Non Solum: When to use which Penitential Act

Today’s Question:  When to use which Penitential Act

The Roman Missal gives three options for the Penitential Act (excluding the possibility of its substitution by the Sprinkling Rite). Those three options are 1) the Confiteor followed by the Kyrie, 2) the “Have mercy on us, O Lord…” followed by the Kyrie, and 3) the Kyrie with invocations. Which Penitential Rite do you or your priest prefer to use? Do you use a certain Penitential Act on Sundays, and another on weekdays? Or do you vary it seasonally? Are all three Penitential Acts used in your parish or is one preferred over others? From my perspective it is helpful to balance all three. The Confiteor seems most appropriate on Sundays and more solemn feast days not because it is more penitential, as some people may think, but because it is more solemn.  Its solemnity lies in is greater cosmic and communal awareness, as well as, its more formal and reverential style. I understand that not everyone feels the same way about the Confiteor, but its highly communal and cosmic dimensions are to be commended. The other two, while also obviously appropriate on Sundays, seem to lend themselves better to daily Mass than the Confiteor. Additionally, the flexibility of the invocations in Form C can be quite refreshing and powerful when the priest, deacon, or liturgical planner takes adequate time to prepare proper invocations. What are your thoughts? What does your parish do, and why? Please comment below.


Moderator’s note: “Non solum” is a new feature at Pray Tell for our readership community to discuss practical liturgical issues. The title comes from article 11 of the Vatican II liturgy constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium: “Therefore there is to be vigilance among holy pastors that in liturgical action not only are laws for valid and licit celebration to be observed, but that the faithful should participate knowingly, actively, and fruitfully.” (Ideo sacris pastoribus advigilandum est ut in actione liturgica non solum observentur leges ad validam et licitam celebrationem, sed ut fideles scienter, actuose et fructuose eandem participent.) May the series contribute to good liturgical practice – not only following the law, but especially grasping the spirit of the liturgy!


  1. We use it during “Winter” Ordinary Time (between Christmas and Lent).
    We try to stick by the 1998 sacramentary principle that “less is more” and so we only sing the Kyrie during Lent and Advent, and only the Gloria (obviously) the rest of the year. Easter gets a sprinkling rite. We like the flexibility and adaptability of Form C, so it happens during most of Ordinary Time (as a good way to introduce the readings) and Christmas (because the Confiteor seems too penitential for Christmas season).
    But we decided “we need to use it sometime!”–especially so people could learn the words with the new Roman Missal. Thus the Sundays during the short period of time between Christmas and Lent won out. Plus a lot of weekdays, based on the whims of the presider.
    Bad logic? Probably.
    (And we never use Form B. Does anyone?)

    1. @Chuck Middendorf – comment #1:
      I used to use Form B with a smaller, rather stationary morning Mass assembly, as well as with a community of religious women who were familiar with it.

  2. For decades I have used only the third form or the sprinkling rite. There was some attempt at Vatican II to eliminate the penitential rite altogether, on the grounds that such a rite was too Pelagian – implying that just in case the liturgy of the word doesn’t address our sinfulness, or the eucharist itself doesn’t quite do the job, we will begin the liturgy with a penitential rite drawn up by a committee. Paul VI called for a compromise, and thus we have two brief optional rites and the sprinkling. A rite including congregational responses was virtually unknown in the Roman rite prior to Vatican II ( the Confiteor was a private matter between priest and server). My personal view is that we Catholics have trouble doing liturgical things without beating ourselves up a little first. In addition, in the great Northwest where I live, there is much less sinfulness to deal with…

  3. South African English pronunciation adds a vowel to “grievous”, which has been the cause of grave correspondence from members of the South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference to have its pronunciation standardised with Standard English.

    I avoid the Confiteor as a result and reserve its use to Lent. During Easter I will use the sprinkling rite and most other times the Kyrie with invocations. The use of B is largely unknown in this territory and throws people off when used.

    When appropriate I will adapt the invocations according to the Gospel or the content of the homily and I take a similar freedom with the introduction to the Our Father, which is now limited to one form in the Missal.

    When the Kyrie is sung, it is intoned by the music team after an appropriate silence, since so many settings contain invocations.

    In the Sesotho Masses repeated refrains are popular and so the Kyrie-Gloria can often take more time than the readings do. But that might be another thread altogether, how to approach hallowed local custom where the mass settings of the Kyrie, sanctus and Agnus take longer to execute than the proclamation of the Word and homily, the Eucharistic prayer itself and the even the communion of the people.

