By Sr Tamsin Mary o.p. A talk given at Blackfriars Cambridge UK, Lent 2017
"It behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead the third day: and that penance and remission of sins should be preached in His name unto all nations."(Luke 24:46-47)
This talk will focus upon the concept of penance, which is a very rum one if you think about it closely. The word penance comes from a Latin one, ‘paenitentia’ which derives from a Latin noun, meaning repentance, or penitence, ultimately deriving from ποινή, a Greek word which means ‘quit-money for blood spilt, a price paid, satisfaction, retribution, requital, penalty, or alternatively the personified pagan godess of vengeance.’ Eventually, by extension the word also came to mean ‘recompense, reward, redemption, or release.’ In modern ‘Church speak’ similarly there is a wide variety of meanings attaching to the concept of penance. On the one hand there is ‘the sacrament of penance – confession. There is the ‘penance’ that the priest metes out, and there is the ‘penitential action’ which is generally conceived as something unpleasing. Finally there is the ‘penitential season’ which we are now in, where the ‘Lenten penances’ taken up, broadly under the heading of ‘prayer fasting and almsgiving’ are seen variously as spiritual chores, spiritual goals, or in the case of many in our secular environment as something akin to New Year’s resolutions, where the spiritual end is entirely lost sight of, and the end is simply some kind of self-seeking self-mastery.