Expressing Repentance and Receiving Forgiveness

Expressing Repentance and Receiving Forgiveness
The Introductory Rites at Mass include the Penitential Act or a Blessing and Sprinkling of Water. The Penitential Act takes one of three forms:
- “I confess …” (or Confiteor, to use its Latin title),
- three invocations each followed by “Lord/Christ have mercy”,
- Have mercy on us, O Lord. For we have sinned against you.
Show us, O Lord, your mercy. And grant us your salvation.

The revised version of the “I confess” is:
I confess to almighty Godand to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinnedin my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,
And, striking their breast, they say: through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault;
Then they continue: 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.

On first hearing the words through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault, many older Catholics comment, “But we used to say that! Why has it been put back in?”
In fact mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa remained in the Latin Missal issued after the Second Vatican Council, but the first English translation omitted it, as it did many repetitious texts to make it easier for the faithful to pray the Mass in English for the first time. Now that vernacular translations of the Missal are required to adhere as closely as possible to the Latin original, it is back again the in revised Order of Mass in English.
Many people have also stated their surprise at the reintroduction of the gesture of striking the breast while expressing remorse. But the 1975 Missal had the rubric they strike their breast here; it was just not observed by the vast majority of worshippers and eventually disappeared from the liturgy.
This is an example of the sensus fidelium (literally the “sense of the faithful”) which also caused the word “men” to be dropped by most people from the line “for us men and for our salvation” in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan (Nicene) Creed.
Some people have balked at the addition of the word “greatly” in the third line because, they say, they do not consider themselves to be great sinners (by implication, compared with other people!). Perhaps the Lord’s response might be his words quoted in Luke’s gospel: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required”. The new form of words also echoes David’s admission to God in the first book of Chronicles: “I have greatly sinned in doing this thing”.
The text of the Confiteor consists of an admission of guilt and a request for the saints and members of the assembly to pray for us. Unlike the other two forms of the Penitential Act, it is not addressed to God and does not ask God for mercy, so the Kyrie, eleison (Lord, have mercy) – preferable sung or chanted - needs to be added after the priest’s words of absolution.

Elizabeth Harrington