Striking one's Breast--part of the rubrics?

On occasion during the Mass I will see the laity strike their breasts during certain prayers (Lamb of God, the Our Father).

Is this permissible? Is it part of the rubrics of the Mass? If so, are all required to do this?

It’s a required gesture during the Confetior. I’m not sure about the other times. I was taught to do it during the consecration (at the ringing of the bells) and the Lord I am not Worthy prayer just before Communion.


Do you have a link or a reference that I could use?

I see lots of people strike their breast during the Lamb of God, I do it as well and we also make the sign of the cross at different times during the Mass. Which is what I was taught (Post Vatican II). Also, at some churches depending upon the priest we make the sign of the cross after the homily and some (many) do not. I think every church is different, although people here talk about the girm & rubics really there is no precise uniformity that the priests adhere to from what I have experienced. I’ve always lived in areas where there is an abundance of Catholic churches to go to-one of the neighborhoods I lived in had an Italian church and an Irish church right next to each other. I believe that we should have confidence that the Mass is being performed as it should be and people shouldn’t have to wonder if this is right or this is wrong. I’m not saying that I don’t question some things but really but just that is the way it should be. We seem to have the confidence in just about every other profession or professional that we need to perform some task i.e. CPA, Attorneys etc

The part about the confetior is in the missals at Church and in every missal I have ever seen. I can’t find the missal itself on line just this momoment.

The striking of the breast is called for in the rubrics for all. I believe in one of the Eucharistic prayers it is asked of the priest only. As far as making the sign of the cross before and after the homily, that is NOT in the rubrics. We have a priest who does it all the time, also crosses himself at the penitential rite (also not in the rubrics), and this is a very conservative priest. THe reasons the sign of the cross, pre-Vatican,was made before and after the sermon (they didn’t call it a homily) was because it wasn’t really part of the ritual of the Mass. It was sort of like exiting and re-entering the ritual. The sign of the cross at the penitential rite gives the impression that it is a sacramental absolution so should not be done. Also the rubrics do not all for beating of breasts during the Kyrie, Lamb of God, Lord I am not Worthy. But he does it. So it is not only the liberal priests who don’t follow the rubrics, but I don’t see the liturgy police clammoring to report him.

This would seem to be only a local custom as I’ve never seen it done outside of the Confetior in any mass here in Mexico or other parts of Latin America.

Same goes for people “going up for a blessing” which I never heard of until I listened to Catholic Answers Live with people asking about it.

There are two times that the striking of the breast is called for in the GIRM. At the “I confess” during the words “through my own fault” and in the first Eucharistic Prayer (Roman Canon) at the words “Though we are sinners”.

The rest is usually derived from older custom. In Masses according to the 1962 (and previous) liturgical books, striking the breast was prescribed

  • at the Confiteor (I confess)
  • Nobis quoque peccatoribus (To us sinners also) in the Roman Canon
  • at the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God)
  • at the Domine, non sum dignus (Lord, I am not worthy)

In the missals after 1970, the last two are not possible for the priest. Unlike in 1962 and earlier editions, the Agnus Dei accompanies the breaking of the Host (fraction) and the priest is holding the Host and paten/chalice when he recites Domine, non sum dignus.*

*introduced in mid-1967 for Masses with communicants

In addition, popular piety dictated certain other usages. One was, as has been noted previously, at the elevation. The elevation aspiration “My Lord and my God” was indulgenced and widely spead- however, the striking was never prescribed. It was probably due to the idea of the unworthy confession of faith by St. Thomas taken on by the congregants. Another pious usage, given the association of striking of breast with contrition, is to strike at at any declamation of “mercy” or unworthiness. That is why sometimes people strike their breasts at the Glory to God or other texts.

The Congregation of Divine Worship was queried on this point in 1978 and answered:

The special restraint of the reformed Roman Missal is also clear regarding the other texts mentioned, the Agnus Dei and Domine, non sum dignus, expressions of repentance and humility accompanying the breaking of the bread and the call of the faithful to communion.

