the state of being penitent; regret for one's wrongdoing or sinning; contrition; repentance.

1150–1200; Middle English (< Old French) < Medieval Latin pēnitentia, Latin paenitentia a regretting. See penitent, -ence

See regret. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
penitent (ˈpɛnɪtənt)
1.  feeling regret for one's sins; repentant
2.  a person who is penitent
3.  Christianity
 a.  a person who repents his sins and seeks forgiveness for them
 b.  RC Church a person who confesses his sins to a priest and submits to a penance imposed by him
[C14: from Church Latin paenitēns regretting, from paenitēre to repent, of obscure origin]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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Word Origin & History

c.1200, from O.Fr. penitence (11c.), from L. paenitentia "repentance," from paenitentum (nom. paenitens) "penitent," prp. of paenitere "cause or feel regret," probably originally "is not enough, is unsatisfactory," from paene "nearby, almost."
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Example sentences
He is one of several judges around the country who believe unusual sentences,
  usually some form of public penitence, work.
It's a rare feature since they can forgive faults and consider penitence.
There are criminals that deserve at least some form of penitence, but society
  must not make it too harsh.
There are many scenes of processions, self-flagellation and public penitence.
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