Elsewhere I answered a question about the new, corrected ICEL version of the Confiteor. I said I would post something more about the Confiteor. Liberals will hate this new version, by the way. We have already seen that (here).
Here is something I wrote for my weekly column in the UK’s best Catholic weekly, The Catholic Herald.
And With Your Spirit
by Fr John Zuhlsdorf
The first major change people will notice in the new, corrected English translation for Holy Mass will be, as we saw last week, the response “And with your spirit”. After that, in many places – depending on the penitential rite option chosen by the priest – the next major change will be to the Confiteor (“I confess”). I suspect younger priests will more and more choose this option.
Our English word “confess” comes from the Classical Latin confiteor, confessus, “to acknowledge, confess, own, avow (an error, mistake, or a fact previously denied or doubted, etc., implying a sacrifice of will or a change of conviction”. In ancient Christian Latin, a confessio was the witness, unto death, made by a martyr. Confiteor was used for recognition of the greatness of God, and then later recognition of one’s faults. When we speak of a Confiteor now, we mean the public declaration, together with others, of our own fallen sinful state at the beginning of Mass.
In Matthew 18 Our Lord urges us to make peace with each other before coming to the altar of sacrifice. In Luke 18 He tells the parable of the tax collector who beat his breast in the temple, calling himself a sinner. When we enter the holy precincts of a church for the sacred action of Mass, we should have a healthy sense of our unworthiness which leads to outward expressions in our worship or sorrow and thanksgiving.
That said, try reading this aloud.
THE NEW CORRECTED TRANSLATION:
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, [And, striking their breast, they say:] through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault; [Then they continue:] 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.
Note the changes. We will now admit in English, as Catholics have done together for centuries in Latin, that we have not merely sinned, we have “greatly sinned”. The strong, uncommon word “grievous”, echoing pre-Conciliar hand missal translations, emphasizes that even a lesser sin is a true offense against God’s love.
The most dramatic difference in the new, corrected translation will be the reintroduction of the provocative three-fold mea culpa. And we are to strike our breast. Please do strike your breast!
In 5th century North Africa, the great Doctor of Grace St. Augustine of Hippo (d. 430) observed in a sermon (s. 67.1) how the people automatically beat their breast whenever they heard the word confiteor. In another place he said they struck themselves so forcefully that the sound resounded in the church. The 20th century writer of the Liturgical Movement, Romano Guardini (d. 1968) wrote in his 1955 work Sacred Signs:
“To brush one’s clothes with the tips of one’s fingers is not to strike the breast. We should beat upon our breasts with our closed fists. … It is an honest blow, not an elegant gesture. To strike the breast is to beat against the gates of our inner world in order to shatter them. This is its significance. … ‘Repent, do penance.’ It is the voice of God. Striking the breast is the visible sign that we hear that summons. … Let it wake us up, and make us see, and turn to God”.
The future Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Spirit of the Liturgy (p. 207): “We point not at someone else but at ourselves as the guilty party, [which] remains a meaningful gesture of prayer. … When we say mea culpa (through my fault), we turn, so to speak, to ourselves, to our own front door, and thus we are able rightly to ask forgiveness of God, the saints, and the people gathered around us, whom we have wronged.”
We oh-so-modern Catholics will benefit from clear talk about sin and the physical action of beating our breast to counteract the “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” rubbish so prevalent today. We need Mass precisely because we are not “okay”. Sinners need a Saviour. A realistic recognition of who we are and who we are not is a necessary starting point for all worthy prayer and liturgical worship.
The revised, corrected translation of the Confiteor will have a greater impact on us as we begin to pray at Mass. It will remind us more forcefully that we should be in the state of grace before receiving Holy Communion. The improved translation will, over time, repair a sense of continuity with our forebears as well as strengthen our need for a regular examination of conscience, frequent sacramental confession, and deeper gratitude during Mass.