Last week we read that for a confession to be valid there must be contrition, the confession of sins and satisfaction. Here is what the Church says specifically about satisfaction:
Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much. But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must "make satisfaction for" or "expiate" his sins. This satisfaction is also called "penance." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1459)
One way of looking at it is this. Suppose a child insults his mother. He realizes what he has done, is sorry for it and asks forgiveness. His mother understands, is moved by his sorrow and readily forgives him. Yet, her child is not completely comforted. He wants to make up for the hurt that he caused her. So, he will look for ways to be especially nice and helpful to her.
Every sin ruptures our relationship with God. Even though He wipes away our confessed sins, we should want to fortify our filiation with Him and with the Church. Even sins committed in secret injure the Church. The Church, which is the mystical Body of Christ, is not as strong as she could be due to sins. Each member of the Church has a relationship with each other in this Body. We, together, also have a relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Every sin weakens us as a whole.
The satisfaction or penance which priests most often assign is prayer. Prayers that are said well lead to a deeper faith in and relationship with God. But, other good penances that the priest can give are: service to our neighbor, almsgiving, acts of self-denial, sacrifices and acceptance of the crosses we have to bear (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1460).
Next week we continue with this Sacrament.