The practice is commonly attributed to the Roman Catholic Church as an act of both penance and charity. In addition, the Methodist church teaches that the works of mercy are a means of grace which lead to holiness and aid in sanctification.
The works of mercy have been traditionally divided into two categories, each with seven elements:
- “Corporal works of mercy” which concern the material needs of others.
- “Spiritual works of mercy” which concern the spiritual needs of others.