The Penitential Act


The priest says: “Brethren (brothers and sisters), let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.”

[He has the option to choose to say this in Latin. If so, he says: “Fratres, agnoscámus peccáta nostra, ut apti simus ad sacra mystéria celebránda.“]

There is a pause.

We pray one of the following prayers:


The Confiteor:
Priest: I confess to Almighty God

All: and to you my brothers and sisters that I have greatly sinned1, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, in what I have failed to do, [all strike their breast, saying] through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault; 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.


Priest: Have mercy on us, O Lord.

All: For we have sinned against you.2

Priest: Show us, O Lord, your mercy.

All: And grant us your salvation.3


[Recite the Kyrie here instead of later (see the next post).]

Priest: May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.

All: Amen.

The priest may choose to pray this in Latin:


Confíteor Deo omnipoténti et vobis, fratres, quia peccávi nimis cogitatióne, verbo, ópere et omissióne: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea mea máxima culpa. Ideo precor beátam Maríam semper Vírginem, omnes Angelos et Sanctos, et vos, fratres, oráre pro me ad Dóminum Deum nostrum.


Priest: Miserére nostri, Dómine.

All: Quia pecávimus tibi.

Priest: Osténde nobis, Dómine, misericórdiam tuam.

All: Et salutáre tuum da nobis.

Priest: Misereátur nostri omnípotens Deus et, dimíssis peccátis nostris, perdúcat nos ad vitam ætérnam.

All: Amen.

An Alternative

Occasionally (especially during the Easter season) the priest may choose to bless holy water and sprinkle it on the people instead of the Penitential Act.


Why call to mind our sins?

We all recognize that we are sinners, sorrowfully approaching the Lord for forgiveness. The Church is not a group of perfect people, looking down on the rest of mankind. Rather, we’re a group of imperfect people who know the Perfect One and are striving to become more like Him. Here, we admit those ways in which we’ve failed.

The better you can recognize your need for God and His mercy, the more open you will be to receive the graces He offers you. The more we foster a spirit of contrition—recognize our own unworthiness to be in God’s presence and His mercy to allow us to be here anyway–the more we dispose ourselves to receive grace. 

Note: when the priest prays “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins…” it is a request that God will forgive us at some point, but it does not have the effect of immediately forgiving our sins.4 We still need to go to Confession.

Why do we strike our breasts?

Breast-beating is a sign of penitence.

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’

Luke 18:13

Why sprinkle with holy water instead?

The sprinkling may occur instead of the Penitential act as a reminder of our Baptisms.5 When we were Baptized, God washed away all of our sins to that point, made us members of His family (the Church), gave us His abiding presence in our souls (Sanctifying Grace), and gave us access to His other Sacraments.

Going Deeper:

Deeper Penitential Act

After the priest prays “let us acknowledge our sins,” take that momentary pause to call to mind your Examination of Conscience.

Concentrate your attention on whom you are addressing:

  • When you are addressing God (e.g. “I confess to Almighty God” and most of the rest of this prayer), concentrate on God. It might help to look at the Tabernacle (where God is most present), art that represents God, etc. 
  • When you address the saints (e.g. “therefore I ask Blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints, etc.) concentrate on them. It might be helpful to look at art that represents them (or a relic of a saint if your church has any).
    • All the angels and saints are present at every Mass. Call to mind that you are “surrounded by a cloud of witnesses.” (Hebrews 12:1)
  • When you address the congregation (e.g. “to you my brothers and sisters,” etc.), this is one of the few times during the Mass that you actually address the people around you instead of God. Go ahead and momentarily concentrate on them (you are talking to them after all). It might be helpful to briefly glance at the people around you (as long as it doesn’t become a distraction from the rest of the prayer).

Notice at the end of the Confiteor, how we all ask everyone else in the conversation to pray for us. Take that time at the very end of the prayer to pray for everyone gathered that God would have mercy not just on you, but on all of them as well.

Deeper Holy Water Sprinkling

If the priest chooses to bless and sprinkle holy water, take the time to remember your need for His forgiveness and that your Baptism both forgave your sins and gives you access to Confession and the Eucharist which both offer forgiveness of post-Baptimal sins.

What About You?

  • How has admitting your sins at the beginning of Mass helped you to be open to God’s graces?
  • Do you have any helpful practices to more deeply enter into the Penitential Act?


  1. And David said to God, “I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing.” (1 Chronicles 21:8)
  2. Hear, O Lord, and have mercy, for we have sinned before thee. (Baruch 3:2)
  3. Show us thy steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us thy salvation. (Psalms 85:7)
  4. General Instruction of the Roman Missal 51
  5. Ibid.

One thought on “The Penitential Act

  1. Pingback: The Kyrie – Casey Truelove

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