Contrition and Penitential rite of the Mass
This is again the preparation regarding the commencement of the Mass by preparing ourselves to a fruitful participation in the Mass. Today’s topic is that of contrition and of course related to the Holy Liturgy of the Mass in which we want to meditate and make an effort to see with the grace of God the need of a good preparation before offering the sacrifice. The awareness of sin on the part of the priest and the faithful united with him is the main element that we need to consider. Firstly, the Mass is divided generally speaking into two parts:-cathequitical those readings preparing the cathecumens and the Mass of the faithful those who have been baptized. Saint Alphonsus Liguori makes a more detailed description and divides the Mass into six parts: -preparation for the sacrifice(foot at the altar).
• The Introit to the Credo inclusively.Cathecumens
• offertory and preface
• canon with the Pater Noster
• Deliver us Oh, Lord
Sixth and last part comprises under the form of thanksgiving for the rest of the Mass.
In the Liturgy of the Mass, the aspect of propitiation, contrition or impetration for our sins is recalled seven times-mainly in the first preparatory part for the sacrifice. The Ancient rite of the Mass starts with the prayers at the foot of the altar which begins the Mass with the priest orienting himself to the altar-the altar of his youth. The altar is of course the main focus of this preparation because we need to be cleansed in order to ascend to the “Holy of Holies”, the priest implores the help of God against the enemies who are laying snares for him, Immediately, there is a clear understanding that there are good and evil in this world. Since then the priest expressing the pain that he feels of seeing himself, as it were, rejected by the Lord, he begs him to assist him with his light, and to console him with the graces that he promised by leading him into his tabernacle. Finally, he reproaches himself for indulging in fear, for why should he be troubled when he has with him his God in whom he should confide? This example of the content of these prayers are a preparation of the unworthiness of our own sinfulness before the miracle that we are about to witness, No one who recites these prayers with a attention and devout mind can be overcome with pride since the whole preparation before ascending the steps of the altar (which symbolizes the ascendance to Mount Calvary, that is why is located always in a higher level), is the confession of our own sinfulness with a contrite and humble heart, the psalm makes reference to this journey that the faithful following the priest are about to undertake: “Our God will enable us to journey toward the heavenly Jerusalem in the vast mobile column of his Church, the true liturgical procession, uninterrupted processional march that takes the elect to him. That Holy mountain is in reference to the site of the Temple:”I will enter into the altar of God”. According to the letter to the Hebrews : “ For Jesus hath not entered into the holies made with hands, the patterns of the true: but into Heaven itself that he may appear now into the presence of God for us’. (Heb.9,24). The altar is essential for a sacrifice to take place. The priest kisses the altar several times, because the altar stone is a symbol of Christ it contains the relics of the saints whose blood was shed united with the Passion of Christ. The liturgy of heaven and earth are joined into one. What a mystery is the Holy Mass, if one were to really understand its effects and wonders who would even miss one day of attending Mass! Let us return back to this connection and representation of the earthly sanctuary and Heavenly one Mons. Klaus Gamber points out: “ The concept that the altar here on earth represents the real altar before God’s throne in Heaven, has always determined its position in our Churches and the position of the Priest standing before it : the angel with the golden censer as described in the book of the Apocalypse says: “ there was another angel that came and took his stand at the altar, with a censer of gold; and incense was given him in plenty, so that he could make an offering on the golden altar before the throne, out of the prayers said by all the saints”. (Apoc.8,3). The quotation from the Apocalypse tells us that an angel is standing before the golden altar in Heaven, holding in his hand a golden censer to offer incense together with the prayers of the faithful on earth before God himself. Clearly this notion of the angel with the golden censer standing before the altar is also based on the instructions that God gave to Moses (Exodus 30,1-8). All the details for the construction of the Temple and the design of the sanctuary itself came from the hands of God himself who dictated very minute and detailed planning for the building of the sanctuary. The Temple of Jerusalem, The Holy Mountain, the dwelling place of God on earth to such a mystery of grace and majesty also should be our internal preparation in all humility and contrition for our sins. During the offering at the Mass, the sacrament of the New Testament, the altar