What sins are we confessing when we say the Confiteor at Mass? Specific sins we as individuals have committed during the week? Or is it more of a corporate acknowledgement of general sinfulness?
I have always taken it to be specific.
Since the Confiteor is in the first person singular I believe it is always a personal confession we make for our own sins and sinful nature.
("**I **confess to Almighty God, …")
However, The Original Catholic Encyclopedia has the sub-head “A general confession of sins” above the article about The Confiteor.
Lately when I have been able to assist an an EF Mass I notice only the priest saying it while the choir is singing the Introit or something. (I’m really out of practice. :o)
All sin is an offense against God and neighbor. My understanding is that Mass is **not **a private prayer. The Mass is,in and of itself, a single act of communal worship. Therefore, any portion of this greatest act of Christian worship is offered by the whole congregation. So whether or not we say “I” or “we” it would be a collective offering to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit.
Since any mortal sin completely severs our relationship with God the normative reconciliation would take place in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. So, objectively speaking, the confiteor is our petition for God to remove all venial sins from our souls as we prepare ourselves for the Eucharist. In the event that one is in the state of mortal sin, he or she can offer up the Mass with the intention of going to confession and refrain from receiving the Eucharist.
God bless you for hearing my two cents… (if that’s not overpriced :))… teachccd
After all of that wonderful rhetoric that I offered in my last post I re-read your question and realized that I was giving you a play for football when you are asking what time it is… We are acknowledging our personal sins committed in thought, word or deed…sins of commission and sins of omission… I usually try to recall the two or three things that I really struggled with during the past week. It does seem like a petition for our general sinfulness but each of us has particular struggles in our thoughts, words and deeds and those should be brought to mind…At least that’s what I do… Now…
Is there anyone with an official answer since I offered this poor OP almost nothing? Sorry, but I had too much fun to delete this post… teachccd
In the pre-VII days the altar servers represented the congregation and repeated the Confiteor after the celebrant recites it. * I presume that continues in the EF.*
Sometimes when I read things like this I wonder if I’ve lost my credentials to call myself Catholic…Could you guys give me a clue as to how this relates to the OP’s question? It’s one of those learning moments for me… Thank you!
Don’t worry. This does take it away from the OP’s question for which I apologize.
It’s primarily a corporate acknowledgement of our dependence on God’s mercy. It certainly invites individual reflection too.
I’m somewhat confused by the responses. So is this the definitive answer?
My answer was my answer, I wasn’t claiming it was definitive.
Maybe this would help: usccb.org/comm/backgrounders/mass.shtml
It seems to me that there are three possibilities here:
- It’s a corporate acknowledgement of general human sinfulness.
- It’s a personal acknowledgement of the sins committed by the individual in the intervening week, or however long it’s been since we were last at Mass or were last at sacramental confession.
- It’s a personal acknowledgement of general personal sinfulness, including sins that we’ve had absolved before. (It seems like this must be a possibility, because what if I am not aware of having committed any venial sins since I was last at Mass?)
Or maybe these possibilities are not mutually exclusive? I still don’t feel satisifed about this. It just bugs me that I say the Confiteor every week at Mass, and I don’t have an entirely clear idea of what its purpose is. I want to find the right answer.
Here’s my take on it, from the book mentioned in my signature:
The Confiteor is a penitential prayer in two parts. The first part of this prayer is an act of confession of personal sin to God, in the midst of the whole assembly.
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,
Although it is said by all the congregation together, it is a personal prayer. The Confiteor is one of only three places in the Mass where we pray in the first-personal singular (I) rather than the first-person plural (we). We confess our sins not only to God but to all those present. Talk about accountability! Even though we are not naming our sins to those around us, we are admitting our guilt to them. The Confiteor is inspired by David’s sorrowful plea for mercy in Psalm 51.
We confess that our sins are of thought and word, of omission and commission. Jesus never had an evil thought, never spoke an evil word (not even when He was chastising the Pharisees for their blindness), never did anything wrong, and never failed to do the right thing. It’s a tough act to follow, but with the grace of God – which comes to us especially through frequent sacramental Confession and reception of Holy Communion – we can be built up “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:13)
The first half of the Confiteor ends with an admission of personal guilt for our sins. As we say these words, we strike our breast three times in a sign of penitence:
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
The repetition of this admission of guilt adds to its severity. We do not say “The devil made me do it, the devil made me do it, you can bet the devil made me do it,” but accuse only ourselves for our sins. We beat our breast with a closed fist, like the tax collector who prayed from his heart, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13) Concerning the gravity of these words and this gesture, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote:
We point not at someone else but at ourselves as the guilty party, [which] remains a meaningful gesture of prayer. … When we say mea culpa (through my fault), we turn, so to speak, to ourselves, to our own front door, and thus we are able rightly to ask forgiveness of God, the saints, and the people gathered around us, whom we have wronged. (The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 207)
Rev. Romano Guardini explained that the meaning of this gesture of contrition depends upon it being done properly:
To brush one’s clothes with the tips of one’s fingers is not to strike the breast. We should beat upon our breasts with our closed fists. … It is an honest blow, not an elegant gesture. To strike the breast is to beat against the gates of our inner world in order to shatter them. This is its significance. … “Repent, do penance.” It is the voice of God. Striking the breast is the visible sign that we hear that summons. … Let it wake us up, and make us see, and turn to God. (Sacred Signs)
The Douay Catechism (from 1649), a question-and-answer catechism on the doctrines of the Church, included a chapter expounding the essence and ceremonies of the Mass. It explains that the reason for striking the heart is “to teach the people to return into the heart” because it “signifies that all sin is from the heart, and ought to be discharged from the heart, with hearty sorrow.” (p. 125)
In the second half of the prayer, we invoke the communion of saints as we ask for the prayers of the whole Church:
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.
