18/9/11 – “And, striking their breast, they say”

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.

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.

13/3/11 – What Happens at Mass, Part IV (The Confiteor)

During the course of this year, we will gradually begin to use the texts of the revised translation of the Roman Missal.  This is not just a time when we need to learn new words, but will hopefully be an opportunity to come to a deeper understanding of the Mass.

During Lent, we make a habit of praying the Confiteor during the Act of Penitence (or what we knew previously as the Penitential Rite).  It is the first of three options, and is always followed by the Kyrie Eleison (Lord, have mercy).  As the new translation of the missal will be introduced later in the year, this will be the final Lenten season where will we pray the Confiteor as we know it now.

While we will keep praying the text we know at Mass for the time being, below are the words for the new translation of the Confiteor. Perhaps you might like to think about and reflect upon the words of this new translation during your own personal prayer this Lenten season as we prepare to introduce it at Mass in the months to come.  We will take a closer look at the text over the coming weeks.

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,
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
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.

Source: Order of Mass at www.romanmissalaustralia.org.au