Penance is the act of doing a good deed to make up for past wrongs. Shoveling your neighbor's sidewalk all winter could be your penance for not helping rake the leaves that dropped from your tree into his yard during the fall.

Although the noun penance can mean any remorse for past mistakes, or any voluntary action meant to right the wrong, Penance, with a capital P, also specifically refers to a sacrament in the Catholic Church. When a person receives Penance, he or she confesses sins to a priest, and along with a blessing, receives an order to do something, such as say certain prayers. This assignment is also called penance.

Definitions of penance
  1. noun
    voluntary self-punishment in order to atone for some wrongdoing
  2. noun
    a Catholic sacrament; repentance and confession and atonement and absolution
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    (Roman Catholic Church) the act of a penitent disclosing his sinfulness before a priest in the sacrament of penance in the hope of absolution
    the act of being shriven
    type of:
    a formal religious ceremony conferring a specific grace on those who receive it; the two Protestant ceremonies are baptism and the Lord's Supper; in the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church there are seven traditional rites accepted as instituted by Jesus: baptism and confirmation and Holy Eucharist and penance and holy orders and matrimony and extreme unction
  3. noun
    remorse for your past conduct
    synonyms: penitence, repentance
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    type of:
    compunction, remorse, self-reproach
    a feeling of deep regret (usually for some misdeed)
Word Family
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