The Mass in the Roman Catholic Church includes a Penitential Rite, where a Penitential Act is effected. However, as the Roman Misal states (page 55):

  1. After this, the Priest calls upon the whole community to take part in the Penitential Act, which, after a brief pause for silence, it does by means of a formula of general confession. The rite concludes with the Priest’s absolution, which, however, lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance.

This is, such act is not equivalent to the Sacrament of Confession. As this other entry in Wikipedia about the mass states,

Confession (Penance or Reconciliation) is the only sacrament not celebrated within a Eucharistic framework and for which therefore no Ritual Mass is provided.

I wonder then, which is the purpose of such penitential act? Is there somewhere an "official" or authoritative analysis of this? Maybe by a Church Father?

  • You are missing the point, I think, because you need to read up on the Introductory Rite in total. Taking something like this in isolation is like reading scripture one word at a time, out of context, and then asking about three words. I was going to answer this earlier, but chose not to as I think it's a waste of time based on how you framed this question. Please look up confietor at the Catholic Encyclopedia. Then ask the question after you have edited it. As asked, this question is almost a non sequitur. Dec 6, 2017 at 2:54

2 Answers 2


This part of the Mass comes after the Confiteor (I confess):


Confíteor Deo omnipoténti, beátæ Maríæ semper Vírgini, beáto Michaéli Archángelo, beáto Ioánni Baptístæ, sanctis Apóstolis Petro et Páulo, ómnibus Sanctis, et vobis, fratres: quia peccávi nimis cogitatióne, verbo, et ópere: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa. Ideo precor beátam Maríam semper Virginem, beátum Michaélem Archángelum, beátum Ioánnem Baptístam, sanctos Apóstolos Petrum et Páulum, omnes Sanctos, et vos, fratres, oráre pro me ad Dóminum Deum nostrum

I confess to Almighty God, to blessed Mary ever Virgin, blessed Michael the archangel, blessed John the Baptist, the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and all the saints, and to you, brothers, that I have sinned in thought, word and deed: through my fault, through my fault, through my most grevious fault. Therefore I beseech blessed Mary, ever Virgin, blessed Michael the archangel, blessed John the Baptist, the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, all the saints, and you, brothers, to pray to the Lord our God for me.

(Followed by the server saying the same, exchanging 'brothers' for 'father')

This is a general confession of sins, both past, absolved mortal sins, and any venial sins you currently are guilty of, but which don't merit damnation.

It is in this sense that the general absolution makes explicit the priestly intercession to God on behalf of the people (in concordance with the fact that he is about to offer the perfect Victim to the Father, "in persona Christi"2 Cor 2:10).

He then intercedes for the people:

Misereátur vestri omnípotens Deus, et dimíssis peccatis vestris, perducat vos ad vitam ætérnam. Amen.

May almighty God have mercy upon you, forgive you your sins, and bring you into life everlasting. Amen.

He then blesses the people with a gesture, saying:

Indulgéntiam, absolutiónem, et remissiónem peccatórum nostrórum, tríbuat nobis omnípotens et miséricors Dóminus.

May the Almighty and merciful God grant us pardon, absolution, and full remissions of our sins. Amen.

Mortal sins must be confessed:

John 20:21-23 He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained."

This could be because one needs to be quite sure of their absolved state before recieving the Eucharist, that is, whether they are in a state of grace, period.

So that no one should be recieving the Eucharist without purity of conscience in that regard:

1 Corinthians 11:27-29 "Wherefore whosoever shall eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and drink of the cup. For he that eateth and drinketh, eateth and drinketh judgment unto himself, if he discern not the body [10:16 "body" and "blood of the Lord"] [i.e. from what is profane]"

This petition and intercession for forgiveness generally is not a 'Sacrament' but a general plea for mercy. And it is followed by prayers right up to the Kyrie Eleison (Lord have mercy) before the Mass begins to turn more doxological (worship-oriented).

This is why the Sacrament of Confession/Extreme Unction is still the only means of absolution of mortal sins—a general plea for mercy doesn't constitute said Sacrament. It amounts to a priestly prayer.

A good reason this doesn't absolve everyone is because literally anyone could be there at Mass. To pretend forgiveness of all sins would be impossible, since "if we confess our sins he is just and faithful to forgive."1 Jn 1:9 And we know the method he instituted for such: Confession.

I can't find any authoritative sources which speak to—or feel the need to—on this at this time.

EDIT: Ken Graham has sources in his answer which may be of help.

  • The Confiteor is one of the formulas used in the Penitential Rite. Check the first link provided. Your first paragraph is in contradiction to that (as far as I understand it). I still do not see the logic. Why to plea for mercy of the remission of sins if such sins will not be forgiven because the Priet's absolution, which is the sole mediation for such remission, is purposely inefficacious? I think the answer might be related to some historical development. But I still find strange to "pretend" such forgiveness if it is by construction inefficacious.
    – luchonacho
    Dec 5, 2017 at 20:40
  • Unless I am misreading the Roman Misal quote, which I am understanding (the line "lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance") as sins are not forgiven through the Penitential Act. hence my question of why to have such act in mass.
    – luchonacho
    Dec 5, 2017 at 20:42
  • 2
    Venial sins are, though, that's the point. Only mortal sins require Sacramental absolution. Dec 5, 2017 at 21:24
  • Sola, this is why I didn't answer earlier when I saw this question. Dec 6, 2017 at 2:56
  • Thanks. I understand now. I think the answer was not entirely explicit (at least to me) in the difference between venial and mortal sins. Thus, the error in my analysis was the assumption that the Penitential Act does not absolve any type of sin, based on my reading of the Roman Misal quote.
    – luchonacho
    Dec 6, 2017 at 20:35

No Catholic is permitted to receive Holy Communion at Mass unless they are in the State of Grace. Any Catholic who is aware of committing a mortal sin, must receive sacramental absolution within the sacrament of reconciliation. Mortal sins must be confessed to a priest in both nature and number as to the ability of the individual. The Penitential Act actually helps us to more perfectly receive Our Lord in Holy Communion.

According to the moral theology of the Church, sacramental confession is only necessary for serious, or mortal, sins (though the Church encourages us to confess all our sins in the Sacrament of Penance). If we commit lesser sins and do not remember them, God will certainly not hold these against us.

There are many means by which venial or lesser sins are forgiven. One of these is the penitential rite. When the priest invites the congregation to call to mind its sins, a real pause should be allowed so that we can call to mind our lesser sins.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayers, and almsgiving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others” (No. 1434). - Penance for venial sins

St. Thomas expresses it this way:

As stated above (Article 2), no infusion of fresh grace is required for the forgiveness of a venial sin, but it is enough to have an act proceeding from grace, in detestation of that venial sin, either explicit or at least implicit, as when one is moved fervently to God. Hence, for three reasons, certain things cause the remission of venial sins: first, because they imply the infusion of grace, since the infusion of grace removes venial sins, as stated above (Article 2); and so, by the Eucharist, Extreme Unction, and by all the sacraments of the New Law without exception, wherein grace is conferred, venial sins are remitted. Secondly, because they imply a movement of detestation for sin, and in this way the general confession [i.e. the recital of the Confiteor or of an act of contrition, the beating of one's breast, and the Lord's Prayer conduce to the remission of venial sins, for we ask in the Lord's Prayer: "Forgive us our trespasses." Thirdly, because they include a movement of reverence for God and Divine things; and in this way a bishop's blessing, the sprinkling of holy water, any sacramental anointing, a prayer said in a dedicated church, and anything else of the kind, conduce to the remission of venial sins. - Question 87. The remission of venial sin

The Penitential Rite in a Catholic Mass, lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance because it can not absolve an individual of unrepentant mortal sins. For these individuals the only way to return to the state of grace is to confess one's sins to a priest in the sacrament of confession. Not even one's venial sins are forgiven with the recitation of the Penitential Act at Mass if one is in the state of mortal sin.

As stated above (III:87:3), there is no remission of any sin whatever except by the power of grace, because, as the Apostle declares (Romans 4:8), it is owing to God's grace that He does not impute sin to a man, which a gloss on that passage expounds as referring to venial sin. Now he that is in a state of mortal sin is without the grace of God. Therefore no venial sin is forgiven him. - Question 87. The remission of venial sin


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