Our Lady of Fatima repeatedly called for penance – penance for our own sins and for the sins of others. But what is penance? So many people assume penance is only fasting or praying an extra Rosary. There are actually four major types of penance which we can perform in order to satisfy for sin (our own sins and those of others) and to help prevent future sins.

The Four Types of Penance:

 Willing Acceptance of Crosses : In this life, we are prone to receive daily crosses which Divine Providence chooses to send to us. These range from small trifling matters to huge issues which can hang over our life. Yet whether they be headaches, car troubles, financial problems, job terminations, family issues, or spiritual difficulties, if we willingly and patiently accept these with the intention of making reparation, they are very meritorious. In fact, such crosses are called “tokens of God’s love” by the Council of Trent. God often uses these penances to mold and refine us. The saints teach that willingly accepting these hardships is more meritorious than choosing severe penances. Moreover, the merit we gain can be dramatically increased by the degree of joy with which we embrace them.

Faithful Discharge of Our Duties of State : If we perform our duties of state with the proper intention, and of course in the state of grace, we can make fitting penance in reparation for sins. Rather than doing them in the spirit of rancor, if we accept our long days, difficulties in raising the children, difficulties in living our vows or promises, etc., we can make reparation. Like the first category, it is more meritorious to faithfully fulfill our state in life than to choose to fast – especially if in so doing, we are neglecting the responsibilities that God has placed in our lives. Note how this kind of penance is also intimately connected with the Message of Fatima. In a letter dated February 28, 1943 to the Spanish Bishop of Gurza, Sister Lucy wrote: “Being in the chapel with my superiors’ permission, at midnight, Our Lord told me: The penance that I request and require now is the sacrifice demanded of everybody by the accomplishment of his own duty and the observance of My law.”

Fasting and Almsgiving : Fasting is the denial of pleasure, which therefore helps put order in our souls and makes satisfaction for sin. Fasting also helps us to combat the vices of impurity and to grow in the virtue of temperance. Some sins, Our Lord taught, can only be conquered through prayer and fasting (cf. Matthew 17:21). Almsgiving refers to giving to the poor. By giving to the poor, we make reparation for sins as we see in the poor the person of Christ Himself. Though, while not strictly almsgiving, the giving of our time to visit the sick, the elderly, or those in prison also makes reparation for sin. Remembering that two of the principal enemies of our soul’s salvation are ‘the world’ and ‘the flesh’, it is easy to see how necessary almsgiving and fasting penances are in resisting and overcoming these foes.

Privations and Mortifications : Praying an extra Rosary, visiting a cemetery to pray for the souls of the faithful departed interred there, saying the Stations of the Cross every Friday, and other such practices are ways we can add privations to our own lives. Mortifications are helpful as well. But unlike penance, they are more focused on preventing future sins rather than satisfying for past ones. There are four types of mortifications: of the exterior senses, the interior senses, the passions, and the higher faculties (i.e., the will and the intellect). There is a proliferation of sin in the world. Satisfaction is demanded for the sins of the entire world, especially the slaughtering of the unborn by abortion. If we, as Catholics, are not making reparation for them, who is? Our Lady at Fatima, Lourdes, La Salette, and elsewhere, has always focused on reparation. Let us make fitting reparation each and every day. Let a day not pass when we are not making reparations.

Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!

The Four Types of Penance

by Matthew Plese

Catholic Apologetics #38