In Hebrews 11, we are given a tour of God’s Hall of Fame, a list of men and women who, by their faith in God, “received divine approval.” The list includes Abel, Noah, Abram, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, and Rahab. At the end of the list, we read:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2)
We learn something very encouraging from this passage: the saints in Heaven are witnesses to our lives on earth, witnesses who cheer us on and pray for us, that we might endure the trials of this life and join the saints in Heaven having won “the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him.” (Jas. 1:12) The prayers of the saints and angels in Heaven are of great worth to us, because the saints have been perfected and have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14) and the angels rejoice greatly when a sinner repents. (cf. Luke 15:7)
But we don’t only ask the Church Triumphant (in Heaven) for their prayers, we also ask one another for prayers. The next time you say these words at Mass, take a moment to look at the people around you: you are asking these people, sinners though they are, to pray to God for you, a sinner.
I would say that it is a personal admission of sinfulness and sins (venial and/or mortal) committed since your last Confession (and even since the last time you made any prayer of contrition).
It’s all of the above. Japhy gave a great post.
I think that what’s happening here is not so much a lack of understanding about “what” we think about in the Confiteor, but what the entire penitential rite of the Mass is about.
I think that perhaps you’re looking at this rite as a form of confession in one way or another. In other words, it’s not the conclusion which needs clarification, but the whole premise of what the rite is about. This isn’t necessarily a time for us to remember all the sins we’ve committed since our last confession, or since our last Mass–not in the same sense that we do in the sacrament of Confession (although doing so would not be wrong, by any means). Instead, it is a time for us to reflect upon the fact of our sinfulness, along with everything else that implies, not necessarily the individual/particular sins.
I think this misunderstanding stems from a common misconception that the penitential rite of Mass is a substitute for sacramental confession (at least if we’re talking only about venial sins). Even if one goes to sacramental confession immediately before Mass, we still need the penitential rite; because the rite is not in any way a substitute for Confession.
The purpose of the penitential rite is for us to reflect upon our own sins (not an examimation of conscience as such, but a reflection), to remind us that we have indeed sinned, that we need forgiveness, and that we must “prepare ourselves to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries” It is a preparation for the great miracle of the Eucharist which is about to happen before our very eyes.
Although we may use this time to mentally articulate every individual sin since ‘whenever’ that’s not what the rite itself is about. While we “may” there is no reason that we “must.”
Try thinking about the Confiteor less in terms of the Sacrament of Confession, and more in terms of preparation for the Eucharistic miracle–even though if we delve deeply into this, the two are one-and-the-same; but that similarity has to come later. First understand that it isn’t a form of confession, then take it from there.
Father David, can the Confiteor be skipped on Sundays?
Let me try my hand at this…
Ordinarily, the Mass must begin with a Penitential Act, of which the Confiteor is one option. However, the Penitential Act can be replaced by a sprinkling with holy water.
And sometimes the Introductory Rites are altogether different; for example, on Ash Wednesday, or when the Mass is preceded by another liturgy (like the Divine Office), or when there is a Baptism being celebrated.
That depends upon how you look at it. The penitential rite has several options, and the Confiteor is in one of those options. The penitential rite is also “omitted” (I don’t like the use of that word, I would rather say “not repeated”) if it’s incorporated into Baptism celebrated during Mass, or if the rite of sprinkling is done, or if the Liturgy of the Hours is celebrated immediately before Mass.
So, one answer is “yes.” It can be “skipped” but only in the sense that it is replaced by another form of the penitential rite.
The other answer is “no” there must still be some form of the penitential rite used at every Mass. To intentionally “skip” the Confiteor in the sense of completely omitting any form of the penitential rite is not permitted. To put that another way, we cannot say that on weekdays, we do the rite, but on Sundays it may be omitted.
PS I didn’t see Japhy’s response until after I posted mine. I left it there because it doesn’t hurt to have 2 concurring responses.
Thank you both for your replies. The specific incidence I’m referring to would then be not permitted. I"ve been to a regular Sunday Mass where no sprinkling of holy water, Baptism or confiteor occurred.