Friday, February 11, 2005

Liturgical Footnote #5
By Fr. J.C. Garrett

After the opening Sign of the Cross, and the Greeting, the next part of the Mass is the Penitential Rite. Some people often wonder why we have such a “down note” at the beginning of Mass, after all Mass is suppose to be a joyful expression of thanksgiving. But why do we have such joyful thanksgiving? Certainly it is because of the redemption and salvation won for us by the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the intention of the Penitential Rite is show our need to break away from sin so to be ready to enter into the real action of the Mass.

The priest introduces the rite by inviting all present to recall their sins, and reminding them of God’s loving mercy. This is followed by a short period of silence so that all present, priest and people, can recall their sins and ask the Lord for forgiveness. Note well that the priest is not merely leading the people in the Penitential Rite; he is participating in it himself. No one is fit to stand before the Lord in righteousness, for all have sinned. Yet Christ Jesus redeems all. In the old Mass this was shown by the priest turning to face the people and confessing his sinfulness first, then the people would respond by confessing their sinfulness. In the New Mass priest and people confess their sinfulness together.

The Penitential Rite has four forms. The most common is the Confiteor (Latin for the first two words, “I confess”). We actually use a shorten form of an ancient prayer in which we confess not only to God but to each other and the angels and saints so that we can all pray for each other. When we get to the words, “through my fault” we should gently strike our breast. The second form is not used often, not for any particular reason, and is very short, being composed of two invocations with a response. The other very common one is also an ancient liturgical form, and combines the Penitential Rite with the Kyrie, and is a troped Kyrie, using the invocations, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.” Each verse (“tropes”), which introduces the invocation, expresses faith in Jesus, our appreciation of His work of salvation, and our confidence in being forgiven. Some of the most beautiful pieces of Western music are various Chant forms of the Kyrie, and the preference is still for this to be sung, although it can be recited. Strictly speaking the Kyrie is a separate part of the Opening Rites of Mass, thus it is not omitted when one of the other forms of the Penitential rites, which does not incorporate it, is used. The Kyrie, being Greek, unites us with the Greek foundation of our faith, after all the New Testament was first written in Greek.

The fourth option for the Penitential Rite is the Asperges, or Sprinkling Rite. This is most commonly only used during the Easter season, although it can be used during Ordinary Time as well. We are only baptized once, but the Church wants us to be regularly reminded of our baptismal promises to turn away from sin and to be faithful to the Gospel. That is why we use Holy Water so often, to remind us of our baptism, when we first were freed from sin, and became children of God. During the Sprinkling Rite it is appropriate for an appropriate chant to be sung as the priest sprinkles the congregation with Holy Water.

The Penitential Rite concludes with the priest reciting a prayer of absolution. This absolution does NOT have the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance as it only absolves venial sins. Even though many people do so, you should not make the Sign of the Cross as the priest says this prayer of absolution.

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