From a reader…
A few weeks ago I went to confession, and after some words of consolation and admonition, Father gave me my penance. He said I had to pray to the Holy Spirit during Lauds and Vespers for a week (I’m a layperson, but I pray parts of the Breviary as my daily routine).
Problem is: I wasn’t able to fulfill this obligation because one day I simply didn’t have the time to pray Lauds/Vespers.
Does this make my confession invalid?
I’ve answered this question many times in these electronic pages. But, since it keeps coming up, let’s go at it again! Repetita iuvant.
FIRST: The absolution was valid.
Your doing the penance afterward or not doing the penance does not in any way alter the validity of the absolution.
Remember, every penance is arbitrary and cannot possibly be commensurate with offending God! Big and hard penances, small and easy penances… none of them are proportionate to offending our infinite God. We just do our best.
However, priests must give penances to penitents and penitents are obliged to fulfill penances themselves (can. 981). However, the penance should be clear, reasonable and doable in a reasonable period of time.
It should be clear: “Think a nice though about someone,” isn’t clear. How do you know when you have done it?
It should be reasonable: “Rebuild with your own hands old St. Ugthred’s Church, which has been abandoned since 1923.” Most people can’t do that.
It should be doable in a reasonable time frame: “Say the rosary for 100 days… Travel to the Shrine of Our Lady at La Vang, Vietnam… Next Easter Sunday (months away) do… Obtain and watch this movie ….”
This last point – reasonable time frame – was your situation. You are not obliged to say the Office. You sometimes don’t have time to do it in your state in life. So, don’t worry about it.
That said, doing penance for sins is an obligation we have out of justice. Penance is a necessary part of the sacrament of penance.
The next time you make your confession, tell the confessor that you are not sure you adequately performed the penance you were given last time, but add that the penance was complicated and drawn out over many days.
Ask for a clear penance you can perform right away. If you don’t think you can do something that the priest suggests, ask for something else.