  4. After a brief period using the Confiteor right after the introduction of the new translation, we are form C pretty much every Sunday outside of Easter. I chant it during Advent, and Lent. During Easter we use the sprinkling rite, with the “local adaptation” of doing the actual sprinkling during the Gloria. Our previous pastor alternated the Confiteor and Form C on Sundays in Ordinary Time, since he wanted to make sure people knew the Confiteor.

    My inclination, were the decision in my hands, would be, during Ordinary Time, to teach the assembly Form B and have the whole entrance rite rite sung, from the sign of the cross to the opening prayer. For Lent I’d use the Confiteor and for Advent I’d use form C and maybe for Easter as well. For some reason, I find it tedious to use the sprinkling rite for all the Sundays in Easter. Probably some character flaw on my part.

      1. @Paul Inwood – comment #15:

        Where does the GIRM allow us to reject it’s norms willy-nilly in the name of inculturation? Also, why is there any need to misplace the gloria and combine it with the sprinkling rite? What does that have to do with inculturation?

      1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #22:
        This is also what we do at our parish. Everyone knows that they are being sprinkled to remind them of their baptismal promises and so we sing a song of praise, namely the Gloria!

      2. @Linda Reid – comment #24:

        I agree with you, but the new text of the Gloria isn’t nearly as singable as the old, so the praise value is much reduced for me.

  5. I avoid the use of the confiteor almost entirely. Of all the forms of the penitential act it stands out as the one which Catholics think of as an alternative to sacramental confession. It says, “I confess to Almighty God” does it not? We use form C every Sunday. During Advent it is sung. During Lent we begin Mass with the Rutter Kyrie as the ministers process to the altar. At its conclusion I do the absolution prayer and move directly to the collect. Prior to the beginning of the Kyrie, the people stand and make the sign of the cross, and I make the formal greeting. It works well.

  6. I have not once encountered Form B in the flesh, as it were. I would love to; it’s beautiful.

    I do find discomfort with the Penitential Act odd. While priests may think scrupulosity is more rampant than reality because of oversampling in confessionals, my own sense is that it’s not a major risk factor in the Penitential Act. For me, the ritual act is a beautiful threshold for the praise and thanksgiving that follows: redemption is predicated on sin, so our praise and thanksgiving for redemption is predicate on the reality of our sinfulness. Ritualizing it helps drain it of egoistic grandiosity, something the scrupulous are at risk for.

    Be not afraid of any of the forms of the Penitential Act: they all have great value.

  7. Our choir sings a Gregorian Kyrie. The priest who normally says Mass prefers not to use the Confiteor or the “Have mercy on us…” option, but to have the Kyrie (without invocations) begin immediately, and be followed by the “absolution,” exactly as Fr. Feehily describes in comment #6. This celebrant acknowledges that this is technically not an option, but believes that the other options don’t make sense as the “absolution” precedes the Kyrie, which he views as penitential.

    I defer to the celebrant in any event, but from my non-expert point of view I don’t quite agree that the Kyrie eleison has only a penitential character–I think that it has a doxological character, like the Gloria (which also states “Have mercy on us”).

    The deviation from the rubrics doesn’t really bother me because the communal “penitential rite” strikes me as a rather un-organic component of the reformed rite. As Jan Larson comment # 1 points out, the Confiteor was traditionally the private preparation of the ministers, not a communal penitential rite. I’m sympathetic to the view that there are penitential notes throughout the Mass and an introductory penitential rite seems superfluous at best and at worst confusing because of its resemblance to sacramental confession. It would have been better if the reformed rite had simply retained the Kyrie-Gloria-Collect sequence, without an “absolution,” and returned the Confiteor to the sacristy.

  8. We introduced Form B in my parish after Pentecost and have been using it on Sundays every since (but printing the dialogue text on the 11″ x 4.25″ card that we use as a guide for the liturgy.) We have used Form A in Advent and Lent when larger Kyrie settings are sung, and Form C during Christmas and Easter seasons. Weekday Masses vacillate between A and C throughout the year, according to the choice of the celebrant. While we generally stick to a seasonal rotation, there are frequent exceptions for one reason or another. I had not experienced Form B “live” before this year, but with enough silence preceding to “call to mind our sins” it works really well.

