My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you, whom I should love above all things. I firmly resolve, with Your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin. Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us, in His name, my God, have mercy.
What does it mean to do penance? Why do we even need to do penance? Simply put, we do penance for two reasons: for God and for us. Our willingness to do penance shows God that we are sorry for our sins. We show Him our sorrow by coming before Him in confession, but doing penance drives the point home. Doing penance, as quickly after confession as possible, shows that we aren’t just “going in the box” to get His mercy and then run. Rather, penance is our way of showing God that not only are we sorry for our sins, but we are willing to do some extra prayer or sacrifice to show our true contrition.
Secondly, penance is for us. If we simply went to confession and thought that was it, then we might not get the point. Of course going to confession is a humbling experience as we confess all of the worst things about us to a priest who is acting as Christ. Penance teaches ourselves that there is more to forgiveness than simply going to confession. Penance shows and reminds us that we not only need to say an act of contrition, we need to live one out. By doing whatever penance is given to us, whether it is to pray a rosary, work at a soup kitchen, or do some kind act for our parents, that penance is a clear, tangible way of sacrificing for our sins.
None of this, of course, is to say that penance earns our forgiveness or that if we don’t do penance God won’t forgive our sins. He does. His mercy is ours because He is a merciful God. Rather, penance is our opportunity to show God and ourselves that we are sorry for our sins and are willing to go the extra mile to get back into the good graces of God. Also, we hope that the extra sacrifice of penance teaches us to avoid sin in the first place.
Do penance, it is good for your soul. Literally.