Confiteor in Men's Religious Community


Q. In religious orders made up solely of one sex, in our example, of men, is it still appropriate to include “and sisters,” when saying “and you my brothers and sisters” while praying the Confiteor in Compline or Mass Celebrations? Are male communities who omit saying “and sisters” in the Confiteor being disobedient in any way, or violating the rubics, or somehow denying the Universality of the liturgical act? If they are allowed to adapt the Confiteor to their community setting, can you please point me where I can find documentation of this?

A. There is a discussion right now in the community about this, because we use to only say, “and you my brothers” when only men were present, and included “and sisters” when women were assembled as well. We also pray the Confiteor to begin Compline, and the same scenario exists there as well.

B. Recently, a cleric told us that we need to include “sisters” when praying the Confiteor, (which we took to mean in both the mass and Compline), because we are praying in union with the Universal Church, and we are asking our brothers and sisters who may not be assembled or physically preset in body in the very building we are in, to pray for us to the Lord our God. I understand the argument to be: that excluding “sisters” when none are assembled takes away from the universality of the prayer and is therefore theologically incorrect. The cleric is basing his position on CCC #1071, that every liturgical act is always an act of the universal Church and is not restricted in its focus to those physically present.

Some of us however note that the Instructions in the Roman Breviary itself state that for night prayer, when one is praying alone a brief examination of conscience is to be employed, while only in a communal celebration of the office is the option of including the Confiteor offered as stated for the entry for Night Prayer in the General Instruction Liturgy of the Hours, Chapter II Section VI, #86, ( II-VI) which states:

It is a laudable practice to have next an examination of conscience; in a celebration in common this takes place in silence or as part of a penitential rite based on the formularies in the Roman Missal.

This would seem to suggest that when praying physically alone, it would make no sense to prayer the Confiteor, since there are no brothers or sisters assembled; while praying in community setting, a Confiteor would be allowed since there are brothers and/or sisters present. Which begs the question, if one is not to pray the Confiteor if praying the office alone since no brothers or sisters are physically present, then should we adapt, based on the formularies (nothing is mentioned as being exactly replicated) in the Roman Missal, our praying of the Confiteor to appeal to the prayers of only our brothers if no women are assembled?

In most religious houses I have visited, this is exactly the case, that only brothers are included in the Confiteor when only brothers are physically assembled there. A good example documenting how Benedictine, Dominican and Carmelites adapt the Confiteor for use in their respective Religious houses can be read here:

However, this argument is met with the rebuttal that it is only customary to omit the Confiteor when praying alone, that it would still be correct and even theologically encouraged to pray the Confiteor when alone, therefore the question of whether brothers and/or sisters are physically present is moot, since the prayer is directed through the Universal Church and does not rely on those assembled.

What adds to the confusion is that at the end of Compline, after we have asked for the prayers of our brothers who are assembled “and sisters” who are not, we end by asking for “God’s help to remain with us always, and with our brothers who are away.” So in one part, through the Confiteor, we are asking for prayers of those of the Church Militant who are not assembled with us, and yet feel the need to acknowledge the physical absence of certain other members of that Church Militant by praying for our brothers “who are away.” This would appear to present some incongruity in our liturgical prayer.



Another argument against the idea that the Confiteor is an appeal to the entire Church Militant, rather than to the Church Triumphant and only that portion of the Church Militant gathered together in one place, is from the GIRM itself. Referencing the The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (Third English Edition, USCCB Publication No. 7-176 Under Chapter II, The Structure of the Mass, Its Elements, and Its Parts, Section I, #27 reveals:

At Mass or the Lord’s Supper the People of God is called together, with a Priest presiding and acting in the person of Christ, to celebrate the memorial of the Lord or Eucharistic Sacrifice. In an outstanding way there applies to such a local gathering of the holy Church the promise of Christ: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst” (Mt 18:20). For in the celebration of Mass, in which the Sacrifice of the Cross is perpetuated, Christ is really present in the very assembly gathered in his name, in the person of the minister, in his word, and indeed substantially and uninterruptedly under the Eucharistic species.

