“Ask a Priest: Is It Normal to Be Assigned a Rosary as a Penance?”

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Q: Just got home from confession and my husband questioned what took so long. I told him my penance was a rosary and he was shocked. (He has not been to confession in decades.) He asked what I had done and if I had “committed adultery or something.” This is probably the fourth time my penance was a rosary, and others are invariably shocked and look crooked at me (as if I might be possessed by the devil) due to my long penance. There is never any counsel given, just absolution and the penance. The sins are often having to do with impatience, selfishness, and a lack of charity toward family members, for which I am sincerely sorry. As I don’t generally feel that God loves me, I try not to live by feelings, but I must admit, based on the genuinely shocked reaction of others by my long penances, I wonder if this is a sign of God’s general disgust with me and my lack of progress. Could I be oppressed by the devil? I go to confession at least once a month, frequently go to weekday Mass, pray the rosary daily, go to adoration regularly, and fast twice a week. I want to love God. I pray to Our Lady of Sorrows for light to make a good confession and for the grace of true sorrow for my sins. I do regular spiritual reading and read at least the daily Scripture readings. I’m pretty sure it’s not God’s fault if I haven’t made progress, but why does getting a rosary for penance make me feel like I’m probably going to hell? Is this an unusual penance? Thank you. -M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: First off, I’m sure God loves you very much. And your life of piety would indicate that you take your faith very seriously. Rather than guess that you are headed for perdition, or oppressed by the devil, I’d be more inclined to think that Our Lord is anxious for you to become a saint.

Ideally penances should help a person to rise to a higher level of spiritual progress. They aren’t meant as punishment, per se. So while the rosary might seem like a relatively heavy penance in your case, the Holy Spirit is nevertheless working through the confessor to help bring you, and maybe your loved ones, closer to Our Lord.

Perhaps you have felt drawn to daily Mass and rosary, etc., in part to pray for your husband, who has been away from confession for a long time. It would be good to continue to offer up your prayers for him to come back to the sacrament. This is where your personal piety can help him in a profound way.

By way of practical advice, you need not pray the rosary right away after confession. You could do it later at a convenient moment when you won’t draw comments from your loved ones. And you need not tell them about your penances; it is really a matter between you and God. If you want to understand a bit more deeply the beauty of that ancient prayer, you might enjoy our free Retreat Guide on the rosary, River of Wisdom.

By way of pastoral advice, you might consider looking for another confessor occasionally. Here I’m assuming that you are going to the same confessor regularly. You mention that there is never any counsel given. That isn’t ideal. Even a confessor pressed for time could and should offer at least a few seconds of advice.

Perhaps if your confessor feels extremely pressed for time in the confessional, he might be hoping that the relatively long time you spend with the penance will give the Holy Spirit ample time to speak to your heart. But that is only a guess. At any rate you might try going to a nearby parish occasionally (if one is available) in search of an alternate confessor.

In any case, it is good to continue regular reception of the sacrament. Our Lord gives a grace no matter what the limitations of the confessor might be. And by all means, be confident that he sees you as his beloved daughter.

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