Are My Sins Really My Own Grevious Fault?

That’s the question many Catholics are asking as they settle into their “new” Mass:

Less than a week into Advent, there are many comments being made about the new English translation of the Mass.  Many negative comments center around the new language in the Confiteor:  “I confess … that I have greatly sinned … through my most grievous fault.”  Here are two recent negative reactions:

  • In another pew, fellow parishioner Mary Bucher was offended at the insertion of “I have sinned greatly” into the Introductory Rite. “I don’t go around sinning greatly,” she said. “I am not going to say this.”
  • I refuse to say how I have sinned so “grievously” (maybe this is appropriate for many priests to say) because it is not true.

Here is a positive reaction from the same web site:

  • Moreover, we have all “greatly sinned”. Living in a affluent country like the US, I know that my sins of omission in particular are staggering!

There are two things to consider here: the Mass and the sins.

The Novus Ordo Missae (NOM), as is the case with any Roman Catholic Mass, was first promulgated in Latin and then translated into the various vernacular languages, as was the allowance of Vatican II.  The English translation of this used from the beginning of the NOM until the beginning of this past Advent was as follows (leaving out the rubrics):

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,
in what I have done,
and in what I have failed to do;…

The wording now is as follows:

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;…

So have we changed the Mass?  Well, not really, but for me it took a trip abroad to find that out.

In 1976 I visited the UK and went to Mass at Westminster Cathedral.  There I picked up a little “Latin Mass Booklet” (for some reason these were dreadfully hard to find in the US, or Texas at least.)  It featured the Latin NOM (not the old “Tridentine” Mass) on one side of the page and the English (literally) translation on the other.  They actually celebrated the NOM in Latin on a regular basis, something else that had dissappeared from these shores.

The Latin, from which the rest are supposed to be faithful renditions, goes like this:

Confiteor Deo omnipotenti et vobis, fratres,
quia peccavi nimis
cognitatione, verbo, opere et omissione:
mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

In addition to being more compact, the Latin features the famous formula “mea culpa,” well familiar to traditional Catholics and even some of the rest of us.  (One colleague at the state university I teach at messed up a broadcast email, so I suggested that she, a serious Catholic, should put out a “mea culpa,” which became the subject line of the next email)!  But the newer translation more accurately reflects the reality of the Latin original than the one in use for many years.

As far as the sins are concerned, the Roman Catholic Church’s (the Jesuits of Pascal’s days notwithstanding) emphasis on the seriousness of our sins is well founded, and anyone with a Biblical understanding of the subject should know this.   Even some whose Biblical understanding falls short know this too.  In the same 1970’s when the “old” NOM translation was current in Catholic Churches, Jimmy Buffett, wasting away in Margaritaville, knew all too well whose fault it was.  His lyrics, although liturgically inappropriate, were in their own way closer to the NOM Latin original than what was recited every Sunday.

For all have sinned, and all fall short of God’s glorious ideal, But, in his loving-kindness, are being freely pronounced righteous through the deliverance found in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23, 24).

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