becomes the throne of God. Thus, St. John Chrysostom reminds his listeners: “think about who it is that enters here. Start trembling even before you see Him. Because everyone who beholds the (empty) throne of God, his heart is moved as he awaits the King’s entrance”. Ps. 62,3 “with such longing I see you in the sanctuary and behold your power and glory”. The words of the psalmist give us an insight into the state of the faithful in the Old Testament when they entered The Temple in Jerusalem. How much more do we should prepare in order to celebrate the Holy Mysteries with a spirit of contrition? I will confess against myself my injustice; I will confess to Thee, Oh Lord, my infirmity. If this life is so replete with temptations, pains and miseries. How shall I live, does the soul exclaim, and not sin? Yet how shall I sin and still live? (Imitation of Christ). But let us not grow weary of repressing, of fighting our sins we have the Holy Mass in which all of these sentiments are laid down on the altar, the Mass expiates sins, sins are remitted and graces of sanctification are spread throughout the world. Another element of contrition is the Confiteor: “ I will confess…” both priest and people at separated times recite the Confiteor. Firstly, the priest because he is the one who is offering the sacrifice, it is necessary for the priest to remind himself constantly of his sinfulness and his proclivity to evil so that he will be motivated to root the sin out of his life and also necessary for the priest to do this so that he recognizes his unworthiness to offer the sacrifice and the need to strive for holiness and purity in his life: “Wherefore St. John Chrysostom states: ‘ the consecrated priest ought to be as pure as If he were standing in the Heavens themselves.” For when thou seest the Lord sacrificed, and laid upon the altar, and the priest standing and praying over the victim and all the worshippers empurpled with that precious blood, can you think that thou art still amongst men and standing upon the earth? The confession of sins bowing and striking the breast three times. This gesture, is indicative of sorrow and is made in imitation of the Publican mentioned in the Gospel who struck the breast saying: “Oh, God, be merciful to me a sinner”. St. Luke 18,13. In the Old Testament, before the High Priest offered sacrifice he was directed to ‘ confess all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their offenses and sins”. (Leviticus 16,21). Throughout the Mass, the prayers remind us that we are sinners: In the first epistle of Saint John is very clear on this point :” If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”. If we confess ours sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse is from all iniquity. It is then in the mass at many different times that we are reminded that we are sinners in the different prayers that implore God’s grace and mercy towards us. One virtue that we must seek which is highly recommended is this interior contrition, meaning that by that not the enumeration of any specific number of sins but that habitual contrition which consists in having our sins always before us: ‘”My sin is always before me”(psalm 50,5). This continual regret for sins committed , this interior attitude in reaction to the state of being a sinner which is ours, obviously separates us from sin. (Dom Marmion). We need to imitate the publican and not the Pharisee, Abel and not Cain; pride is opposed to humility and consequently contrition for our sins, since the one who is proud deceives himself and finds no sin in his soul. God did not have regard for Cain’s offering. Do not think that is to humiliate us that the Church requires compunction from our part. No it is for our own sanctification and to advance in our spiritual life and true-self knowledge. God accepted the sacrifice of Abel as coming from a heart full of devotion, The first lings and fat, or at the very best; by which he testified , that he acknowledged Go for his first beginning. Sacrifice is due to God alone, for the love of God not our own selfishness interests not as Cain who sacrificed what was good for his commodity. The holy sacrifice of the Mass atones for sin and purifies souls. The prayers of the offertory show this clearly: “Receive, Oh Father Almighty eternal God, this spotless host…for my own countless sins, offenses and negligences…”
This desire for expiation and the remission of sins, the spotless lamb immolated because of our sins; The Savior and redeemer who redeemed us at the cost of His blood”. Try to unite yourselves to the spirit of contrition that we find in the Mass and try to acquire it. This will be for us a continual source of graces of propitiation and thus of supplication for asking God the forgiveness o our faults and the healing of our souls from all the evil tendencies in us and asking Him for the grace to be united to the Holy Trinity. Let us ask for the grace to have contrition to arise after we have fallen and speedily return to our Heavenly Father when we find we gone astray, let us find in the Mass the source of a spirit of compunction and humility much needed for our salvation.