As noted …when the rubrics of the Missal of Paul VI say nothing, it is not to be thereby inferred that the former rubrics must be followed. The reformed Missal does not supplement but supplants the former Missal. The old Missal at the Agnus Dei had the directive “striking his breast three times” and the same for the Domine, non sum dignus. But because the new Missal says nothing on this point there is no reason for requiring any gesture to be added to these invocations.

The crossing before and/or after the homily may be legitimately done, though it is not encouraged, according to the reply of the CDW in 1973.


Do you have documentation for this? I have never seen this instruction for the congregation. There are very few instructions for the congregation, perhaps because people are to be allowed some freedom in worship.

But we are instructed to worship as a community, which would indicate that we do as the majority does, rather than use individual expression at these times.


Sorry, I should clarify…the striking of the breast during the “I confess” is called for by all the congregants. During EP I (the Roman Canon), it is only called for by the priest celebrant/co-concelebrants.

For the Confiteor: “percutientes sibi pectus, dicunt: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa.” (Missale Romanum, Actus Paenitentialis, 4) That is, “striking their breast, they say: through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” It doesn’t say to strike once only, so it seems rational that the traditional practice of striking the breast three times be retained.

As for Eucharistic Prayer I (the Roman Canon), the GIRM directs: “At the words Nobis quoque peccatoribus (For ourselves, too) all the concelebrants strike their breast.” (GIRM 224)

Here is an excerpt from my upcoming book on the practice: 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:

**mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa. **
through my fault, through my fault, { Sir. 20:2b }
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 upon 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) Cardinal Ratzinger addressed the gravity of these words and this gesture:[INDENT]We point not at someone else but at ourselves as the guilty party, 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)
[RIGHT]Praying the Mass: The Prayers of the People, pp. 37-38[/RIGHT][/INDENT]As for the discontinued practice of striking the breast at the “Lord, I am not worthy…”:The older liturgical tradition of the Roman Rite includes a three-fold striking of the breast while this response was said three times. Although it is not presently prescribed in the Ordinary Form of the Mass, Pope Benedict, writing before his election to the papacy, considered that at this moment, “we look upon him who is the Shepherd and for us became the Lamb and, as Lamb, bore our iniquities” and that “it is only right and proper that we should strike our breasts and remind ourselves, even physically, that our iniquities lay on his shoulders, that ‘with his stripes we are healed.’” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 207) Rev. Romano Guardini also wrote of this gesture that, when done before Communion, “it is a summons to repentance and to the self-inflicted punishment of a contrite heart.” (Sacred Signs) This gesture may be done as a personal devotion, but it is possible that in the future this pious tradition will be universally re-incorporated into the liturgy.
[RIGHT]Praying the Mass: The Prayers of the People, p. 131[/RIGHT]

My PC switched off…these are found in the rubrics within the Order of the Mass itself although for concelebrants it is also mentioned in the GIRM (224)

The striking of the breast during the “My fault” is a required action of the congreagation.

But there are other gestures that intensify our prayer at Mass. During the Confiteor the action of striking our breasts at the words through my own fault can strengthen my awareness that my sin is my fault. In the Creed we are invited to bow at the words which commemorate the Incarnation: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man. This gesture signifies our profound respect and gratitude to Christ who, though God, did not hesitate to come among us as a human being, sharing our human condition in order to save us from sin and restore us to friendship with God. This gratitude is expressed with even greater solemnity on the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord and on Christmas when we genuflect at these words.

And from the 2002 Roman Missal itself:

Penitential Rite

P: My brothers and sisters, to prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries, let us call to mind our sins.

R: 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; (All strike their breast) 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
P: May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.

As far as striking the breast during the Eucharistic prayer, that is something that the priest and any concelebrants do, not the congregation.

The new Missal that the US Bishops approved has the same 3 breast strikes that the Latin text has ( at “my fault, my fauly, my grevious fault”. So the one single breast strike will change to same 3 that the rest of the Catholic world is doing.

And what we are supposed to do is to follow the Instructions given to us by Rome and the bishops, not simply do whatever the majority of the people present vote on.

I am not trying to be picky, but this instruction is not given in the GIRM, and I do not see it done by even 25 % of the congregation. This bulletin says can strengthen my awareness that my sin is my fault. It does not say it is required.


