Last week, we started to look at the postures and gestures that we engage in during Mass. Each is intended to help us direct our minds and hearts more intently towards what we are celebrating.
Many of these postures and gestures are outlined in the liturgical books in what are called the rubrics. The rubrics give the instructions on what is to be done during the liturgical celebration, and are printed in red text. Some of the rubrics are directions for the priest, while others give directions for the assembly and other ministers to follow.
One such rubric of a gesture is given in the Confiteor (I confess to Almighty God…). Before we say “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault”, the rubrics state “And, striking their breast, they say”.
Some people can remember the celebration of the Mass before the reforms of Vatican II, and remember the priest and people striking their breast three times as they said “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa”. Noting the new translation’s close match to the Latin text, some have made comments like “the chest beating has been brought back.”
In fact, if you look closely at the former English translation of the Confiteor, the striking of the breast was never removed from the Mass – at least not according to the Missal itself. The former translation reduced the acknowledgement of fault to the single phrase “through my own fault”, at which point the priest and people were to strike their breast once.
As such, it was never envisaged that the gesture of striking the breast during the Confiteor would be stopped. It did, however, obviously fall into disuse, probably for a variety of reasons. The revision of the Missal, however, gives us an opportunity to focus again on the liturgical texts, what they call us to say and do, and how they invite us into full, conscious and active participation.