During the Penitential Rite of the Mass, the Confiteor is our personal acknowledgment of sin
Depending on what time I wake up to go to work, I listen to the beginning of the EWTN Daily Catholic Mass on my local Catholic radio station. A key part that I always attempt to hear before I leave the car is the Confiteor.
The Confiteor, Latin for “I confess” is a general public acknowledgment of sin (venial or mortal) to some degree the faithful have committed.
According to the Roman Missal, the official book that contains the outline for the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, the celebrant has different options for the Penitential Rite of the Mass.
The Confiteor is said by everyone and sounds like this:
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,
(strike breast three times during the following two lines)
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.
I honestly miss this part of the Penitential Rite. Sometimes the priest will say a different penitential prayer but there’s something about the Confiteor that makes me long to hear it.
A great thing about this public acknowledgment of sin is it makes our offenses against God very personal.
Uttering the “my” stresses the significance of the personal relationship between God and man.
When we all strike our breast three times, it emphasizes the shame and disobedience we give in to by failing to be obedient to God.
As Jesus asked Peter three times “Do you love me? (John 21:15–17, RSVCE)” Something troubled Peter the third time he asked. It’s clear that it was his rejection of Jesus three times that he remembered.
Similarly, when we express the nature of our sin, the third time inserts an adjective “grievous” to highlight the severity of pain and the grave nature of our sin against God.
God won’t take our excuses. He holds us individually accountable for the acts of disobedience and unloving attitudes we embrace.
As we keep in mind our personal accountability to God, we should always keep in mind St. John’s word, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8).”
As a result, us facing the truth of where we missed the mark in our quest to be more holy is fitting.
Damage to the Body
Something else that’s really important about this collective acknowledgment is that we all hold each other accountable in the Body of Christ.
The Confiteor is a huge rallying cry that says “Hey if you sin then you jeopardize sickening the entire system.”
St. Paul makes this point when he says that we’re all many members but one body (1 Corinthians 12:12–27).
If one person has sinned, this can impact the whole Body of Christ, so it’s appropriate that we confront our sin. By coming together at Mass, we’re all united in one accord..
Influence of the Saints
The Saints are those believers that demonstrated love by their lives and are true friends of God in heaven. Because they managed to embrace the fullness of purity in heart, we can appeal to these believers for their intercession just as we would earthly believers.
We can have assurance in their power because they conveyed righteousness and St. James told us that prayers from the righteous are efficacious (James 5:18).
By invoking Mary, the angels, and the Saints, we’re asking them to grant a prayer request on our behalf.
A Saintly Example
It’s not what you know, but who you know that matters. We, the faithful, are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses in the New Covenant of Faith Hall of Fame.
Just as the Old Testament Hall of Fame (Hebrews 11) gave us many examples of saints to look to as guides for faith in the Old Covenant, the saints that witnessed for Jesus Christ give us a guide of how to have our lives radically transformed by him.
With this transformation comes the fulfillment to live out what St. Paul said: “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20).”
By rejecting sin and continually embracing the goal for holiness, the Confiteor reorients our desire to love God.
Next time at Mass, think of the importance of these words in a not so careless robotic fashion but to steer our hearts toward greater obedience.