20/3/11 – What Happens At Mass, Part V (The Confiteor)

The introduction of the new translation of the Roman Missal is not just a chance to learn new words, but will hopefully be an opportunity to come to a deeper understanding of the Mass.

Last week, we published the revised translation of the Confiteor (I confess to almighty God…).  Some people I have spoken to in the past week have said “it’s more like what it used to be”, and that is true.  You may recall that there was an interim English translation issued after the Second Vatican Council, before the current missal was completed.  If you do, you might notice some similarities between that original 1960’s translation, and the one we will receive later this year.

One of the most obvious changes to the Confiteor is the return of the phrase, “…through my fault, though my fault, through my most grievous fault…”.  Not only has this phrase returned, but the instruction for all to strike their breast while saying it has also been retained.

The return of this phrase is one example of how the desire for a closer translation of the Latin text has been achieved.  The Latin text includes the phrase “…mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.”  Many English words have Latin origins, and you can see this in the English word “culpable”, meaning “deserving blame”, and in the correlation between “maxima”, “maximum” and “most”.  The current missal, which was translated according to principles that did not require word-for-word specificity, did not contain this phrase.

Some people will (at least at first thought) consider such a phrase, with a concentrated focus on our faults, excessive.  Such repetition, however, is common in liturgy to direct our thought and attention.  Think, for example, about the Lord, Have Mercy, the Lamb of God, and about how many times the priest sings “This is the wood of the cross…” on Good Friday and “Christ, our light” at the Easter Vigil.  Perhaps a helpful scriptural image is that from the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:9-14: “But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

The Penitential Act is not a time to be excessively wracked with guilt, but to acknowledge both the weaknesses that have long marked our human existence, and the loving mercy of God who is always willing to forgive.

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