The Penitential Rite

The Penitential Rite

In looking at the changes to the English translation of the Penitential Rite, this piece will concentrate on the Confiteor, where three significant changes can be found. Previously we began with; ‘I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words…’ whereas now we have the edition of ‘I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words…’ The addition of the adjective greatly, is at first glance, not a major change but it is worth briefly reflecting on what is being drawn out here. Many of our sins we, quite naturally, think trivial. We may think of them as ‘private’ sins because we cannot see how they could harm another, albeit whilst offending God. However, whilst we should not blow matters out of all proportion, it is worth considering that no sin is ‘private’. All sins do injury, not just to ourselves, but to the body to which we belong; the Body of Christ – the Church. When we sin we have to recognise that in some way we do injury to this Body and to its members and this is the very point of our public recitation of the Confiteor; we publically announce that we recognise the injury done and that we seek forgiveness from God and from each other. The words ‘greatly sinned’ help us to remember that no sin affects us alone.

This goes for our second addition, the threefold repetition of; ‘through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault’. The repetition here is not just for dramatic effect, though no one could argue that it fails to get the message home. However, by its threefold nature it reminds us of the three persons of the blessed Trinity against whom we have sinned. When we sin, we sin against the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and when we say these words we publically acknowledge that fact and that we seek the mercy and help of the Triune God whom we seek to draw closer to.

Lastly, we find that as we once proclaimed ‘and I ask Blessed Mary…’ we now say: therefore I ask Blessed Mary…’ It looks a very minor change, hair-splitting some might say, but again there is real depth of meaning here. We sin and we pray to Our Lady or we sin and therefore pray to Our Lady? The latter option certainly brings out the need we have of our most powerful intercessor. We don’t sin and pray, we pray because we have sinned. We turn therefore to Our Lady and all the Saints to plead on our behalf, to heal the gulf that sin opens in our lives and we recognise the vital place which the prayers of Our Lady and the Communion of Saints have in helping us to heal that gulf. Again, we recognise that our sins are not ‘private’ but also that we are not alone on the journey toward the Kingdom of God.

Graham Hunt OP