From a reader:
For those of us who attend the Tridintine form of the Holy Mass, we see the servers striking their breasts at several points in the liturgy.
In the Novus Ordo, where are appropriate points for the servers (or faithful) to do the same? In the upcoming revised translation, we have the restored “mea culpa” in the Gloria, but anywhere else? The recitation of “Lord have mercy,” or, “have mercy on us,” comes to my mind.
My bearded-Spock side suggests that during the Novus Ordo – especially considering how it is often celebrated – the faithful should be striking their breasts constantly.
That said, I think there is only one point at what the faithful are directed to strike their breasts: during the Confiteor in the penitential rite at the beginning of Mass. 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.
But in the Novus Ordo, there are various options for the penitential rite. I’m afraid that this isn’t always used.
That rubric about continuing, by the way, suggests to me that the people should strike thrice, and not just once. Could one surmise that perhaps a good point at which to strike the breast might be the word “fault”? Perhaps? Three times? I digress.
I suspect the servers, during the Novus Ordo, are imitating the priest who must also strike his breast at a point during the Roman Canon (1st Eucharistic Prayer). Also, many priests have integrated from the older, traditional form of the Roman Rite, striking their breasts during the Agnus Dei and perhaps also the Domine non sun dignus, just before their own Communion.
St. Augustine said that at the mention of words such as “mercy” or “confess… confiteor“ his flock would beat their breasts so hard that the sound rumbled in the church. 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 Savior.
A realistic recognition of who we are and who we are not is a necessary starting point for all worthy prayer and liturgical worship.