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Through my most grevious fault: Changes to the penitential act

November 4, 2011
It’s been about two years now that we Vatican observers have been covering the new translation of the Roman Missal. It was in April of 2010 that I had a chance to talk to Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa when he was in Rome for one of the final meetings of Vox Clara (the commission entrusted with the carrying out and implementing the new translation).
When asked why the Church needs a new English translation, his answer was simple. He explained that we are bringing our Mass back to the scriptures. The prayers we pray and responses we make during the Mass have a scriptural basis, but to hear them today you’d never be able to make the connection. Thus, we are strengthening the link between the two and, in the process, gaining depth and richness upon which to meditate. His explanation and examples managed to assuage the skepticism of even the most skeptical journalist present at that conversation.
Having been convinced of the good intentions of the new translation, my next question was very practical: what exactly is going to change? In brief, if you have ever had the opportunity to attend Mass in another language, you may notice that the new responses are closer to what is already being said in other languages. Here are a few specifics:
The Penitential Act
As I mentioned in my previous post, I was awestruck the first time I heard an Italian congregation recite the “Confiteor”, which in Italian includes the line “per mia colpa, mia colpa, mia grandissima colpa”. This is accompanied by the striking of one’s chest three times as that line is recited. In English, we will be adding the equivalent of that line to our Confiteor. The new Penitential Act is as follows:
I confess to almighty God and to you , my brothers and sisters, that I 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 asked blessed Mary, ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and you my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.
Essentially, we are now reciting an additional line. You might notice parishioners of a certain age or cultural background (i.e. Southern European) will instinctively raise their right hand to their chest and tap their chest three times as they say that new line. The action is a sign of remorse for the sins we confess in the prayer. It was always expected that the faithful would make this sign, but it seems to have been forgotten along the way. Now with the new line added, we will go back to making this outward sign of remorse.
For more about why we strike our chest during the Confiteor, read Fr. Geoff Kerslake’s reflection on the Archdiocese of Ottawa website, "Why the changes to the penitential act?"
Credit: CNS Photo / Archbishop Terrence Prendergast
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