Traditional Catholics/Mortification and penance


Hi Griff ,

I have 2 questions , what is the difference between penance and mortification and what r some example of mortification?



Penance is directly associated with repentance, indeed, the two go together as the only response to having sinned.  If we sin, we must ask forgiveness.  Repentance is our resolve to avoid repeating the sin, to distance ourselves from it as much as possible, "Never again!  Don't even let it look as if we might be heading in anything like that direction again."
Penance however is our acceptance of a small share of the cost or damage our sin resulted in.  If we had to pay the full price of any sin, the cost would be eternal Hell, but as Jesus Christ our savior has borne our sins Himself on the Cross, what small and finite share of it as remains for us to accept is meant as reparation, what was stolen must be returned, what was broken must be repaired, and if the damage caused by the sin cannot be returned or restored, then the practical (finite) penalty must be paid.
Think of it this way.  Let's say you sin by stealing.  Repentance is that you will never steal again.  Penance is that you return what you stole, and any additional compensation as may be applicable or possible (compound interest at least).  The first is the basis for why forgiveness on the eternal scale can be given; the latter is the evidence that forgiveness is granted.  True sorrow for sin makes us want to ask, "What can I do to make it up to you?" and true forgiveness says, "You can do this, then we will be good again."  Where nothing is given to do, forgiveness has not really been granted, "Don't do anything!  I'll have nothing further to do with you," is no sign of forgiveness.
Mortification however is something that can sometimes be called for as a penance.  For example where the sin is such that it cannot be repaired or restored (e. g. you take a person's life; there is no way to give it back to them), you humbly accept the just punishment as something rightly deserved, be it a jail sentence, or even (as often has historically been the case with murders) capital punishment, or whatever other punishments as may be imposed.
Mortification may also be used even where there is no penance particularly required, as for example the saintly action of accepting mortifications for the sins of others and in praying for them.
So to summarize, there is a considerable overlap between penance and mortification, but they do differ in that each can exist alone.  For example, it is a penance (and in no way a mortification but merely justice) that something stolen is returned, and a saint may embrace mortifications of various sorts to advance his interior life and strengthen his prayers, but most commonly most penances are mortifications and most mortifications are penances.
Mortifications range from such simple things as additional prayers not ordinarily required but performed anyway at the direction of one's confessor ("say ten Hail Mary's and make a good act of contrition"), or the various fasts and abstinences as called for during Lent, Advent, and other particular occasions on the Calendar, clear to the dramatic penances some saints are known to have embraced.  If planning any mortifications in one's life for these noble purposes, one should do them in cooperation and at the direction of one's regular spiritual advisor.

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Griff Ruby


I focus on the "why" and "how" questions of the Faith and one`s need for the Church to overcome sin, live the life God wishes us, and to become what God wants us to be. My areas of expertise are particularly in the areas of practical morality, theology, Scripture, history, and personal problems and dilemmas that people face. It is important to bring a sense of proportion to the recent and current ecclesiastical situation that makes necessary having to add the clarification "traditional" to "Catholic," for a "traditional Catholic" today is simply what anyone would have called a "Catholic" only 60 years ago, and so on clear back to the beginning. I seek to provide insight and information such that you are then able to see for yourself the answer to your questions. Homework problems and trivia questions may be refused, and I am not interested in using Allexperts as a debating forum.


Years of extensive research, thought, and prayerful meditation on many of the issues that trouble Catholics today, taught catechetical classes to teenagers and adults, answered many questions already as Allexperts volunteer in Catholics category.

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