From Branching Out Blog, Renew International
“I have greatly sinned…through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault….” – Penitential Act, Form A
I was watching a football game and the quarterback threw a perfect end zone pass to a waiting receiver. The fans were on their feet, but the ball slipped out of the receiver’s hands. The repentant football player fell to his knees and beat his chest three times.
No words were necessary as the meaning of his gesture was clear to everyone in the stadium: Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Even I, a hard-nosed sports fan, felt my heart soften.
This gesture—striking the breast three times as a sign of repentance, accompanied by the words “through my fault”—has been reintroduced to the Confiteor (“I confess”) in the new edition of the Roman Missal.
The Confiteor is one form of the Penitential Act, a public communal acknowledgment of our sinfulness through word and gesture that prepares us to more humbly receive Christ in both word and sacrament.
However, its purpose is not to keep us bent over with heads bowed but rather to move us from beating our breasts to lifting up our hands and hearts in gratitude for the superlative nature of God’s mercy and forgiveness and, in turn, to become the mercy of God for others.