[Beginning with the First Sunday of Advent (Nov. 27, 2012, a new translation of the Roman Missal will be used in the USA and other English speaking countries. Here are some reflections of mine about this wonderful prayer from the Penitential Rite at the beginning of Mass.]
I confess to almighty God
We prepare ourselves to listen to God’s Word and to celebrate and share the Eucharist by calling to mind our sins and remembering God’s mercy and forgiveness. Part of the nature of sin is to hide itself. Through the years I have had two or three dozen people or more tell me that they have no sins. What foolishness! In praying this prayer with our minds and hearts — thoughts and feelings — we are more open and receptive to God’s Word, God’s grace, and the gift of Jesus in the sacrament of his Body and Blood.
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
We are reminded that our sins are not just something between us and God. Our sinfulness affects those around us — families, friends, and fellow parishioners. I have often heard alcoholics and other drug addicts say, “I am only hurting myself.” “What nonsense!” family members and friends would say to the one in the throes of addiction. Our absence from weekly attendance Sunday Mass not only affects our relationship with God, but those in our parish community. Our absence may lead one or more to stop coming. If we were in church on a particular Sunday and open to God’s grace, the Holy Spirit may have used us to help another person.
that I have greatly sinned
Years ago Catholics seemed to stress the distinction between greater sin — mortal — and lesser sin — venial. Today, not only do we have a tendency to overlook our sins, but we seem to minimize them as well. A lie is a lie no matter what color. And those “little sins” will add up and weigh us down over time. Jesus once declared, “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” Here Jesus uses exaggeration to make a point. Sin IS like a virus or cancer that will take over if we let it. Remember, too, that Jesus didn’t suffer and die just for big sins, but so that all sins might be forgiven.
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done
and in what I have failed to do,
Alas! There are so many different ways that we can sin — words, actions, and even thoughts! This prayer reminds us that we not only have sins of commission that we did. But there are also sins of omission wherein we can sin by NOT doing something. Consider the priest and Levite in the parable of the Prodigal Son or the ones on the left in the Parable of the Last Judgment. “I was hungry and you gave me know food, thirsty and you gave me no drink…” Sometimes sins of omission are the most serious.
through my fault,
through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
We live in a nation of victims. We blame our parents, our teachers, our siblings, our friends, our bosses, coworkers, politicians, etc., etc. One of the great truths in the creation story of Adam and Eve is that people have been blaming others for their own choices from the very beginning. Adam was not entrapped; neither are we. What it seems to me is that I’ll convince myself that the sinful choice I am about to make is not really a sin for this, that, or the other reason. The grace of God cannot work in our lives until we accept our sinfulness and turn to God for help. Striking ourselves above our hearts is a physical reminder that we are responsible for our sins.
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.
Isn’t it good to remember and know that we not in this alone. The Letter to the Hebrews has this wonderful image of the saints in heaven cheering us on in our Christian journey through life in this world. We ask Mary and the other saints to pray for us just as we ask those in church to pray for us.