What Roman Catholics Really Believe: Penance


Woman doing a penance at swayambhunath.

Grace and peace to the saints, and greetings to the lost.

Today we continue our discussion on the Roman Catholic celebration known as Lent. As we discussed in Part One of this essay, A Practical Catholic Dictionary says that during the 40-day Lenten celebration, Roman Catholics pray, fast, go to confession, and do penance in order to:

1. prepare themselves for the Easter celebration,

2. identify with the Lord Jesus who fasted and prayed for forty days when he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness,

3. make “partial satisfaction” for their sins.

No, that last item was not a misprint. According to A Practical Catholic Dictionary during Lent, Roman Catholics make partial satisfaction for their sins. Now, the Holy Bible says the Lord Jesus died and shed His blood on the cross to redeem the world from sin, and that this redemption propitiated (which means to satisfy or appease) God:

“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God;

“Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

“Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God” (Romans 3:23-25).

“And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

The verb propitiate derives from the Latin propitiare which means “to appease.” By calling the Lord Jesus the propitiation for our sins, the Bible is declaring that Jesus’ death and the shedding of His blood appeased God’s anger and satisfied His sense of justice. You may note that Romans 3:25 says that redemption is in Christ Jesus, because God Himself ordained Jesus for this task. God doesn’t do anything by half. He would not send His only begotten Son into the world to suffer a horrible death only to “partially” redeem us from sin. Jesus’ sacrifice, therefore, was complete and satisfactory.

If Roman Catholics, however, believe that Jesus’ sacrifice was only partially satisfactory and will therefore not accept His sacrifice as full payment for their sins, then they must look to something or someone else to satisfy God’s wrath. Foreseeing this need, the Roman Catholic church has provided several something elses, and one of these is called penance. The Roman Catholic church defines penance as:

“prayers or good works required of the penitent (Catholic) by the priest who has heard his confession. This penance satisfies in part for the sins confessed” (A Practical Catholic Dictionary, p. 170).

Through penance, the Roman Catholic seeks to appease God by personally participating in the redemptive work. Through good works, he hopes to save himself. Penance is so important to Roman Catholicism that it is one of the seven sacraments, or “channels of grace” by which Catholics attempt to earn their way into Heaven. A Practical Catholic Dictionary says this about the Sacrament of Penance:

“The sacrament by which sins committed after Baptism are forgiven through the absolution of the priest. To receive the Sacrament of Penance worthily a person must, first, examine his conscience; second, be sorry for his sins; third, have the firm purpose of not sinning again; fourth, confess his sins to the priest; and fifth, perform the penance the priest gives him ” (A Practical Catholic Dictionary, p. 170).

Many of you already knew that Roman Catholics confess their sins to a priest, who they believe is able to absolve them of their sins. What you now know is that the act of confession is tied to and incomplete without the performance of the penance (good work) imposed upon the Roman Catholic by his priest. Through penance, the Roman Catholic believes he is partially satisfying his sins.

Penance can take many forms, from reciting the Rosary (Roman Catholic prayer) x amount of times, to crawling around the church floor on one’s knees. Some Catholics even perform something known as corporal mortification, which can take the form of whipping oneself, or even placing sharp objects in one’s shoes to inflict pain. The object is to suffer in some way.

But why do Roman Catholics need to make partial satisfaction for their sins, when the Roman Catholic church claims to believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross and shed His blood to redeem them from their sins?  The answer may surprise you. In reality, the Roman Catholic church does not believe Jesus’ sacrifice fully redeemed them from sin. The concept of partial satisfaction already demonstrates this, and we can see this further by looking at the Roman Catholic definition of redemption:

“The word redemption really means buying back. Jesus Christ, by His sufferings and death on the Cross, bought back for men the right to be children of God and heirs of Heaven. Because Jesus Christ was God, He was able to give infinite satisfaction for the sins of men.” (A Practical Catholic Dictionary, p. 182)

The Dictionary begins by defining redemption as buying back, but instead of declaring that by His death and the shedding of His blood, the Lord Jesus redeemed us from sin, the Catholic church uses the unbiblical term “infinite satisfaction,” effectively implying that Jesus’ sacrifice did not redeem us from sin. Moreover, stating that Jesus’ sacrifice was able to give infinite satisfaction, rather than stating that His sacrifice infinitely satisfied, implies that Jesus’ sacrifice was infinitely partially satisfactory. That Jesus’ sacrifice is viewed by the Catholic church as infinitely partially satisfactory, means that the Roman Catholic must spend the rest of his life on earth doing good works in order to make partial satisfaction for his sins.

