According to Webster's dictionary, penance means "any act of reparation, self-punishment, etc. done in repentance for a sin or wrong doing." The Catholic Catechism tells us, in section 1434, the following. "The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer, and alms giving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others. Alongside the radical purification brought about by Baptism or martyrdom they cite as means of obtaining forgiveness of sins: effort at reconciliation with ones neighbor, tears of repentance, concern for the salvation of ones neighbor, the intercession of the saints, and the practice of charity 'which covers a multitude of sins.'"
Have you ever felt the need to do penance? Penance seems to be pretty important to those in the Catholic faith according to what Catholic Answers tells us: PENANCE has been part of the true religion since before the time of Christ, as shown by the Bible's injunctions concerning fasting, wearing sackcloth, and sitting in dust and ashes.
Penances can be formal or informal, but they amount to the same thing-expressions before God of sorrow over ones sins, which is not only required by God but also by human nature; human beings have an innate need to mourn tragedies, and their sins are tragedies.
Under the ancient form of the penitential discipline there were four classes of penitents for those who had committed major sins (e.g., idolatry, murder, abortion, adultery), and they moved through the classes on their way to full reconciliation. The Church Fathers had a lively understanding of the role of penance in the Christian life (cf. Matt. 6:16-18, Mark 2:18-20, Acts 13:2-3, Jas. 4:8-10), an understanding we need to recover.
They also include, as usual, some "church father" quote to further enhance their point such as this one from Augustine on Penance: "When you shall have been baptized, keep to a good life in the commandments of God so that you may preserve your baptism to the very end. I do not tell you that you will live here without sin, but they are venial sins which this life is never without. Baptism was instituted for all sins. For light sins, without which we cannot live, prayer was instituted. . . . But do not commit those sins on account of which you would have to be separated from the body of Christ. Perish the thought! For those whom you see doing penance have committed crimes, either adultery or some other enormities. That is why they are doing penance. If their sins were light, daily prayer would suffice to blot them out. . . . In the Church, therefore, there are three ways in which sins are forgiven: in baptisms, in prayer, and in the greater humility of penance" (Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed 7:15, 8:16 [A.D. 395])."
However impressive these arguments may seem, we should know and follow what God's word tells us. I don't mean that we are to blindly accept the quotes that are given above without checking their validity as well. As many cults will do, they'll quote a verse and claim that it backs their teaching. So check them out and you will not see that sins are removed or remitted by any form of penance nor confession for that matter. In fact the word penance is never even mentioned in any of those verses. Fasting and humility are mentioned in the Bible, but not for forgiveness of sins. Fasting and humility are good for growing in the Lord in that we should practice self denial and submitting to the Lord 's awesomeness and authority.
The Bible clearly tells us, however, in Colossians 2:8 that, "Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ." Paul continues with, "So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ." (Colossians 2:16)
We are given many more insights, knowing that scriptures cannot contradict, when we look at Hebrews. 10:10, 11, 12 and 14, "And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, ... For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified."
Do you see the difference? Its God's plan not ours. Titus 3:5 tells us that, "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us." In other words, when we: "Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth." (2 Corinthians 3:2) we see God already did everything at Calvary's cross for the purification of ones soul and that despite all the rituals, ceremonial and religious arguments that Catholics produce, the bottom line still says that we cannot merit our own salvation. And the Bible also adds "when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high." (Hebrews 1:3) Remember that we either give the glory to Jesus Christ, by God's great plan of salvation or nothing. Those are our only two choices. Praise be to Jesus Christ forever.