Lux, it’s not in the GIRM because it’s in the Ordo Missae ITSELF. It’s right smack in the middle of the actual text of the Penitential Rite.

The Missal ( often incorrect called the Sacramentary) has black and red texts. The black texts are what is supposed to be said, the red text describes what you are supposed to be doing at that time.

The ‘red text’ of the Missal describes what the congregation is supposed to be saying ( the “I confess to almighty God…” and the red text “strike breast” notes what they are supposed to be doing at that particular time.

In fact this has been the case since day one of the post Vatican II missal

Here is a bit from Notatie, it is in regards to the number of strikes (the Tridentine Missal had 3 strikes at that point)

Query: During the recitation of certain formularies, for example, the “Confiteor, Agnus Dei, Domine, non sum dignus,” the accompanying gestures on the part of both priest and people are not always the same: some strike their breast three times; others, once during such formularies. What is the lawful practice to be followed?

Reply: In this case it is helpful to recall:

  1. gestures and words usually complement each other;
  2. in this matter as in others the liturgical reform has sought authenticity and simplicity, in keeping with SC art. 34: “The rites should be marked by a noble simplicity.” Whereas in the Roman Missal promulgated by authority of the Council of Trent meticulous gestures usually accompanied the words, the rubrics of the Roman Missal as reformed by authority of Vatican Council II are marked by their restraint with regard to gestures. This being said: a. The words, “Through my own fault” in the “Confiteor” are annotated in the reformed Roman Missal with the rubric: “strike their breast” (“Ordo Missae” no. 3). In the former Missal at the same place the rubric read this way: “He strikes his breast three times.” Therefore, it seems that the breast is not to be struck three times by anyone in reciting the words, whether in Latin or another language, even if the tripled formulary is said (“mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa”). One striking of the breast is enough.

If 25% of the congregation are the only ones doing this, it simply means the remaining 75% either have a decent case of tendonitis or were badly instructed on what the Missal requires.

The Missal we are using is actually an old one. The Vatican released a new Ordo Missae in 2002 that had 3 breast strikes in the Penitential Rite Form A ( I confess…) those occur at the “my fault, my fault, my grevious fault”

So if you went to a Latin Ordinary Form Mass, you would strike your breast three times then.

Also when the new English Translation of the 2002 Ordo Missae is released, we will strike our breast three times then too.

That part of the Ordo Missae has already been approved by both the US Bishops and by Rome, :slight_smile:

Here is a Catholic News Agency ( the US bishops own news agency) has on online version of the Mass help guide produced by the US Bishops back in 2002.

Penitential Rite

(Priest) My brothers and sisters, to prepare ourselves to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries, let us call to mind our sins:

(Congregation) I confess to Almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters that I have sinned to do; and I ask the Blessed Mary, ever Virgin, all the angels and saints, and you here present, to pray for me to the Lord our God.

(Priest) May Almighty God have Mercy on us, forgive us our sins and bring us to everlasting life.
(Congregation) Amen.

For option (a), “I confess . . .”, all present strike the breast (Picture) with the palm of the hand once at "through my own fault" Options (a) and (b) are always followed by the Kyrie. For option ©, the deacon, a reader or the cantor or choir may lead the invocations which are praises of Jesus Christ, drawing on the rich variety of scriptural and doctrinal titles and themes. In this case the Kyrie is not said or sung after “May almighty God . . .”, because it has already been included after each of the invocations. The celebrant concludes the penitential rite saying, “May almighty God . . .”, with his hands joined and without making the sign of the cross.

1, it’s in the Roman Missal itself, and the GIRM does not cover the individual forms of the Penitential Act.

2, the people who don’t know about it should be taught about it.

I just looked up the new English Translation and the rubrics do not say how many times one strikes their breast duing “through my fault…” It just says to do it, like it does now.

Neither does the Latin. Theoretically, you could do it once, but since in the Latin it is “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa”, the striking is often thrice to accompany each declamation. The current English tranlation only say “through my oen fault” whereas the revised English version will contain the three-fold declamation. This may lead to people strikign their breasts thrice.

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