If his followers questioned the extent of God’s mercy, Jesus dispels all their doubts with the parables in the Gospel (longer form) for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time. A woman tears her house apart looking for one coin; a shepherd leaves 99 sheep to look for one that has strayed and a father welcomes back a son who had left home on a sour note. In all three stories great rejoicing accompanies the return of what had been lost. “In just the same way,” Jesus tells his listeners, “there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Like Jesus’ audience we receive hope by these stories, for everyone, in one way or another has been “lost” through committing sin. Jesus assures us that his Father is ever-forgiving. We are also reassured each time we celebrate Mass. The introductory rites include a penitential rite during which we remember that we are not perfect and ask for God’s forgiveness.
This rite has three forms, the oldest being the “Confiteor” (“We confess to almighty God that we have sinned….). This prayer first began in the sixth century as the celebrant’s private prayer of unworthiness said in the sacristy while he prepared to say Mass or while he proceeded down the aisle during the entrance procession. This prayer would also have obeyed Christ’s admonition to reconcile with others before anyone offered sacrifice to God. Eventually the Confiteor was included in the prayers at the beginning of Mass. It was recited by the priest and repeated by the servers before he went up to the altar. The same prayer was also said by the servers before the people were invited to receive Communion. When the liturgy was reformed in the 1970’s a penitential rite was included in the newly-formed introductory or gathering rites at the beginning of Mass. The Confiteor was retained as one of three options, its purpose changed to be a general confession expressed by everyone.
The priest invites the assembly to recall their need for God’s forgiveness. A brief period of silence is provided so that each person can humbly recognize the need of God’s mercy and grace to change. Together all, priest, servers and people, pray aloud the Confiteor.
“My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn” (Psalm 51), we pray in this Sunday’s responsorial psalm. Each time we gather for Mass we pray for such a heart, knowing that we are always in need of conversion, trusting that God will forgive us and believing that God will help us change.
Johnston is the former director of worship at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Manitowoc.