Through a series of informational articles, we will try to explain terms, prayers, and actions that happen at Mass and why they happen. You will learn about the prayers the priest prays silently during Mass, as well as the people’s parts. References to GIRM in italics refer to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the book from which rites related to the Mass are codified. We hope this information will help to make your participation in Mass more meaningful and understandable.
GIRM 51. After this, the Priest calls upon the whole community to take part in the Penitential Act, which, after a brief pause for silence, it does by means of a formula of general confession. The rite concludes with the Priest’s absolution, which, however, lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance. From time to time on Sundays, especially in Easter Time, instead of the customary Penitential Act, the blessing and sprinkling of water may take place as a reminder of Baptism.
Penitential Rite/Sprinkling Rite
During the Penitential Rite, we seek forgiveness for our sins. Jesus said if you are at odds you’re your brothers, “leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt. 5:24). If the Sprinkling Rite is used, generally during the Easter season, it is done to remind us of our Baptismal vows.
We are asked to call to mind our sins. All of us have sinned and fallen short of what the Lord has asked of us. We take part in this Act of Penitence, not out of guilt, but out of the loving mercy of the Lord. We can call to mind our sins because we are confident in His love and mercy. After a short period of silence to call to mind our sins, one of three forms of this rite takes place:
• FORM A of the act of penitence is to recite the Confiteor, or the “I confess” prayer. This is a very traditional prayer of expressing sorrow for our sins, not just in action, but in thought, word, and in failing to act. We then in turn ask God, His Saints, and our brothers and sisters for mercy and forgiveness.
• FORM B is called the penitential verses, and comes from the prophet Baruch and Psalm 85. It is very rarely used.
• FORM C uses a series of invocations calling us to remember the mercy of the Lord, to which we acclaim “Lord, have mercy” or “Christ, have mercy.” When form A of the act of penitence is used, we will also acclaim the “Lord, have mercy” responses, but without the invocations.
At the end of the act of penitence, the priest says, “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.” People respond, “Amen.” This prayer, called the absolution prayer, does not take the place of sacramental confession for mortal sins.
GIRM 52. After the Penitential Act, the Kyrie, eleison (Lord, have mercy), is always begun, unless it has already been part of the Penitential Act. Since it is a chant by which the faithful acclaim the Lord and implore his mercy, it is usually executed by everyone, that is to say, with the people and the choir or cantor taking part in it.