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source: Fr. Dan McLaughlin, OSA

Introductory Rites: The Penitential Act

by Jeremy Hiers, OSA

This post is part of a series called The Mass: An Augustinian Perspective offered on AugustinianSpirituality.org.

Our sinfulness stands in stark contrast to what we are about to participate in.  So, the priest invites us to “prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries” by turning back to God through a public confession of our sinfulness before almighty God and the congregation.[1]  Through the Penitential Act, we acknowledge our weakness, our inability to fully live as God calls us to, and our common need for God and for each other to sustain us on our pilgrimage.  

Saint Augustine says:

Driven out of paradise by you and exiled in a distant land, by myself I cannot return unless you come to meet me in my wandering. My return is based on hope in your mercy during all of my earthly life. My only hope, the only source of confidence, the only solid promise is your mercy.

Saint Augustine (Discourses on the Psalms 24, 5)

In the Mass the Lord in His mercy meets us where we are at. The Penitential Act invites us to prepare our hearts to accept that mercy. One of the primary options for the Penitential Act is the Confiteor, which goes as follows:

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.

The Confiteor highlights the fact that the Penitential Act is another opportunity for us to stand together in solidarity with one another as all who are present are invited to acknowledge we are all sinners in need of a merciful God.  Further, by praying for one another we are all called to help one another on our journey to God. The dual commandment to love God and love neighbor (Matthew 12:30-31) invites us to extend our own desire for forgiveness, peace, and hope to others as well.

Saint Augustine says:

Moreover, this is the rule of love: the good that we desire for ourselves we desire for our neighbor also; and the evil that we are unwilling to undergo we wish to prevent from happening to our neighbor. All who love God will have such a desire toward everybody.

Saint Augustine (True Religion, 87)

In the Kyrie (which follows most forms of the initial part of the penitential act), we entrust our own sufferings to the Lord with confidence in His ability to help us. As Edward Sri observes, it is not unlike the faith of the mother who cries out to Jesus to help her daughter (Matthew 15:22) or the father who desperately turns to Jesus on behalf of his son’s troubles (Matthew 17:15).[2]

Reflection Questions: Am I aware of my own sinfulness and need for God’s help, the help of the Angels and Saints, and the help of my Christian sisters and brothers?  Am I aware of my own responsibility to care for my human sisters and brothers who are with me?


[1] Edward Sri, A Biblical Walk Through the Mass (West Chester, PA:  Ascension Press, 2011), Kindle Loc 474.

[2] Ibid., Kindle Loc 620.

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