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Dear Father Angelo,

I hope my email finds you in good health.

On a Catholic online website I found the following, regarding the actions of the penitent after partaking of Holy Confession:

“Sacramental satisfaction or penance: it is the prayer and good works prescribed by the confessor as a punishment and correction of sin, and as an atonement for the temporary punishment that one deserves because of sinning. It must be fulfilled as soon as possible after confession. God, in his unlimited goodness, forgives, but in his infinite justice and holiness, demands redress. Whoever fails to perform penance and satisfaction in this life must do so in Purgatory. In order to appease this divine justice for the sins committed by men, Jesus wept, fasted, sweated blood and died on the wood of the cross between two criminals”.

But a priest wrote to me that “the concept of sacramental satisfaction includes the duty of objective reparation for sins that can be repaired for. So it is for the sins against the seventh commandment or against the eighth (slander and defamation). If a penitent refuses (being objectively able to do so) to make reparation, absolution cannot be granted.

Thus, I wonder if these two statements can be reconciled, because in the first it is said that debts can be paid for in Purgatory, while the second one speaks of obligations…

but then, what does objective reparation mean?…

Thank you for the answer you will give me…

Best wishes from Domenico

Answer from the priest

Dear Domenico,

1. What you have read on that Catholic website is too narrow a vision of sacramental satisfaction or penance, seen mostly as a penalty to be paid here or there to satisfy divine justice.

Instead, John Paul II in Reconciliatio et paenitentia explains it as follows:

“(Regarding the penance prescribed by the confessor) Certainly it is not a price that one pays for the sin absolved and for the forgiveness obtained: No human price can match what is obtained, which is the fruit of Christ’s precious blood. Acts of satisfaction – which, while remaining simple and humble, should be made to express more clearly all that they signify – mean a number of valuable things:

1- They are the sign of the personal commitment that the Christian has made to God in the sacrament to begin a new life (and therefore they should not be reduced to mere formulas to be recited, but should consist of acts of worship, charity, mercy or reparation).

2- They include the idea that the pardoned sinner is able to join his own physical and spiritual mortification – which has been sought after or at least accepted – to the passion of Jesus, who has obtained forgiveness for him.

3- They remind us that even after absolution there remains in the Christian a dark area due to the wound of sin, to the imperfection of love in repentance, to the weakening of the spiritual faculties. It is an area in which there still operates an infectious source of sin which must always be fought with mortification and penance. This is the meaning of the humble but sincere act of satisfaction” (RP 31, III).

2. There are therefore three reasons that postulate it:

1. it is a concrete sign that we want to start a new life, worthy of the repentance of sins that led us to the sacrament;

2. it is the will to unite with a personal sacrifice to the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ;

3. wants to heal the infectious source of sin which remains, although more attenuated, even after confession.

3. The Catechism of the Catholic Church writes: “True conversion is not limited to words, but is translated into satisfaction, that is, in concrete works and above all in daily penance for the emendation of life and for the reparation of the damage caused by sin. Satisfaction, therefore, is part of the dynamics of the sacrament of penance as an extension and practical consequence of contrition”.

“Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must ‘make satisfaction for’ or ‘expiate’ his sins. This satisfaction is also called ‘penance’ ” (CCC 1459).

4. What the priest wrote to you is not properly about sacramental satisfaction or penance but about the need to return what has been unjustly taken away from others.

In other words, you are not forgiven for theft if at the same time you have no desire to return the things unjustly taken away. Otherwise, it would not be true repentance or authentic conversion.

Therefore, the need to redress “is certainly not the price paid for absolved sin and for forgiveness” but is intrinsic to repentance itself.

The penance given by the confessor is aimed at true renewal and manifests the desire that the infectious outbreak,which had previously led to sin, be removed from our soul.

I bless you and I remind you in prayer.

Father Angelo