
    • ‘This is the reason why we go to them for penance (the sacrament for confession of sins or repentance).’
    • ‘These monasteries would be places where the primary purpose would be to search for the face of God, sharing in the redemptive work of Christ in prayer and penance.’
    • ‘Every week they sinned quite a bit but on a Friday they would go and confess, do whatever they had to do as penance, then go out sinning again.’
    • ‘We are members of one another and it is entirely fitting for the Church as a whole to do penance for the sins of the clergy.’
    • ‘Thomas of Chobham, author of a thirteenth-century confessional manual on penance, addressed this issue directly in his work.’
    • ‘In Dante's Purgatorio, the principle of sacramental penance holds sway.’
    • ‘For centuries, confession or penance (as it was alternatively called) was the linchpin of the Catholic sacramental economy.’
    • ‘If he did, a public penance would be imposed and his sin would be absolved.’
    • ‘And it is not just your neighbourhood parish priest who is due for confession, penance and civil punishment.’
    • ‘The gospel called not for an act of penance but for a radical change of mind-set and an equally deep transformation of life.’
    • ‘There is irony in this: just as sacramental penance has disappeared, a more generalized confessional culture seems to have exploded.’
    • ‘A first step is for bishops to recommit themselves, in the spirit of penance and reconciliation, to the annual independent reviews.’
    1. 2.1 A religious observance or other duty required of a person by a priest as part of this sacrament to indicate repentance.
      • ‘They extended to religious observance and penance, or expiation, though in the later period there is a tendency to concentrate on what looks more today, in the west, like law.’
      • ‘Readers, I have sinned, and penance suggestions may be required.’
      • ‘On the minus side, being presented with such an array of dishes almost always results in the type of culinary blow-out which requires hours of penance in the gym afterwards.’
      • ‘Will eternity be long enough to allow the penance required?’
      • ‘How, for example, would you explain religious sacrifice and penance which are an important motivator for many non-western consumers?’
      • ‘He's doing an act of penance, and in the Hindu religion it's a renunciation.’
      • ‘The head priest gave him blessed, medicated ghee to take in the early morning for 41 days while observing a penance.’
      • ‘Is confession really so good for the soul, especially when it requires no penance?’
      • ‘Slavery could be imposed as a religious penance or a criminal punishment.’
      • ‘I'm doing my duty and my penance now, but I'll always be a woman who loves a good show.’


[with object]archaic
  • Impose a penance on.

    ‘the Bishop penanced him severely for his conduct’
    • ‘For instance, if in an emotional dream you injured someone intentionally, you could perform a simple penance the next day to atone, such as fasting one meal.’
    • ‘They confess sins, do penance and engage in bhakti and karma yoga to raise consciousness.’


Middle English: from Old French, from Latin paenitentia ‘repentance’, from the verb paenitere ‘be sorry’.