This agrees with the testimony of former Roman Catholic, Monica Farrell, who writes: 

“I knew the Lord Jesus died on Calvary, and had He not died nobody could get to heaven. What I did not know was that because He died anybody could go to heaven. We were told that the death of Christ opened the gate to heaven, but that you had to work your own way in, and that was just what I couldn’t do. So, to [sic] all intents and purposes, the gate of heaven might just as well have been closed.” (From Rome to Christ, p. 24.)

By “working your own way in,” Ms. Farrell was referring to penance. Note that she knew in her heart that there was no way she could possibly work her way into heaven. She could never be “good enough.”

But works salvation does not only pose a problem for the Roman Catholic in this life. The Bible teaches that there is another life after this one, as the soul lives eternally. Because the Roman Catholic church believes that Jesus’ sacrifice was not just partially satisfactory, but infinitely partially satisfactory, and for this reason has rejected the sacrifice of Jesus as full payment for their sins, how will Catholics fully satisfy their sins in the life to come? What can the Roman Catholic do after death? The answer is Purgatory:

“Purgatory – Place and state of punishment in which the soul suffers for a time in order to be cleansed before going to Heaven. In Purgatory venial sins and mortal sins, which have been confessed but for which full satisfaction has not been made, must be removed by purification before the soul is ready for Heaven. The word purgatory comes from the Latin word purgare, meaning to cleanse” (A Practical Catholic Dictionary, p. 179).

This is where the Roman Catholic is thoroughly deceived. His church teaches him that Jesus’ sacrifice is infinitely partially satisfactory. Infintely means “without end”; in other words, forever.  Through penance he seeks to make up the rest. When he dies, he believes he goes to Purgatory to purge his remaining sins to ready his soul for Heaven. The only way he can go to Heaven is that full satisfaction for his sins be made. But, in Purgatory, the Roman Catholic can no longer do penance, take communion, or in any other way make partial satisfaction for his sins. If, then, the Roman Catholic must remain in Purgatory until his sins are fully satisfied, but there is no other way for him to partially satisfy his sins, then the Roman Catholic will never leave Puragatory! Think about it: if Jesus’ sacrifice was only partially satisfactory, penance is only partially satisfactory, and there are no more partially satisfactory works that can be performed in Purgatory, then the Roman Catholic’s sins can never be “fully satisfied!” He will never leave Purgatory!

Now consider this: recall that Purgatory is based on the Latin word purgare. Did you know that this word also means “to burn?” Yes, the Roman Catholic church teaches that in Purgatory, a Catholics remaining sins will be purged or burned off. If the Roman Catholic can never make full satisfaction for his sins, this means that he will burn in Purgatory forever! Can you think of another place where a person will burn forever? I can:

And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast [the Roman Catholic pope] and his image [the Virgin Mary], and whosoever receiveth the Mark of his name” [the cross keys of Simon Peter]. (Revelation 14:11).

Can you now see the deception?! Roman Catholics will believe they are in Purgatory and that their stay will be only “for a time,” only to find out that they are really in Hell, and that their torment will be forever. Wake up Catholics! 

The Bible says that that our works–good are otherwise–are as “filthy rags” to Him. There is no good work we could do that would wash away our sins in God’s eyes. The Bible says we can not be justified by works, because works salvation was under the law, which was done away with the death of Jesus. 

“Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of [good] works? Nay: but by the law of faith. 

“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds [good works] of the law.”–Romans 3:27,28

This agrees with Ephesians 2:8,9 which says:

“For by grace [of the Lord Jesus Christ, not the Virgin Mary] are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

“Not of [good] works, lest any man should boast.”

If you are a Roman Catholic who truly loves the living Lord Jesus Christ with all your heart, and you want to do his will, then the Lord Jesus is calling you out of the romish church:

“Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Revelation 18:4).





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