Saturday, 6 August 2011

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

At the start of Night Prayer, the rubric says that "here an examination of conscience is commended. In a common celebration this may be inserted in a penitential act using the formulas given in the Missal". A few days ago, I thought it might be a good idea to start using the new English translation of the "I confess" at this point.

In the "previous" translation, the phrase "mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa" does not really exist - it is conflated into an earlier phrase and appears only as "... I have sinned through my own fault". The principle behind this, I guess, was that of removing unnecessary repetition, though it probably was not even a particularly good implementation of that principle.

In the new translation, it appears accompanied by the rubric "striking their breast, they say" as:
through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault
The effect of this when it is prayed within the context of Night Prayer, and immediately following an examination of conscience, is interesting. It expresses, and therefore at the same time communicates to the person praying it, a real sense of the wrongness of what they have just considered in their examination of conscience. That has been my own experience, at any rate.

For many people, this enhanced awareness of a sense of sin will be a pastoral advantage of the new translation when compared to the previous translation and has the potential to provide a positive impetus towards conversion of life. However, particularly in a situation where someone repeatedly commits a sin which is addictive in nature, or where someone's life situation means that they suffer for reasons that are not their own fault, it might lead to an exaggeration in the sense of sin, a sense of "guilt" in the unhealthy meaning of that word.

What one hopes, from a pastoral point of view, is that a greater awareness of the reality of sin will also mean that there is a greater awareness of just how great is God's mercy. In catechesis, one can point out that "mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa" is followed by the prayer of the priest which asks for God's mercy, His forgiveness of our sins and that He will lead us to eternal life. The reality of sin is more than matched by the reality of Divine Mercy.

In this context, Fr Boyle's remarks about the prayer of commendation after absolution seem very helpful. This is a prayer that could also be used as part of catechesis about the penitential rite.

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