Definition of penance in English:


Syllabification: pen·ance
Pronunciation: /ˈpenəns


  • 2A Christian 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.
    More example sentences
    • The penitent then leaves the confessional and goes and prays his penance in the church.
    • In the fragile and apocalyptic early church, penance was conceived as a public reconciliation, necessary to the very existence of the congregation.
    • This ritual of confession, absolution and penance inadvertently hides as much as it discloses.
  • 2.1A religious observance or other duty required of a person by a priest as part of this sacrament to indicate repentance.
    More example sentences
    • 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.
    • I'm doing my duty and my penance now, but I'll always be a woman who loves a good show.
    • 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.


[with object] archaic Back to top  
  • Impose a penance on: a hair shirt to penance him for his folly in offending
    More example sentences
    • 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'.

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