Every once in a while I get an email asking for the Act of Contrition in Latin.
I am not sure why one would want to say her Act of Contrition in Latin. It seems to me that the Act is better spoken in one’s own tongue or, if possible, in that of the confessor. Even when confessing in Latin, which I am comfortable doing when necessary, I have usually said my act of contrition in English or Italian unless the confessor was innocent of either.
The purpose of the Act of Contrition is to express not to yourself, but to the priest confessor both attrition (sorrow for sins because of fear of God’s displeasure – sufficient for absolution) and contrition (sorrow because of love of God) along with a firm purpose of amendment.
And, no, the use of the vernacular during Holy Mass is not analogous.
When you enter the confessional, you are entering a tribunal in which you are your own prosecutor. Some old confessionals (oh how I wish I had a photo of those I have seen!) even have something like “TRIBUNAL IUSTITIAE” over the door. In the confessional, you should be concise and clear and precise to convey everything that needs to be revealed in your self-accusation. If your goal is to express attrition/contrition and purpose of amendment to the confessor, then I wonder if Latin will best serve your purpose if you and the confessor are not truly well-versed. Maybe it will. In most occasions your mother tongue will be clearer.
Confession isn’t a game or an opportunity to impress the priest with how smart or pious or traditional you are. I bring this up not as a rebuke to anyone who with sincerity finds it useful to use a Latin Actus Doloris. I bring this up only as a prompt to examine carefully the real motive behind the desire to use Latin with a confessor who speaks your native tongue.
Moreover, there are various forms of an act of contrition or of sorrow.
In any event, here is an Act of Contrition from the official Ordo Paenitentiae published by the Holy See:
Deus meus, ex toto corde me paénitet ac dóleo de omnibus quae male egi et de bono quod omísi, quia peccándo offéndi te, summe bonum ac dignum qui super ómnia diligáris. Fírmiter propóno, adiuvánte grátia tua, me paeniténtiam ágere, de cétero non peccatúrum peccatíque occasiónes fugitúrum. Per mérita passiónis Salvatóris nostri Iesu Christi, Dómine, miserére. Amen.
And here’s another version, slightly more familiar to Anglophone penitents of a traditional bent. This is the Latin of the English form I use when making my own confession in English:
Deus meus, ex toto corde paénitet me ómnium meórum peccatórum, éaque detéstor, quia peccándo, non solum poenas a te iuste statútas proméritus sum, sed praesértim quia offéndi te, summum bonum, ac dignum qui super ómnia diligáris. Ideo fírmiter propóno, adiuvánte grátia tua, de cétero me non peccatúrum peccandíque occasiónes próximas fugitúrum. Amen.
Keep in mind that, in a pinch, a person can even say something as simple as “My Jesus, mercy” or “Lord, forgive me, a sinner.” The point is that the confessor at some point should be able to detect in you that you are sorry and that you intend in that moment to change your ways. Once he is convinced of your sincere sorrow – and the bar isn’t very high! – the confessor is not to delay absolution once you have confessed all your sins. This is why when the pentitent gets to the point in the traditional form, “and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell…”, some priests (I include myself) will start reciting the formula of absolution right away even before you are finished with the act. Why? The expression of attrition is sufficient and Father doesn’t have to wait to hear the rest. Father will then usually wait till you have finished the Act and then in a somewhat louder tone say the “meat”, the conclusion of the form, “et ego te absolvo“, etc.