any of the manuals used in Europe by priests of the Western church, especially during the early Middle Ages, in administering ecclesiastical penance. (The name penance is applied to both a sacramental rite and acts performed in satisfaction for sins.) Penitentials contained (1) detailed lists of sins that the priest was to consider in assisting an individual penitent with his examination of conscience and confession during the rite and (2) corresponding penances or acts that were to be assigned to the penitent.
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