Saturday, July 24, 2010

Confiteor, Misereatur and Indulgentiam

"I confess to Almighty God..." – comforting words indeed, because He Who hears them, having Himself turned the speaker's heart to true penitence, is merciful and gracious.

Since I attend the Traditional Mass when I can, as well as the modern Mass when I must, and moreover use the Day Hours according to the Dominican Breviary as my private devotion, I know and use three different forms of the Confiteor.  This has occasioned strange mix-ups when I've been serving Mass!

I wish to focus here, in the spirit of Anglicanorum cœtibus, on some Anglican versions of the Confiteor and its appended prayers the Misereatur and Indulgentiam (or as the Dominican version begins, the Absolutionem).

The most telling difference between the Roman and the Anglican versions of the Confiteor is that the latter, for the usual reasons, shy away from direct invocation of the saints.  That said, the earliest versions of the Confiteor, while all beginning with the one praying confessing before or rather to Almighty God and to (or, one may say, in "the sight of" or rather "before") His saints that he has sinned, do not go on invoke those saints: the Dominican Confiteor only does so when recited by one alone –

Confiteor Deo omnipotenti, et beatæ Mariæ semper Virgini, et beato Dominico Patri nostro, et omnibus Sanctis: quia peccavi nimis cogitatione, locutione, opere et omissione, mea culpa: precor beatam Mariam semper Virginem, et beatum Dominicum Patrem nostrum, et omnes Sanctos orare pro me.
(I confess to God almighty, and to blessed Mary ever Virgin, and to blessed Dominic our Father, and to all the Saints: for I have sinned exceedingly by thought, speech, deed and omission, through my fault: I pray blessed Mary ever Virgin, and blessed Dominic our Father, and all the Saints to pray for me.)

In order to rather subtly put this, some Anglican versions of the Confiteor say "I confess to Almighty God, before the whole company of heaven..." – just as St Paul adjured Timothy: "I charge thee before God, and Christ Jesus, and the elect angels..." (I, v, 21).  As the Apostle reminded us, the saints shall judge the world (as Our Lord Himself told us – St Matthew xix, 28), and indeed it were better we be judged before the saints (I Cor. vi, 1-2): those already living and reigning with God are witnesses of His mighty acts, most particularly His loving grant of forgiveness to the repentant.

There are mediæval versions of the Confiteor that instead have a Trinitarian cast: Confiteor tibi, Domine, Pater cœli et terræ, tibique benignissime Jesu una cum Spiritu Sancto, coram sanctis angelis... and Confiteor Deo omnipotenti Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto et omnibus angelis... – by a parallel or like develpment, some other Anglican versions of the Confiteor preferred to address the confession direct to the Three Persons.

What to do about the second half of the Confiteor, praying saints to intercede for us?  This being a later development, not found in full in earlier versions such as the Dominican or the Sarum, it were easy to regress and omit it: instead, the Misereatur could be made, not a response, but a continuation of the prayer.  The Indulgentiam would then be for the priest presiding to pronounce as a fitting conclusion – not a sacramental absolution, of course, but a fervent prayer for mercy made by one of Christ's own ministers.

I am very familiar with the longer Dominican form of the Misereatur, which one reads in the first person singular when praying Prime and Compline alone:

Misereatur mei omnipotens Deus, et dimittat mihi omnia peccata mea: liberet me ab omni malo, salvet et confirmet in omni opere bono, et perducat me ad vitam æternam.  Amen.
(May Almighty God have mercy upon me, and remit unto me all my sins: may he deliver me from all evil, save and confirm me in every good work, and lead me unto life eternal.  Amen.)

The Roman Misereatur is shorter than this, in almost inverse proportion to its longer Confiteor.  There is likewise evidence that the Indulgentiam in some mediæval forms is longer, and indeed contains much of what is now present in the conclusion of the set prayer that is the Formula of Intention before Mass, in the words:

Gaudium cum pace, emendationem vitæ, spatium veræ pænitentiæ, gratiam et consolationem Sancti Spiritus, perseverantiam in bonis operibus, tribuat nobis omnipotens et misericors Dominus.  Amen.

(May the almighty and merciful Lord God grant unto us all joy and peace, amendment of our lives, time for true penance, the grace and the comfort of the Holy Ghost, and perseverance in every good work. Amen.)

So, what are these Anglican forms of these three prayers, the Confiteor, Misereatur and Indulgentiam?  Here they are, as found in the forms of Compline appointed in the 1928 Proposed B.C.P., the 1929 Scottish B.C.P., the 1962 Canadian B.C.P., and a representative work of Anglo-Catholic piety, The Priest's Book of Private Devotion:

WE confess to God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, that we have sinned in thought, word, and deed, through our own grievous fault. Wherefore we pray God to have mercy upon us.

ALMIGHTY God, have mercy upon us, forgive us all our sins and deliver us from all {Scot. omits} evil, confirm and strengthen us in all goodness, and bring us to life everlasting {PBPD & Canad. add: through Jesus Christ our Lord}. Amen.

MAY {PBPD omits} the almighty and merciful Lord grant unto {PBPD omits} you pardon and remission of all your sins, time for {PBPD & Scot. add: true repentance,} {PBPD adds: and} amendment of life, and the grace and comfort of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It is at once apparent that these prayers have been put into the plural throughout; the congregation are together to recite the first two prayers, and a priest, if present, should then pray the last prayer.

To back-translate this into Latin is quite straightforward, and yields the following results:

Confitemur Deo omnipotenti, Patri, (et) Filio, et Spiritui Sancto: quia peccavimus cogitatione, verbo, et opere, nostra maxima culpa.  Ideo precor Deum omnipotentem misereri nostri.

Misereatur nostri omnipotens Deus, dimittat nobis omnia peccata nostra, et liberet nos a (ab omni) malo, confirmet et roboret nos in omni bono, et perducat nos ad vitam æternam (per Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum).  Amen.

Absolutionem et remissionem omnium peccatorum vestrorum, spatium (veræ pænitentiæ, et) emendationis vitæ, gratiam et consolationem Sancti Spiritus, tribuat vobis omnipotens et misericors Dominus.  Amen.

Here is a second form, in the singular, again from The Priest's Book of Private Devotion:

I confess to God Almighty, before all the company of heaven, and thee, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed, of my own grievous fault; wherefore I pray God to have mercy upon me.
ALMIGHTY God, have mercy upon you, and forgive you all your sins, deliver you from all evil, confirm and strengthen you in all goodness, and bring you to everlasting life. Amen.
THE almighty and merciful Lord grant you pardon and remission of all your sins, time for true repentance and amendment of life, and the grace and comfort of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This is even closer to the older, simpler, mediæval Catholic versions.

Already, in the Anglican Use Book of Divine Worship, we have such prayers as the following – the longer Anglican version of the Indulgentiam – in regular use:

May the Almighty and merciful Lord grant us absolution and remission of all our sins, true repentance, amendment of life, and the grace and consolation of his Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Why focus on all this?  Because these are good prayers, containing much of substance deserving careful consideration and attention.

For instance, the longer, "Dominican" Misereatur well sums up the succession of stages of the spiritual life that we and all Christians need Divine grace to attain:

  1. We beg Almighty God to have mercy upon us;
  2. May He remit all our sins;
  3. May He deliver us from all evil;
  4. May He save and confirm us in every good work;
  5. And may He bring us to life everlasting.
God grant it: Amen.

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