Growing up as a Catholic and being an altar server prior to changes of Vatican II, I learned my prayers in Latin. One of those prayers was the Confiteor. Within that prayer are these words: “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” When I prayed these words I was attesting to my own sinfulness. It seems that today most people would rather hide or ignore their sins rather than admit to them. Why are we so unwilling to admit our faults? Perhaps we need to add these words back into our daily prayer routine.
Today, at least in the United States, the Confiteor is prayed in English and it is part of what is known as the Penitential Rite which is said at the beginning of mass. Now I realize that a large percentage of my readers are not Catholic, but please stick with me because this message pertains to all Christians.
Mea culpa means “through my fault.” Said by itself, it is an apology or a statement of remorse. With these words we are stating “I am guilty.” The word “maxima” adds additional emphasis. With this word, we acknowledge that our sins are a grievous offense against God.
Also contained in this prayer are these words: “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. I think we can all agree that these words sum up the human condition. Sin is a reality and it permeates life.
Simply stated, sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience, and it is a failure to love God and to love our neighbor. Sin wounds mankind and separates us from God and from each other. Sin is the “love of oneself” rather than the “love of God.” Sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, through whom we receive our salvation.
As Christians, we know that the world is full of evil, and it has been since the fall of man. Sin is everywhere; it surrounds us. Sin divides man from God. It impacts our relationship with God. Sin works to deteriorate and disrupt all human relationships. Sin even causes fractures within each one of us.
The London Times once posed this question to the great philosophers of the day: “What is wrong with the world?” This is the response they received from G. K. Chesterton:
Chesterton was spot on with his answer. We are sinners and our fellow Christians are sinners as well. God created each of us, and from the time of our birth we are inextricably drawn back to Him. But like a mouse drawn to cheese there are dangerous traps set all along our path. Sin works to ensnare us and prevent us from reaching a glorious eternity in the presence of almighty God.
We must seek God’s grace and strength in the battle against sin. The Penitential Prayer concludes with these words: “therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.” In other words we are summoning the help of all of the heavenly hosts as well as the help of all other Christians through this prayer.
My friends like it or not, we are all flawed people. St. Paul tells us that we are all sinners. Too often, not only are we unwilling to admit our faults but we are also slow to forgive and to pray for others who have also fallen short and sinned.
This week, here in the United States, we will celebrate Thanksgiving Day. We have so many things to be thankful for. Knowing that we are guilty of having sinned against God and each other, perhaps there is nothing more important to be thankful for than for God’s forgiveness and mercy and His gift of eternal life.
During our prayers on Thanksgiving Day, let’s summon the courage to admit our weaknesses and struggles. We need to discard our masks of perfection. We need to take an honest look at ourselves and cry out “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” Then together, in unison, as the entire body of Christ we can pray to God for His mercy and forgiveness both for ourselves and all of our brothers and sisters.
Dear God, I am sorry for all of my sins, I detest them because I know they offend you. Lord I firmly resolve with the help of your grace to avoid the nearest occasion of sin, amen.
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