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November 01, 2010
Penitential Rite
By Louie Verrecchio *

By Louie Verrecchio *

Following the Introductory Rites, the next occurrence of change in the people’s parts of the Holy Mass occurs during the Penitential Rite, at the Confiteor, where three changes can be found.

In the previous editions of the Missal we would say: I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, etc...

In the new translation, however, we will say: I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words...

The key difference here is that we are adding the adjective greatly and removing the phrase through my own fault. Bad news - it’s still our fault; we will just come back to it a little bit later only this time with a vengeance!

Picking up where we left off, we will now pray: 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.

The significance of these particular changes should be relatively apparent. Remember - the ultimate purpose of the new translation is not always a matter of replacing text that was plainly incorrect in its substance, as in the case of the phrase, And also with you. Sometimes the faithful translation states essentially the same thing but in a way that speaks the truth more clearly, while also more effectively pointing to the deeper underlying reality of Holy Mass (i.e. it draws hearts and minds into the sacred mystery made present in our midst.)

Such is the case when we publicly profess I have greatly sinned, as well as when we employ the threefold proclamation which accompanies the beating of the breast, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.

The corrected translation represents much more than just needless repetition or a dramatic attempt to add emphasis. Now don’t misunderstand; the repetition does indeed add emphasis to the fact of our culpability, but it also reflects the reality of sin in a particularly meaningful way.

O LORD, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against Thee! – Psalms 41:4

When we sin, by definition, we turn as an act of the will against the Lord by asserting our own disordered desires over and against the will of Him who we will proclaim later in the Mass to be Holy, Holy, Holy.

Therefore, when we acknowledge our sin against the Thrice Holy God, it is fitting that we should say, Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.

It is also fitting in light of our faith in the Blessed Trinity – God is Thrice Holy because He is three Divine Persons in One - Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Our every sin, therefore, is an offense against all three Persons of the Godhead, distinct in personhood, yet ever united as one in holiness.

We continue in the Confiteor where once we said, and I ask Blessed Mary... we will now say: therefore I ask Blessed Mary... Big deal, right? Well, yes!

The substitution of this single word therefore in place of the word and is more important than it may initially seem. One reason for this is that it better reflects the polarity that exists between two separate actions or statements. On the one hand are the sins that we just confessed, on the other are the prayers of forgiveness that we now offer and seek.

Consider this: When we profess as in the past, "I sin and I pray," our words fail to adequately reflect the degree to which prayer and sin are entirely incompatible. The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes our friend St. John Chrysostom as saying, "For it is impossible, utterly impossible, for the man who prays eagerly and invokes God ceaselessly ever to sin" (CCC 2744).

Think about that! There is a chasm that exists between the man who is engaged in earnest prayer and the man who is engaged in an act of sin, and that great divide is somewhat obscured when we say, almost cavalierly, "I have sinned and I pray."

When we say therefore instead of and in the Confiteor, the disconnect between sin and prayer is more clearly expressed, but in addition to that it also somehow connects the true contrition that we must feel for our failings with our prayer for forgiveness.

Therefore I ask Blessed Mary Ever Virgin...

Our repentance and contrition is strongly suggested in the word therefore in a way that it is not when we simply say "and." Our heartfelt sorrow for having sinned, in other words, is the reason we now seek forgiveness.

This sense of true repentance is absolutely crucial. That is why we call this the Penitential Rite. It is not enough to simply confess with our lips, we must also cry out from the depths of a contrite heart in order to truly repent.

In summary, we are essentially saying in the Confiteor, "I know that I have sinned – greatly – against the Thrice Holy God - therefore I seek forgiveness, and I do so by turning not just to God alone, but to all who have been wounded by my actions. I know that my sins not only affect my relationship with the Lord, but also with every member of His Body. Therefore I turn to His Most Holy Mother. I turn to those beyond this world - the angels and saints. And I turn as well to my brothers and sisters, begging prayers of forgiveness of all concerned."

Penitential Rite - Form B

The Penitential Rite can also take place in what is called Form B in which the priest would formerly say, Lord, we have sinned against you: Lord, have mercy.

And the people would respond, Lord, have mercy.

The priest would then continue, Lord, show us your mercy and love.

While the people replied, And grant us your salvation.

If Form B is used in the new translation, it will now be prayed as follows:

Priest: Have mercy on us, O Lord.

People: For we have sinned against you.

Notice the shift in accountability that has been affected by this change. Now it is all of the people – not just the priest - who say, we have sinned.

This is important. The Penitential Rite is a personal admission of sin. It’s not enough for the priest – who stands in the Person of Christ – to see our sin. Of course the Lord sees our faults, but we need to see them, we must admit to them personally and seek forgiveness for them in order to be considered truly penitent.

Following the Penitential Rite is the Kyrie, (Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.) after which the priest will pray the absolution, May Almighty God have mercy on us...

This brings us to the next series of changes that we’ll encounter in the prayers of the people at Holy Mass in the Gloria, which we will address next week in Part Seven.

Author and speaker Louie Verrecchio was a columnist for Catholic News Agency from April 2009 to 2013. His work, which includes Year of Faith resources like the Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II Faith Formation Series, has been endorsed by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia; Bishop Emeritus Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster, England; Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, IA, USA and others. For more information please visit: www.harvestingthefruit.com

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