New words, same Mass: The Introductory Rites, part II

JosephChrismanBy Joseph Chrisman, Director for Worship - February 2011

Last month, we looked at the entrance antiphon, the procession, the sign of the cross, and the greeting. Following the greeting, we begin the penitential act. In both the current Sacramentary and the new translation of the Roman Missal there are three options: A, B, and C. In the new translation some of the words to options A and B have changed, but the words to option C are the same. The penitential act gives us the opportunity to reflect briefly on our lives, acknowledge the times that we have failed to live the Christian faith, and make a confession. In the penitential act we both ask for prayers and pray for one another. It is important to remember that the penitential act in Mass does not take the place of sacramental confession.

The most commonly known options of the penitential act are A and C. Option A is usually called “The Confiteor,” a name that comes from the first word in Latin, “Confíteor Deo….” There is a minor change to one part of this prayer. The current text says, “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words….” The new text says, “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….” The Confiteor is one of only three times in the liturgy that we use “I.” This is a personal acknowledgement. I confess to my own sinfulness, I need forgiveness and I am asking for the prayers and support of the angels, saints and the community.

The words of Option B have undergone almost a complete retranslation. The priest will say, “Have mercy on us, O Lord,” and we will respond, “For we have sinned against you.” Then the priest will say, “Show us, O Lord, your mercy,” and we respond, “And grant us your salvation.” The first phrase comes from Baruch 3:2 and the second part comes from Psalm 85:5. 

Option C is a litany of sorts consisting of tropes or an invocation followed by “Lord, have mercy” or “Christ, have mercy.” The priest, deacon, or other minister leads this option either by reciting or singing. The tropes have been retranslated, but Roman Missal still allows the minister to adapt and create new tropes according to the celebration. 

The prayer of absolution, which concludes the penitential act, was retranslated. However, at the last minute the Holy See changed the prayer back to its current form: “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.”

The “Kýrie, eléison” or “Lord, have mercy” follows options A and B, but not option C. The Kyrie is the only remnant of Greek still present in our liturgy. Yes, “Kýrie, eléison” is Greek, not Latin. Greek fell out of use in the West (Europe) during the early Middle Ages, but it reappeared during the 7th and 8th centuries due to a large influx of Greek-speaking refugees fleeing the Moslem conquest of the eastern Roman Empire.
Next month, in part III of The Introductory Rites we will look at a very ancient hymn, the Gloria.