Confiteor.—The Confiteor (so called from the first word, confiteor, I confess) is a general confession of sins; it is used in the Roman Rite at the beginning of Mass and on various other occasions as a preparation for the reception of some grace.
HISTORY OF THE CONFITEOR.—It 18 first heard of as the preparation for sacramental confession and as part of the preparation for Mass. Both the original Eastern liturgies begin with a confession of sin made by the celebrant (for the Antiochene Rite see Brightman, Eastern Liturgies, p. 31, and for the Alexandrine Rite, ibid., 116). The first Roman sacramentaries and ordos tell us nothing about this preparation; they all describe the Mass as beginning at the Introit. The Confiteor in some form was probably from an early date one of the private prayers said by the celebrant in the sacristy before he began Mass. But the “Sixth Roman Ordo” (Mabillon, Museum Italicum, II, 70-76), written apparently in the tenth or eleventh century, tells us that at the beginning of Mass the pontiff “bowing down prays to God for forgiveness of his sins” (ibid., p. 71). So by the eleventh century the preparation is already made at the altar. In the “Canonical Rule” of Chrodegang of Metz (d. 743) the questions put by the priest to the penitent before confession contain a form that suggests our Confiteor: “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 (Chrodeg. Met., “Reg. Canon.”, cap. xxxii, in P.L., LXXXIX, 1072). So also 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 our Misereatur (Bona, “Rerum liturg.”, Bk. II, ii, v). But it is in Micrologus (Bernold of Constance, d. 1100) that we first find the Confiteor quoted as part of the introduction of the Mass. The form here is: “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 we have it now (De eccl. observ., xxiii, in P.L., CLI, 992).
In the “Ordo Romanus XIV” (by Cardinal James Cajetan in the fourteenth century, Mabillon, op. cit., II, 246-443) we find our Confiteor exactly, but for the slight modification: “Quia peccavi nimis cogitatione, delectatione, consensu, verbo et opere” (ib., p. 329). The Third Council of Ravenna (1314, Hardouin, Coll. Conc., VII, 1389) orders in its Rubric xv our Confiteor, word for word, to be used throughout that province. The form, and especially the list of saints invoked, varies considerably in the Middle Ages. Cardinal Bona (Rerum liturg. libri duo, II, 5-7) quotes a number of such forms. In many Missals it is shorter than ours: “Confiteor Deo, beatan Marine. omnibus sanctis et vobis” (so the Sarum Missal, ed. Dickinson, Burntisland, 1861-1883). In the Missal of Paul III (1534-1549) it is: “Confiteor Deo omnipotenti, B, Marine semper Virgini, B. Petro et omnibus Sanctis et vobis Fratres, quia peccavi, met, culpa: precor vos orare pro me” (Bona, loc. cit.). Since the edition of Pius V (1566-1572) our present form is the only one to be used throughout the Roman Rite, with the exceptions of the Carthusian, Carmelite, and Dominican Offices, whose Missals, having been proved to have existed for more than 200 years, are still allowed.
These three forms are quite short, and contain only one “mea culpa,”; the Dominicans invoke, besides the Blessed Virgin, St. Dominic. Moreover, some other orders have the privilege of adding the name of their founder after that of St. Paul (the Francis-cans for instance), and the local patron is inserted at the same place in a few local uses. Otherwise the Confiteor must always be said exactly as it is in the Roman Missal (S. R. C., February 13, 1666, Benedict XIV, De SS. Missae Sacr., II, iii, 11, 12).
USE OF THE CONFITEOR.—The prayer is said sometimes as a double form of mutual confession, first by the celebrant to the people and then by the people to him, and sometimes only once, as a single form. As a double form it is used: (I) as part of the introductory prayers of Mass said before the priest goes up to the altar, after the Psalm “Judica me” (Ritus celebrandi, III, 7-9); (2) in the public recital of the Divine Office as part of the Preces at Prime (so that it is omitted on doubles and in octaves), and always in the beginning of Complin (Rubr. Gen. Brev., XV, 2, and XVIII, 1). As a single form it occurs: (I) during Mass, a second time, if anyone receives Holy Communion besides the celebrant; (2) when Holy Communion is given outside of Mass (Rituale Rom., Tit. I, eh. ii, 1); (3) before the administration of extreme unction (when it may be said in Latin or in the vulgar tongue.—Rituale Rom., Tit. V, ch. ii, 6); (4) before the Apostolic blessing is given to a dying person (ibid., Tit. V, ch. vi, 6); (5) the Ritual further directs that penitents should begin their confession by saying the Confiteor either in Latin or in their own language, or at least begin with these words: “Confiteor Deo omnipotenti et tibi pater” (Tit. III, ch. i, 14); (6) lastly the “Cieremoniale Episcoporum” ordains that when a bishop sings high Mass, the deacon should sing the Confiteor after the sermon; the preacher then reads out the Indulgence given by the bishop, and the bishop adds a modified form of the Misereatur (in which he again invokes the saints named in the Confiteor), the Indulgentiam, and finally his blessing. This is the normal ceremony for the publication of Indulgences (Cur. Episc., I, ch. xxii, 4; II, ch. xxxix, I 4).
RITE OF THE CONFITEOR.—The form of words is too well known to need quotation. When it is used as a double form, the celebrant first makes his confession, using the words vobis fratres and vos fratres, the servers or ministers say the Misereatur in the singular (tui, peccatis tuis), and then make their confession addressed to the priest (tibi pater, to pater). He says the Misereatur in the plural (Misereatur vestri, etc.), and finally, making the sign of the cross, adds the short prayer Indulgentiam. Both the Misereatur and the Indulgentiam are answered with “Amen“. When used as a single form the priest’s confession is left out, the deacon, or server, says the Confiteor (tibi pater, etc.), the celebrant responds with the Misereatur and Indulgentiam. A person saying the prayer alone (for instance, in the private recital of the Divine Office) says the Confiteor leaving out the clauses tibi pater or vobis fratres, etc., altogether, and changes the answer to Misereatur nostri and peccatis nostris. Before Communion at high Mass and before the promulgation of Indulgences the Confiteor is sung by the deacon to the tone given in the “Ca’remoniale Episcoporum” (11, cli. xxxix, I). The Misereatur and Indulgentiam are never sung.