a punishment undergone in token of penitence for sin.
a penitential discipline imposed by church authority.
a sacrament, as in the Roman Catholic Church, consisting in a confession of sin, made with sorrow and with the intention of amendment, followed by the forgiveness of the sin.

1250–1300; Middle English penaunce < Anglo-French; Old French peneance < Latin paenitentia penitence

penanceless, adjective

penance, pennants. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
penance (ˈpɛnəns)
1.  voluntary self-punishment to atone for a sin, crime, etc
2.  a feeling of regret for one's wrongdoings
3.  Christianity
 a.  a punishment usually consisting of prayer, fasting, etc, undertaken voluntarily as an expression of penitence for sin
 b.  a punishment of this kind imposed by church authority as a condition of absolution
4.  (tr) (of ecclesiastical authorities) to impose a penance upon (a sinner)
[C13: via Old French from Latin paenitentia repentance; related to Latin poena penalty]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

late 13c., "religious discipline or self-mortification as a token of repentance and as atonement for some sin," from Anglo-Fr. penaunce, O.Fr. penance, from L. pænitentia (see penitence). Transf. sense is recorded from c.1300.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Cultural Dictionary

penance definition

Acts done to make up for sin. (See confession and indulgence.)

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Example sentences
He will do penance by resigning from his cushy job and working in a slum.
He paused and told the students about pilgrimages for purposes of penance.
There are days on the Peninsula when the heat and humidity make the slightest
  body movement seem like a penance.
Laying himself this bare feels like an act of penance for surviving, and makes
  his character all the richer.
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