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Excommunication

Literally 'out of communion'; offenders against the canon law were punished by either greater or lesser excommunication. Greater excommunication involved complete isolation from the community of Christians as well as being prevented from sharing in the bread of the Eucharist. No Christian might trade with or commune with one suffering this penalty. Absolution from excommunication could be obtained by performing a set penance (traditionally wearing a white shirt and carrying a wand and confessing to one's sins in public - at church in front of the congregation on a specific number of days) and presenting a certificate to this effect to the church court. The problems were those of over use, enforcement of the sanction, and the growing tendency for such penalties to be commuted into money payments.