Almost every Mass begins with some kind of penitential rite, except during the Easter season, when instead the priest may sprinkle the people with holy water. Still, most of the time the Mass starts with some kind of acknowledgement of sin and our dependence on God’s mercy. It often is in the form of a litany, which is a repeated chant or saying.
“Brothers and sisters, let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.”
The priest says these words right after the greeting, which gathers the faithful into the community of worship. They contain sentiments both of humility and of confidence. The humility comes from the way the Church assumes that we all have committed sins, a fairly somber acknowledgement of the human condition. Our modern aversion to feelings of shame often makes us reluctant to avow our sins. We think of them as innocent errors or psychological traits that have become part of us, things we cannot do anything about.
It is, then, a favor to us modern people to have the reality of our lives laid out before us. Do we think that God loves us less because of our sin? One of the essential things we need to know about the God of Jesus is God’s love, even in the face of our sins. For we can conquer our sins only through the love God gives us in Jesus. God conquers them in us through grace.
The confidence of the Penitential Act comes in the little word so. We acknowledge our sins in order to celebrate the sacred mysteries. By recognizing our sins in God’s grace, we have done the first radical need for healing. If we say so readily what we need, will we not more fully celebrate the sacred mysteries, the sacrament of Jesus’ death and resurrection? A clearer vision of our heart allows for a clearer vision of the way God is.
How often do you examine your conscience to review your failings and sins before God?
Go to church a little early next Sunday and perform some personal ritual that expresses sorrow of your sins, as a way of preparing yourself for the penitential rite during Mass. For example: kneel before the Blessed Sacrament in quiet, light a votive candle with an extra prayer, or slowly recite one of the psalms of repentance, like Psalm 51.
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…”
(From the formula of general confession, The Confiteor, at the start of Mass.”