  9. I am fascinated by the comments so far, and would make the following of my own:

    (1) Everyone has talked about occasions or seasons when the different Penitential Acts are used. In fact, it seems to me that the scriptures of the day are a far better guide to which Rite to use than simply deciding to use one particular Rite for an entire season or on Sundays as opposed to weekdays.

    (2) My experience shows that the Confiteor is now being used more frequently than it was before the new translation. I think there are two possible reasons for this:
    — (a) Because of the changes to the text, pastors want people to become used to the new version and so they are using it more.
    — (b) All the alternative texts for Form C are buried in an Appendix at the back of the book, and pastors would get bored if they used only the text in the body of the book.

    (3) I have only encountered Form B twice since the new translation kicked in.

    (4) Forms A and B are definitely penitential in tone. Form A is a confession of sins to God, with a prayer for various figures to pray for us to God. Form B adds a petition to God to grant us salvation, lending a different slant to this Form. (Cf. my point about conforming the Form to the scriptures of the day in (1) above.)

    (5) Form C is not strictly speaking a Penitential Act at all, and is not penitential in nature. In the late-lamented 1998 Sacramentary it was described as a “Litany of Praise”. It differs from Forms A and B in being about Jesus and not about us. Its invocations describe the mirabilia Dei. One liturgist described it as being 85% about God’s merciful forgiveness and only 15% about our own sinfulness and wretchedness. That is why homegrown versions of Form III which begin “For the times when [we have failed to do something or other]” or which apologize to God for our lack of [love/faithfulness/etc/etc] are inappropriate here. (They may be perfectly fine in the context of a penitental service, but not at this point in the Mass.) We should be extolling the wonderful things that Jesus has done and continues to do for us, not bewailing our own peccadilloes.

    (6) Nor is the Sprinkling Rite a Penitential Act, even though it substitutes for one, and certainly not on Easter Sunday morning when it should be filled with joy. The Sprinkling is a reminder of our baptism, and the main thrust is on joy and gratitude for redemption rather than a mechanistic cleansing. We have walked through the waters of the Red Sea to salvation, rather than being washed clean of sins in the Jordan.

    (7) There is a common misconception, especially among primary school teachers, that every Mass has to begin with “sorry prayers”. A moment’s thought will show that there are many occasions during the Church year when there is in fact no Penitential Act at the beginning of Mass at all:
    — Presentation of the Lord
    — Ash Wednesday (where the Penitential Act is moved to a position after the Liturgy of the Word, which is where many liturgists think it should always be located)
    — Palm Sunday
    — Funeral Masses (replaced by a sprinkling of the coffin)
    — Masses with a Baptism (but curiously not Confirmation Masses, where in fact the Blessing and Sprinkling of Water is very appropriate)
    — Nuptial Masses
    — any Mass beginning with a Sprinkling Rite

    Some would say that the list should be extended to include Christmas Midnight Mass and other occasions of great joy.

    (8) With reference to Martin Badenhost’s first point, (#4), the mispronunciation of “grievous” as “grievious” is not confined to South Africa. I remember encountering it frequently as a child growing up in England, and still hear it from time to time. It seems to go with the mispronunciation of “<mis/chievous" as "mischie/vious”.

    1. @Paul Inwood – comment #12:
      “Some would say that the list [of Masses without Penitential Rite] should be extended to include Christmas Midnight Mass and other occasions of great joy.”

      Of course if the Office of Readings is celebrated before Midnight Mass, as is a wide custom and one suggested in the Liturgy of the Hours, the last Responsory is immediately succeeded by the Gloria of the Mass (taking the place of Te Deum). So that fixes Christmas Eve and does so “legally.”

    2. I object to the insinuation that American English is correct English in all English speaking countries. It simply isn’t. American English Pronunciation is correct for the Americas, everywhere else British English is the norm and correct. Aluminium not Aluminum for example. Grevious not grevous.

  10. we have a very large parish and when we use the “Rite of sprinkling” we also will go around sprinkling the congregation during the Gloria.
    In a similar way, for the Palm sunday opening rite, we will bless the palms(having everyone hold up their palms), read the Gospel and then sprinkle the congregation holding their palms during the processional. This all works out very well.

  11. Count me as another one who has never experienced Form B. I would say the other two forms are used about 50-50 in my experience. I think the Kyrie should always be sung, regardless of season.

