Last weekend at Mass, as we do once a month, we used The Confiteor for the Penitential Rite at the beginning of Mass.
"I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters…"
It might surprise you to learn that The Confiteor is my favorite form of the Penitential Rite. I feel it gets to the core of why we do the Penitential Rite and has some very solid theology of sin and forgiveness contained in it. As a refresher, here is the full text.
“I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, 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.”
Our celebration of the Penitential Rite happens right in the middle of the Introductory Rites of Mass. We have the entrance and greeting before we then turn our attention to our need for God’s forgiveness for our failings during the week. If you are like me, you bring a list of ways we have fallen down in our lives as disciples of Jesus. Our faith makes us confident that if we offer these shortcomings to God with a contrite heart and a desire to get up and dust ourselves off and with God’s grace strive to walk the way of God’s love we are forgiven our venial sins during the Penitential Rite. This seems very appropriate as we prepare ourselves to properly receive the word of God and the sacrament of the Eucharist with open hearts.
We start by admitting the fact that we have indeed fallen short and sinned since the last time we celebrated Mass.
“I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned”
This acknowledges that the first and most important step in addressing our sinful behavior is admitting that we have sinned. That is the power of this statement, and the power of personal confession. We state this confession to God but more importantly, to the community because our sin is never a personal issue but something that affects those around us in our families, workplaces, friendships, church family, and community.
We then continue by generically saying how we have sinned.
“in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do”
This brings our attention to both the sins of action and sins of omission. It is usually obvious to us the sins that we have done to hurt others. It is usually less obvious how our inaction in situations can be sinful. Jesus told us in the Gospel of Matthew that even our sinful thoughts are dangerous and can condemn us. That smaller sins can build into more serious sin if we do not take steps to address them.
But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment Mt 5:21
But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Mt 5:28
As we bring our collection of sins to God and the community we take responsibility for these actions.
“through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault;”
It is during this admission of fault I think of the Tax Collector in the Gospel of Luke: “But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Lk 18:13
“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.”
We then invoke the power of others' prayers to assist us in our journey as Christians as we strive to enter the narrow gate through the path of love. It is a wonderful reminder that we are not alone in our struggle to lessen the sin in our lives and we can have the communion of saints, all those in heaven and those still here on earth lift us up in prayer. We are also reminded that we are to pray for others in their similar struggles.
After this brief but introspective confession, we receive God’s mercy and forgiveness.
“May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.”
For good measure we invoke a cry for God’s mercy.
Lord have mercy
Christ have mercy
Lord have mercy
Peace, Love, and Blessings