Confiteor vs. Act of Contrition

The Lord be with you.

Remember our new prayerbook countdown? T-minus six weeks and counting.

The Lord Jesus says, “Give to God what is God’s.” His lesson, based on the Roman denarius coin, makes for a wonderfully elegant turn of phrase.

But we know that giving God His due is much more easily said than done. We owe Him our complete submission, our adoration, our praise. We owe Him our lives, our obedience, our daily, hourly co-operation.

It all starts at the altar. Here we make our consummate act of religion. Here we submit ourselves to the Triune Majesty; we worship Him as He has commanded. We co-operate with His perfect sacrifice by offering ourselves to the Father.

And God responds. He gives us Himself. He fortifies us with His Body and Blood.

Brothers and sisters, upon arriving at church on Sunday, November 27, you will receive one of these to use during Mass.

All of our familiar prayers for Mass have been re-translated from Latin into English. The wording will be slightly different.

On the one hand, it will surely prove to be a pain in the neck to have to read the prayers from a card until we get them by heart again.

But on the other hand, this transition will present us with a golden opportunity…

Anybody know what the room where the priest vests for Mass is called? The sacristy.

In many sacristies around the world, you find a sign on the cabinet, a reminder for the priest to read as he gets ready to enter the church: “Priest of God, say this Mass as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass.”

In other words: Don’t just go through the motions. Concentrate. Mean what you say.

This upcoming transition to a revised translation of the Missal gives all of us the same encouragement: “Faithful Christian, pray at this Mass as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass.”

Over the next few weeks, I would like to consider some of the prayers we say at Mass, one by one. Hopefully this will not get too terribly boring.

When we begin Mass, the first prayer we say together is “I confess…” When we start working these cards in a few weeks, we will discover that the new wording expresses even greater regret and humility for our sins.

Some people may find themselves somewhat confused regarding the relationship between saying the “I confess” prayer at the beginning of Mass vs. going to Confession.

The two involve significantly different religious acts. Let me try to explain.

Carefully examining one’s conscience makes up part of the routine of any Catholic. We review the Ten Commandments and our particular obligations in life, and see how we measure up. If my conscience accuses me of acting in a way that could imperil my salvation, or failing to do my duty, I resolve to go to Confession as soon as possible. Even if my examination of conscience doesn’t discover any mortal sins, I might resolve to go to Confession anyway and unburden myself of my venial sins.

Whichever the case may be, going to Confession involves confessing particular sins. And of course a good Confession concludes with an act of contrition, in which I both express regret and declare my intention to avoid sin in the future, with the help of God.

Reciting the Confiteor at the beginning of Mass expresses something different. We do not confess particular sins with this prayer. We all say the same words, making no distinctions among ourselves. “I confess…,” etc.

Obviously, we are not all guilty of the same sins. We deal with our particular sins by going to Confession. But at the beginning of Mass we stand united, acknowledging that we, as a group, are sinners. We, the human race: sinners. We acknowledge this, because we cannot worship God in sincerity and truth without acknowledging it.

We do not have a right to approach this altar. We have no right to address God and celebrate His mysteries of love and salvation. We have no right to God’s friendship.

But God has called us to Himself anyway. He gives us His friendship as a gift.

Am I really up to being God’s friend? Not sure. I want to be, but I know I am weak. I have sinned—in the past, when I was young, when I was out of sorts, five minutes ago in the parking lot, when someone was saying bad things about so-and-so. I am a sinner, a member of a race of sinners. I cannot bring off a good act of worship by myself…

So I pray the Confiteor. I beg the powers of heaven, and my brothers and sisters here, who are holier than me, to support me in this sublime act of worship which is the Mass.


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