Here the GIRM is stating the participants as being the Priest, and the local gathering of the holy Church, also as the very assembly gathered in his name. This is pointing to a very specific gathering of the Church Militant, for it does not say the entire holy Church, though we all know that we are praying in union with it through a common Liturgy and Sacraments, but that we are dealing specifically with participants of the local gathering of the holy Church…the very assembly gathered.

Moreover, when addressing Section II (Different Elements of the Mass,) of the same chapter, under the heading, Other Formulas during the Celebration we are given this further elucidation (#34-36):

  1. Since the celebration of Mass by its nature has a “communitarian” character, both the dialogues between the Priest and the assembled faithful, and the acclamations are of great significance; for they are not simply outward signs of communal celebration but foster and bring about communion between Priest and people.

  2. The acclamations and the responses of the faithful to the Priest’s greetings and prayers constitute that level of active participation that is to be made by the assembled faithful in every form of the Mass, so that the action of the whole community may be clearly expressed and fostered.

  3. Other parts, most useful for expressing and fostering the active participation of the faithful, and which are assigned to the whole gathering, include especially the Penitential Act, the Profession of Faith, the Universal Prayer, and the Lord’s Prayer.

Again, we find the GIRM at once both stressing the “communitarian” character of the Celebration of the Mass, but also specifying that the specific instance of each celebration, while in union with the Universal Church as stated earlier, is limited in a specific way to the Priest(s) and the assembled faithful. In fact, the GIRM seems to be trying to clarify that we are in fact talking not about some ethereal assembly, but the very visible and tangible physical presence of those present when it appeals to the celebration’s great significance…not simply as outward signs of communal celebration….Note that it is not saying that it is not an outward sign, but not limited to that being the sole purpose. In #35 we read again of active pariticipation that is to be made of the assembled faithful…so that the action of the whole community may be clearly expressed and fostered. If we were dealing with an ethereal, non physically present, non-physically assembled Church Militant, that would not seem to clearly express theaction of the whole community.

Finally, in #36, we find the GIRM including especially the Penitential Act as belonging to the sense of the active participation of the faithful, assigned not to other members of the Universal Church, but only the whole gathering, i.e., as the GIRM explained in #27 of the same Chapter, the local gathering of the holy Church…the very assembly gathered.


Offering a compromise, a mere semantic solution doesn’t address the theology behind what is being argued in favor of keeping “and sisters,” because in the Latin we translate as “brothers and sisters” with the word fratres which doesn’t solve the issue definitively, since technically it only means “brothers” but in English we could substitute the word “Brethren” and avoid the controversy, but again, that would infer that the problem is only semantic and not theological afterall. Liturgists I have found online believe the issue to be only semantic and not theological as can be gathered by this great short article by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum University He states that the problem doesn’t arise from anything other than the limitations of the English Language, as he states that this question:

…involves the particularities of the English language. In many languages, the masculine form does double duty and can refer to just males or to a mixed group. Thus, for example, in Latin, Spanish and Italian it is only necessary to use the equivalent of “brothers” to refer to the whole assembly. In English “brethren” can serve this purpose and in fact may be used to introduce the penitential rite. However, perhaps for stylistic reasons, it was not included as part of the “I confess.” Thus in the English translation we say “brothers and sisters.” Some contextual adaptation is foreseen in the rubrics, when Mass is celebrated with only one acolyte. In this case priest and acolyte say “to you my brother” in the singular. Therefore, think it is theoretically possible for a male community to use simply “brothers” when no women are present.

Now, to be fair, he does state that a pastoral reason can be given to including “and sisters,” but he certainly doesn’t argue that there is a theological reason for doing so.


Both are right for different reasons.

Do whatever your formation director/guardian of the house/Abbott etc., tells you.

Or if they don’t tell you then follow the example of the senior person there.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit