Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Extraordinary Form: The Confiteor

After expressing our hope in the Lord to forgive and restore us, the priest begins the Confiteor, or public confession of sin. Why do we do this still at the foot of the altar? In saying this confession, there is a reminder that we are entering Sacred Ground to offer sacrifice for our sins. One should never approach such a duty on a whim. Rather, we need to be fully conscious of our sins.

What makes this different from your standard confessions is the audience. The priest confesses his sins before the entire heavenly host. He states:

I confess to Almighty God, to the blessed Mary ever Virgin, blessed Michael the Archangel, blessed John the Baptist, the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, to all the Saints, and to you, brethren [when the servers recite it back, father is used] that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed, [here the priest strikes his breast three times] through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault

Sadly, most of these invocations have been removed in the liturgical reform. (An option remains to include the Blessed Virgin.) Why do we mention these individuals by name? Put simply, outside of God, they should be amongst the most important individuals in our lives. I would like to talk briefly about them.

With Mary and John the Baptist, we have the premier witnesses of covenants. Christ stated that in his time, there was no man born of a woman greater than John the Baptist. (Matthew 11:11, Luke 7:28) He was the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, and was Christ’s herald. Through John the world learned the identity of Christ.

For the New Covenant, we mention God’s greatest creation in the Virgin Mary. Before the world was created, God had decreed that she would be the mother of God incarnate. Because of this role, she was preserved from the stain of sin during her conception. When she gave birth, her virginity remained, even during the moment of birth. She is the greatest advocate of the Church, her children. She demonstrated the way to fulfill the way of the Cross par excellence, for she remained at the foot of the Cross even until the end.

With St. Michael, we acknowledge his role as guardian of all Christians. The book of Daniel speaks at length of how St. Michael the Archangel is the one who defends the people of God. In the Apocalypse of St. John, it is St. Michael who wages war against the devil and casts him out of heaven. Yet he does nothing by his own power. Faced with the Devil, he only declared “The Lord rebuke you!”

Finally, we implore the intercession in particular of Sts. Peter and Paul. We implore their intercession because they were, in their particular ways, the two chiefs of the Apostles. St. Peter was the rock on which the Church was built, and St. Paul was the greatest of her early teachers and evangelists. Most importantly, they were the founders of the Church of Rome. The Gradual and Offertory for their feast day refers to them as ”principes super omnem terram”, princes over all the earth. If we belong to the Roman Rite, we belong to the specific Church they founded. If anything is to be done in our Church, it should be done in accordance with how they willed it.

Now there will be some who would get the false impression that by “confessing” our sins before these individuals, it is they who forgive sins alongside the Father. This however is a clear misunderstanding. For right after their witness is requested, the following appears:

Therefore I beseech blessed Mary ever Virgin, blessed Michael the Archangel, blessed John the Baptist, the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and you brethren [or father] to pray for me to the Lord our God.

We see clearly from this text it is God who forgives our sins. We are simply asking that these chief witnesses of the Catholic Faith pray to God alongside us, interceding for us daily for that forgiveness granted by God. We ask John the Baptist to pray to the Lord he declared before the world for us, and remind us always of that confession of faith he made. We ask the Blessed amongst Women to pray for us with her powerful intercession before her Son, and most importantly that we always remember her command “do whatever he tells you.” We implore Saint Michael for his intercession and also to be led in God’s army by him as we ourselves wage in our own spiritual combat with the forces of darkness, as we wage against sin. We ask for Sts. Peter and Paul because of their special connection to us as Catholics of the Roman Rite, and that we not dishonor that Church they founded.

Let us never fail to seek the intercession of these most powerful witnesses of our faith.


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