The Confiteor can either be recited twice or once.
When the Confiteor is recited twice, the first time is by a priest (within Mass) or person of highest dignity (in the Divine Office). The second time is by those standing or kneeling around. At Mass the confession is usually made by the deacon and subdeacon, or, if they are absent, by the server on behalf of the people. In a ‘Dialogue Mass’ the confession could also be said by the people together with the server.
Each Confiteor is followed by the Misereatur, directed to the one(s) confessing. At the end of the second Misereatur, the Indulgentiam is said by the priest (or person of highest dignity) and directed to all, himself included.
The double Confiteor is used:
-At the beginning of the Mass. Exceptions were introduced and enumerated in the 1962 editions of the liturgical books: when a ceremony such as the blessing of candles (for the Purification), the blessing of ashes (Ash Wednesday), the litanies and Procession (on Rogation days), when a major liturgical action precedes the Mass (such the ceremonies of Holy Saturday). The 1965 Ritus Servandus (Rites to be observed in the celebration of the Mass) extends the omission of the Confiteor to whenever a liturgical action precedes the Mass
- In communal recitation of the Divine Office, provided that there was at least one member of the clergy present. It arose as a monastic custom, and thus was recited at Prime (morning prayer) and Compline (night prayer) which were of monastic origin.
-At Prime, the Confiteor occurs within a set of prayers known as the preces, which are omitted on certain days. Consequently on those days, the Confiteor is also omitted.
When the Confiteor is recited once, the absolution is usually offered by a priest and directed to those confessing. Single recitation occurs:
-Before the reception of Holy Communion during Mass. This was omitted in 1962
-Before the reception of Holy Communion outside Mass
-Before the administration of Extreme Unction or the giving of the Apostolic blessing to the dying. It could be made either by the sick person, or in his name, and be said in the vernacular.
-At the publication of solemn indulgences by the bishop: the Confiteor is then sung solemnly by the deacon before the modified absolution is given
-During communal recitation of the Divine Office in which no priest is present, or during private recitation. In this case, however, the absolution is also said by all. In private recitation, the references “you, Father” or “you brethren” are omitted and all references have “us” and “our” instead of “you” and “your”
In the modern Roman rite, the Confiteor is always recited once, even at Mass. Other forms of the Penitential Rite may replace the Confiteor. The absolution almost always makes use of “us” rather than “you”. The Confiteor may be used:
-At the beginning of Mass.
-At Compline, in the Liturgy of the Hours (Prime having been abolished)
-In the Rite of Communion in the absence of a priest and the distribution of Holy Communion outside Mass
-In the Anointing of the Sick
The basic rite of the Confiteor, whenever said, entailed a posture of humility such as bowing and/or kneeling, with contrition being expressed by the striking of the breast with the right hand each time “mea culpa” was said. There are numerous biblical references for these gestures of contrition: they are found in the parable told by Jesus of the Pharisee and tax collector (publican): “And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven; but struck his breast, saying: O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” (Luke 18:13, DR)
Mass and Holy Communion:
Within the traditional Roman liturgy, at the beginning of the Mass, the priest and sacred ministers (i.e. deacon and subdeacon) and/or servers faced the altar to recite the confession. In certain monastic liturgies, it was more common for the ministers to stand on opposite sides before the altar, turned inwards, facing each other.
A profound bow was made by the celebrating priest during the entire Confiteor and the Misereatur. If a prelate (e.g. a bishop) was present he turned and bowed when addressing him in the Confiteor. The same posture was observed by the deacon and subdeacon at a High Mass, who also turned toward the priest when addressing him (“tibi Pater” or “te Pater”). The server at a Low Mass or Sung Mass, knelt and bowed before the steps of the altar when reciting the Confiteor. A sign of the cross was made by all at the Indulgentiam
A similar procedure was followed for the Confiteor before communion. The server knelt at the ‘Epistle’ side, and said the confession. At a High Mass, the Confession was sung by the deacon, who stood, bowing, at the highest step of the altar on the ‘Epistle’ side facing the subdeacon who stood similarly at the ‘Gospel’ side. In contrast to the beginning of the Mass, the priest faced the people when saying the Misereatur and the Indulgentiam and made the sign of the cross over them.
This rite was the also observed when Holy Communion was distributed outside the Mass rather than within the celebration.
The Divine Office:
Within the Divine Office either a profound bow or kneeling was required when reciting the Confiteor.
Publication of indulgences:
For the publication of indulgences the deacon would sing the Confiteor before the throne of the bishop, bowing slightly in front of him. When addressing the bishop (“tibi Pater” or “te Pater”), he made either a profound bow from the waist, if he was a canon, or a genuflection, if he was not. The bishop then stood and said the absolution with his head uncovered. The mitre was resumed to give the benediction.
If the Confiteor was recited by someone else in the name of the sick person when the sacrament of Extreme Unction was administered, or for the Apostolic blessing for the dying, it was recited kneeling, observing the triple striking of the breast. The absolution was given by the priest, standing.
The modern Roman liturgy:
In the modern Roman liturgy, the Confiteor is recited standing by the priest and people. The rubrics of the Roman Missal prescribe that the breast should be struck at the words “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa”. A response of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments indicated that, unlike in former times, this does not have to be done thrice. In certain places, it is customary to make the sign of the cross at the Misereatur but this gesture is not prescribed by the rubrics.
No posture is mandated for recitation within the Liturgy of the Hours at Compline or at the Anointing of the Sick. The striking of the breast is however, observed.
First published in October, 2007
Dedication of a Grammar Book - Rev. John B. Tabb (1845-1909), *Bone Rules; or, Skeleton of English Grammar* (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1901):
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