Friday, 23 September 2011

The Confiteor


We all know the Confiteor, which we say during the Penitential Rite of the Mass, extremely well. I think that I possibly know the Confiteor a bit too well? I may at times rattle it off during Mass, without ever seriously considering the words that I am saying or understanding why I am saying them.

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, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault; 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.

By praying the Confiteor, I am listening to St James urging me to: “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another to be cured; the heartfelt prayer of someone upright works very powerfully.”[Sic][1]

The Confiteor reminds me that my sin is not only about my relationship with God. My sin may very well have an impact on my relationships with those with whom I share this world. I acknowledge this by praying the Confiteor and publicly confessing, not only to God, but also to my neighbour – “my brothers and sisters” – that I have sinned.

I acknowledge in the Confiteor that I have sinned through my thoughts, words, deeds, and through my omissions. It is generally easier to identify the sins that I commit by my words and my deeds. The sins of thoughts and particularly the sin of omissions can at times be deceiving and often need greater attention.

I know that I am capable of sinning without actually physically doing anything. I sin if I have feelings of hatred towards another person. I sin if I wish another person dead or some other harm. I sin if I judge others. I am sure we can all think of a list of sinful thoughts. I was however reminded, while writing this, of a sin which can be deceptive and sometimes escape my consideration. It is the sin of despair and discouragement.

'That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and what you are to wear. Surely, life is more than food, and the body more than clothing! Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet, your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they are? Can any of you, however much you worry, add one single cubit to your span of life? And why worry about clothing? Think of the flowers growing in the fields; they never have to work or spin; yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his royal robes was clothed like one of these. Now if that is how God clothes the wild flowers growing in the field which are there today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, will he not much more look after you, you who have so little faith? So do not worry; do not say, "What are we to eat? What are we to drink? What are we to wear?" It is the gentiles who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on God's saving justice, and all these other things will be given you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.'[2]

The sin of omission can be equally as harmful as the sin of commission.

Everyone who knows what is the right thing to do and does not do it commits a sin.[3]

This part of the Confiteor is excellent at reminding me that Christianity is not only about avoiding sinful words, deeds and desires. Christianity is also about imitating Christ. If I fail to do what Jesus would have done, then I have sinned. St Paul says:

As the chosen of God, then, the holy people whom he loves, you are to be clothed in heartfelt compassion, in generosity and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other if one of you has a complaint against another. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes, put on love, the perfect bond. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together in one body. Always be thankful.[4]

As our prayer nears the end, I express my sorrow “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault” three times. I have heard it said, why do this three times and why on earth bang on your chest while saying it. Well don’t bother is what I generally think to myself when I hear people with this complaint. 

For me, this is the point when I don’t just say sorry, like I would if I didn’t look where I was going and bumped into you in the passageway. I express my sorrow as I would if I felt really, really terrible about something I did to you. So I would probably say to you, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I really am so very sorry. I may even in anguish hold my head in my hands as I said sorry three times in horror at what I had done to you. This is what I am doing when I say “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault” while beating my chest.

The end of the Confiteor again serves as a reminder to me that I actually need my neighbour, not only in terms of temporal things, but for my spiritual well being as well. This is why I ask my neighbour to pray for me at the end of the prayer, instead of only asking Mary and the Saints to pray for me.

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