I’ve noticed a peculiar shaping of the introductory rites when I go to Mass over the past few years. It seems that ever since the new and improved English missal was released in 2012, it has been pretty commonplace to skip over the Confiteor prayer from the Penitential Rite.
What is the penitential rite, you ask? Well, let me tell you. It’s where, at the beginning of the liturgy, we confess our failings and sins to God. Then we ask for God’s mercy on the sins we’ve just confessed in a general formula. Then the priest recites a prayer giving general absolution which absolves venial sins. It is a touching, compact, and powerful rite.
What has become common since the arrival of the new missal is to omit the Confiteor and plow right into the Kyrie, or an ad libbed close estimation of it. I’m not a degreed liturgist, I must admit, but I’m enough of a practicing Catholic and amateur in the classical sense of the word to care enough and know what I’m talking about.
When you’re dealing with the Catholic Church and her liturgical documents, order plays an important part. If something is listed first, it normally means you should use it often. So when the Confiteor is listed as choice A, and not choice B, or C, there is a reason. With whichever choice the priest makes at Mass, as long as they’re not ad libbing or adding things that aren’t there, they are on solid footing. I don’t dispute that. But the fact that the Confietor has fallen on hard times since 2012 grieves me. Because I know what is going on. At least I have my suspicions.
Here is the Confiteor as it was recited from about the early 1970’s until 2012:
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,
in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do;
And 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.
In 2012, it became thus:
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.
This is because the previous version, pre-1970’s, existed thus:
I confess to Almighty God,
to blessed Mary ever Virgin,
to blessed Michael the Archangel,
to blessed John the Baptist,
to the holy apostles Peter and Paul,
and to all the saints
that I have sinned exceedingly
in thought, word, and deed,
through my fault,
through my fault,
through my most grievous fault.
Therefore, I beseech blessed Mary ever Virgin,
blessed Michael the Archangel,
blessed John the Baptist,
the holy Apostles Peter and Paul,
and all the saints,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.
Do you see the similarities between the first and the last? Do you see what was left unsaid in the middle one? It seems that pastors of souls are reluctant to have the congregation recite the self-abnegating words “through my fault” etc.
I don’t know why.
But I do recognize, as do most of the rest of the parishioners in the pews, that we’re being cheated out of our opportunity to express culpability in our personal sins.
I’m okay with the Kyrie in it’s stand alone form.
What I’m not okay with is the impression that is given, that their is something wrong with the Confiteor. For over a thousand years, the Confiteor, the Kyrie, and the minor absolution were recited at darn near every Mass in the Western Church. For good reason: It’s good theology, and it is good pastoral practice.
I’m mildly concerned also, that the third alternative, option B, is almost completely ignored. It is a beautiful summary of penitence and has deep roots in the Church:
Priest: Have mercy on us, O Lord
℣ (Priest): “Have mercy on us, Lord.”
℟ (Congregation): “For we have sinned against you.”
℣: “Show us, O Lord, your mercy.”
℟: “And grant us your salvation.”
While not as theologically all-encompassing, it is to the point and heart-felt. I’ve not heard it used once in four years. Why is that?
As a single parishioner in the pew, I’d make the following request:
Option C is included in Option A and Option B. Please stop using Option C in exclusion. At a minimum, could you please rotate them so that 1. each is used one-third of the time and 2. parishioners get used to reciting all three? Or just alternate between Option A and B. Again, Option C is already included in A and B.
There is a peculiar genius in moving from the Confiteor, to the Kyrie, to the absolution. It flows. It “seals the deal” in a more determined manner than any other option. But even Option B with the Kyrie is better than just the Kyrie. Give us a break here, eh Fathers?