A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
Efficacy of the Penitential Rite
ROME, 28 JUNE 2005 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: What is the efficacy of the penitential rite in the Mass as far as the forgiveness of sins are concerned? One prominent priest in our area advanced the reason for the reduction in Catholics going to confession is because of the penitential rite. — J.W., Buffalo, New York
A: This subject is clearly addressed in No. 51 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal:
"Then the priest invites those present to take part in the Act of Penitence, which, after a brief pause for silence, the entire community carries out through a formula of general confession. The rite concludes with the priest's absolution, which, however, lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance."
Thus it is clear that the absolution formula that concludes the act of penance is not sacramental absolution and in no way dispenses from the obligation of confessing grave sins before receiving Communion.
Only recently have some people purported the theory that this rite absolves sins and could substitute confession. It is certainly possible that such a defective catechesis regarding the sacramental nature of this rite could contribute to a falling away from the sacrament of reconciliation.
However, I do not believe that the fault can be laid at the door of the rite itself. Some form of general admission of sin and unworthiness has formed part of the Mass since earliest times. It has always been seen as a positive element of confession, petition of forgiveness, and interior purification before entering into the celebration of the sacred mysteries.
The non-absolutory nature of the penitential rite does not mean that venial sins are not forgiven during this rite; they are also forgiven by receiving Communion and by the other intercessory prayers of Mass.
This forgiveness is due to the general reparatory nature of all positive acts of prayer, sacrifice, devotion and worship which in some way create a positive counterbalance to those common sins, defects and imperfections which plague our daily lives.
Since participation in Mass is infinitely the greatest form of reparatory and intercessory prayer that a human being can undertake, it is clear that his or her venial sins are likewise forgiven during Mass.
This is not true of mortal sins because the state of grace is necessary in order to receive Communion and fully benefit from the other blessings of the Mass. These sins ordinarily require sacramental confession and absolution to be forgiven.
Moreover, even a person in a state of mortal sin is not deprived of all graces while attending Mass.
Such a person may still, for example, receive the grace of being moved by God's Word, by the homily, or by one of the prayers and hence gain a deeper knowledge of the state of his soul, of God's great mercy, and thus find courage to seek forgiveness. ZE05062820
* * *
Follow-up: Penitential Rite [07-12-2005]
There were some related questions to our piece on the penitential rite (June 28) which I would like to tackle here.
A Maryland reader asked: "In one parish the Mass started with the opening blessing and then to the prayer. There was no penitential rite. ... Later, I was told the penitential rite at that parish is silent, but there was no pause between the opening blessing and the prayer. Is it OK to have a silent penitential rite at the Mass?"
Another reader, from Pennsylvania, inquired: "Instead of using one of the options for the penitential rite in the Roman Missal, our pastor makes up his own words, usually about the Gospel or feast day. When we are supposed to be 'calling to mind our sins,' our pastor has us reflecting on the Gospel message, the saint of the day, etc. I approached our pastor about this and he said, 'We have options and I am using options.'"
To repeat the norms of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 51, quoted last time:
"Then the priest invites those present to take part in the Act of Penitence, which, after a brief pause for silence, the entire community carries out through a formula of general confession. The rite concludes with the priest's absolution, which, however, lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance.
"On Sundays, especially in the Season of Easter, in place of the customary Act of Penitence, from time to time the blessing and sprinkling of water to recall Baptism may take place."
In addition, GIRM No. 31 states: "It is also up to the priest, in the exercise of his office of presiding over the gathered assembly, to offer certain explanations that are foreseen in the rite itself. Where it is indicated in the rubrics, the celebrant is permitted to adapt them somewhat in order that they respond to the understanding of those participating. However, he should always take care to keep to the sense of the text given in the Missal and to express them succinctly. The presiding priest is also to direct the word of God and to impart the final blessing. In addition, he may give the faithful a very brief introduction to the Mass of the day (after the initial Greeting and before the Act of Penitence), to the Liturgy of the Word (before the readings), and to the Eucharistic Prayer (before the Preface), though never during the Eucharistic Prayer itself; he may also make concluding comments to the entire sacred action before the dismissal."
The rubrics proper to this rite state: "After the introduction to the day's Mass, the priest invites the people to recall their sins and to repent of them in silence. He may use these or similar words."
Although this last point is still a valid option, it is not clear if it will remain in the new English missal currently in translation as the Latin missal does not foresee the possibility of personal composition of the introduction to the rite of penitence.
Thus, there are several elements that can be seen.
First, silence certainly has a role in the rite of penitence. But nothing in the norms could indicate that the rite may be substituted by a period of silence while leaving aside any introduction, general public manifestation of penitence, and absolution.
On some occasions, for example when the Mass is joined to another rite such as the celebration of a sacrament or the Divine Office, the rubrics foresee the possible omission of the rite of penitence. This is not, however, the case indicated above.
With respect to the second case, the priest appears to be confusing the possibility of giving a brief introduction to the Mass of the day with the option of using "similar words" to introduce the rite of penitence.
He is perfectly free to do both, of course, but should maintain the distinction between both elements. As the above text of GIRM 31 says, in using alternative formulas, the priest "should always take care to keep to the sense of the text given in the Missal and to express them succinctly." ZE05071222
This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
© Innovative Media, Inc.
ZENIT International News Agency
Via della Stazione di Ottavia, 95
00165 Rome, Italy
To subscribe http://www.zenit.org/english/subscribe.html
or email: firstname.lastname@example.org with SUBSCRIBE in the "subject" field