Order of Mass – Confiteor

January 16th, 2011  |  Published in New Roman Missal

Dear Friends,

At the beginning of the New Year I began writing on the New Roman Missal, in particular on the first part of the Mass, the Introductory Rites. In that column I addressed the new response to the greeting: “The Lord be with you.” As you may recall the response will be: “And with your spirit.” Today I’d like to speak on the Penitential Act in the Introductory Rites, and namely on the Confiteor, the first form of the Penitential Act.

Confiteor is Latin for “I confess,” and comes from the first line of the prayer. The following is the full text of the newly translated Confiteor:

“I confess to almighty God and to you, my
brothers and sisters, that I have greatly
in my thoughts and in my words, in
what I have done and in what I have failed
to do, through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault
; therefore
I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the
Angels and saints, and you, my brothers and
sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.”

The majority of the prayer remains the same as in the present version we recite. However, I have highlighted the two modifications in bold. The first replaces our current wording of “I have sinned through my own fault” with “I have greatly sinned.” This is another instance of the new
text reflecting the Latin wording, which includes the adverb “nimis,” meaning “very much.”

The second change occurs halfway through the Confiteor, and is more significant. The words once removed from the first section, “through my own fault,” are being returned to their proper place, but with their full content. “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,” is a direct translation of the Latin phrase, “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.”

You might wonder why this seemingly heavier emphasis on sin. Looking beyond fidelity to the Latin, language that calls to mind our fallen human nature is very important in the liturgy. It is important to acknowledge our sinfulness at particular times, just as we do in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. These words are much like an Act of Contrition whereby we speak of our remorse at not loving God or our neighbor as we are called to do.

Unlike the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are not sacamentally absolved of our sins at this point in the Mass. Yet it is still an appropriate way to prepare ourselves to celebrate the Eucharist. In the Mass we must strive to approach the altar of God with humble dispositions, and are to always receive the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus free from any and all grave (mortal) sin as St. Paul instructs in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup” (11:27-28).

There is also a part of the Confiteor that is often neglected these days, and that is the fact that the people are to “strike their breast” while saying “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” This striking is a symbolic tapping of the chest with a clenched
fist over one’s heart, signifying remorse. This is one of the beautiful aspects of our liturgy; sacramental words are accompanied by sacramental actions. The striking of the breast is supposed to be done even now. Hopefully, over time, it will become a more natural act with the new

The Confiteor ends with each person asking for the prayers of the saints and the rest of the congregation, led by the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose sinlessness by the grace of god is the perfect model for our own lives.

The conclusion of the entire Act of Penitence remains the same, with the Confiteor followed by the invocation, “Lord, have mercy . . .Christ, have mercy. . . Lord, have mercy.”

Fr. John