The Confiteor (so named from its first word in Latin) is a general confession of sin recited at the beginning of Mass of the Roman Rite in the Roman Catholic Church. It is also said in the Lutheran Church at the beginning of their Divine Service. It is started by the Priest and ended by the people.
While the original Eastern liturgies begin with a confession of sin made by the celebrant, the earliest records of the Roman Rite all describe the Mass as beginning at the Introit, but the celebrant may have used a Confiteor-like confession of sinfulness as one of the private prayers he said in the sacristy before he began Mass. Only in the tenth or eleventh century is there any evidence of the preparation being made at the altar.
Outside of Mass some prayers similar to the Confiteor appear earlier. The "Canonical Rule" of Chrodegang of Metz (d. 743) recommends: "First of all prostrate yourself humbly in the sight of God ... and pray Blessed Mary with the holy Apostles and Martyrs and Confessors to pray to the Lord for you." And Egbert of York (d. 766) gives a short form that is the germ of our present prayer: "Say to him to whom you wish to confess your sins: through my fault that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed." In answer the confessor says almost exactly the Misereatur.
The Confiteor is first found quoted as part of the introduction of the Mass in Bernold of Constance (d. 1100) in the form: "Confiteor Deo omnipotenti, istis Sanctis et omnibus Sanctis et tibi frater, quia peccavi in cogitatione, in locutione, in opere, in pollutione mentis et corporis. Ideo precor te, ora pro me." The Misereatur and Indulgentiam follow, the former slightly different, but the latter exactly as it was in the 1962 Missal. The 1962 form of the Confiteor is found in the fourteenth-century "Ordo Romanus XIV" with only a slight modification: "Quia peccavi nimis cogitatione, delectatione, consensu, verbo et opere", and is found word for word in a decree of the Third Council of Ravenna (1314). However, the form, and especially the list of saints invoked, varied considerably in the Middle Ages. In many Missals it is shorter: "Confiteor Deo, beatae Mariæ, omnibus sanctis et vobis". In the Missal of Paul III (1534-1549) it is: "Confiteor Deo omnipotenti, B. Mariæ semper Virgini, B. Petro et omnibus Sanctis et vobis Fratres, quia peccavi, meâ culpâ: precor vos orare pro me". The form chosen for the Tridentine Missal of Pope Pius V (1570) was the only used in the Roman Rite until 1969, with the exceptions of the Carthusian, Carmelite, and Dominican Offices, whose Missals, having been proved to have existed for more than 200 years, were still allowed. These three forms were quite short, and contained only one "meâ culpâ"; the Dominicans invoked, besides the Blessed Virgin, St. Dominic. Moreover, some other orders had the privilege of adding the name of their founder after that of St. Paul (the Franciscans for instance), and the local patron was inserted at the same place in a few local uses.
Usage in Catholicisim
The present form is as follows:
The form in the 1962 Roman Missal (in Latin) is longer and is said twice, first by the priest in the following form, then by the altar server, who replaced the words "et vobis, fratres", "et vos, fratres" (and you, brethren) with "et tibi, pater" and "et te, pater" (and you, Father).
There were also variations of this text. For instance, the Friars Minor Capuchin, who used the Roman Rite, inserted in the Confiteor the name of their founder, St. Francis, and many Benedictine houses added the name of their founder, St. Benedict.
Occasions of recitation
Until 1969, therefore, the Confiteor was spoken (not sung) twice, once by the priest and once by the server(s) or by the deacon and subdeacon, at the beginning of Mass, after the recitation of Psalm 42/43. Until 1962 it was also said, once only (not by the priest), before Communion was distributed to the faithful. This last custom was abolished by Pope John XXIII, but the Confiteor continued to be said as part of the rite of giving Communion to the faithful, if this occurred outside of Mass. In many areas, even today, this custom is retained.
The Roman Ritual also required recitation of the Confiteor before administration of Extreme Unction and the imparting of the Apostolic Blessing to a dying person. The Ritual's prescription that a penitent should begin their confession by reciting at least the opening words of the Confiteor was not generally observed.
The Caeremoniale Episcoporum of the time also laid down that, when a bishop sings high Mass, the deacon should sing the Confiteor after the sermon and before the bishop granted an indulgence. This custom, the only occasion on which the Confiteor was to be sung, rather than recited, had fallen into disuse even before the twentieth century.
In the Roman Missal as revised in 1969 the Confiteor is said only once, by priest, ministers and people jointly, at the beginning of Mass. It may be replaced by one or other of two other forms of introductory penitential rite.
The other liturgical books mentioned (the Roman Ritual, the Caeremoniale Episcoporum and the Liturgy of the Hours) no longer require recitation of this particular prayer.
Accompanying prayers and gestures
Editions of the Roman Missal issued before 1970 prescribed that, at the words "mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa", those reciting the Confiteor should strike their breast three times. This prescription, but without specifying the number of times, has been preserved in later editions. This gesture of sorrow for sin can be found in Scripture, as for instance inand .
The 1962 edition prescribes that someone else say a prayer for the person who had recited the Confiteor. Thus, when the priest has ended his recitation of the Confiteor at the beginning of Mass, the server(s) prays: "Misereátur tui omnípotens Deus, et dimíssis peccátis tuis, perdúcat te ad vitam ætérnam" (May Almighty God have mercy upon you, and your sins having been forgiven, may He bring you to eternal life).And the priest responds: "Amen." And when the server(s) recites their Confiteor, the priest said the same prayer (with "you" plural, not "you" singular), and the server(s) answers: "Amen." In the later editions, this prayer is said by the priest alone, replacing "you" and "your" with "us" and "our". The 1973 ICEL translation is "May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life."
The later editions of the Roman Missal have omitted the additional prayer of absolution that was said by the priest alone: "Indulgéntiam, absolutiónem, et remissiónem peccatórum nostrórum tríbuat nobis omnípotens et miséricors Dóminus" (May the Almighty and merciful God grant us pardon, absolution, and remission of our sins). The server(s) or deacon and subdeacon responded to this also with "Amen."
Usage in Lutheranism
Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of your Holy Name. Amen.
In popular culture
- Almost at the end of the song It's a Sin by Pet Shop Boys, lead singer Neil Tennant recites a part of the Confiteor.
- This is the prayer recited in evening prayer scene of the film Gone with the Wind.
- In the movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the monks sing the "confiteor" during the song "Hellfire".