    I’ve come to think it might have been wrong to add a penitential rite to the Mass – I know the EF had the somewhat equivalent Prayers At The Foot of the Altar, which seem like a penitential rite when used at a dialogue Low Mass, but that was never their original purpose. Count me as another who wished they could have retained the old High Mass Hymn/Introit-Kyrie-Gloria-Collect sequence as an option.

  12. My new pastor has suggested that we introduce Form B during Advent. If memory serves, it does echo a recurring short responsory in the Liturgy of the Hours during Advent.

  13. I agree with KLS and Fritz. I have seen this fairly regularly from time to time on both sides of the Pond, including in seminaries.

    The only snag with combining the Gloria with the act of sprinkling is whether the text then has anything to do with the liturgical action that is taking place, or whether it is acting as mere “liturgical wallpaper”. If we conclude that the latter is the case, then we have to ask ourselves whether it would not be better to have a proper sprinkling song and omit the Gloria altogether. As long as people are reluctant to take that step, I think we will continue to see the two disparate elements combined as a time-saving device.

    Of course, if the 1998 Sacramentary had been introduced, we would not be having this conversation, as it provided for six different variations of the Introductory Rites which solved the problem of devoting too much time to this part of the liturgy and allowed us to focus on one or two individual elements at a time. It also allowed us to tailor the Introductory Rites more closely to what we would encounter in the Liturgy of the Word — i.e., as with my comment about the Penitential Act above, one’s choice of Introductory Rite would be conditioned by what the scriptures of the day were doing.

  14. During Paschaltide, we’re sprinkled during the processional hymn. This is, in my estimation, a better option so as not to prolong Mass (Qué horror!), as well as placing the sprinkling in it’s former location. Why would anyone omit the Gloria during Paschaltide? Especially since it was just abstained from during The Fast. The Vidi Aquam and the Gloria are two totally different hymns, and used for different reasons. And you’re right Linda, everyone knows, or should know why they are being sprinkled, no need to make a “rite” out of it.

  15. And the Church does provide a lovely text to sing specifically for the Asperges. It’s just not the Gloria.

    1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #27:

      I wholeheartedly agree. I also think that Asperges/Vidi Aquam should be allowed to take place before ordinary form Mass, as in the EF. The confiteor and kyrie could also be permitted. I am not fond of the new prayers for sprinkling. They are rather like mini-sermons.

      I understand that the Tridentine sprinkling closing prayer exaudi nos, Domine, sancte Pater is not congruent with principles of the liturgical revision. The Tridentine prayer is neither a reminder of baptism or a reflection of a penitential mood, but a call for God’s blessing on the congregation through a curious “home” metaphor ([…] omnes habitantes in hoc habitaculo). Is it possible to replace exaudi nos with one of the sprinkling prayers of the reformed rite?

      I also suspect that English-language adaptations of the Asperges/Vidi Aquam are often older Anglo-Catholic compositions. While this is not necessarily inappropriate, the examples might not be in contemporary language.

      It is understandable that the sprinkling would take place at the Gloria in some churches, even if this is not an appropriate time with regard to theme, text, and accompaniment. The length of the new sprinkling rite texts are rather inconvenient in my view, and perhaps in the view of others.

  16. For the Easter Vigil during the Gloria, people at one of the local parishes are invited to walk to the baptismal font and sign themselves with its waters. There is no organized procession; it is just walk at your leisure in whatever fashion you desire. It works out very well. Of course in this case the Gloria comes in the middle of the service.

    Of course, it helps that the church is organized around a wonderful open square with altar on one side of that square and pews on the other three sides. The baptismal font as you can see from this picture is on one of the sides in front of the pews. So it is very easy to walk to it from anywhere in the church.

    (The Confiteor’s) solemnity lies in is greater cosmic and communal awareness, as well as, its more formal and reverential style.

    This would be true if it were chanted. However the Confiteor like the Creed loses all its cosmic and communal awareness when spoken. They become anemic personal acts at best; mindless repetition at worst.

    In comparison to the pre-liturgy of the Word rites of the Byzantine liturgy, the Roman Entrance rites are by and large a disaster except for the Gloria (which of course comes from the Byzantine Matins service).

  17. The opinion that the sprinkling rite takes too long and that people combine it with the Gloria seems unconvincing to me. Perhaps it would be better to reframe the question: Why is the sprinkling presented as a distinct rite apart from the Gloria and what is lost when some choose to combine them to save time?

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