For at least 50 years liturgists have been discussing whether the Penitential Act in the Order of Mass ought to be repositioned. Although for centuries it was in the Prayers at the Foot of Altar and was carried from there into the Introductory Rites of the 1969 Ordo Missae, the proposal has been to move it to the end of the Liturgy of the Word. Placing it here after the scriptures have been proclaimed would give a better context for repentance. Or to put it another way, we may not yet be ready for repentance so early in the Mass.
Our Anglican sisters and brothers have of course had an act of repentance following the Liturgy of the Word since the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and this positioning is maintained in Order 2 of Common Worship (Order 1 has introductory rites similar to the Roman Catholic Mass).
Not only would an act of repentance be better later on, but it would be followed by a sign of peace and reconciliation before moving into the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Once again, this has been proposed many times over the years, in accordance with Jesus’s own words “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Mt 5:23-24).
Benedict XVI in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (2007) was not happy with the present positioning of the Sign of Peace, which he found could be disruptive (para 49). His footnote to this paragraph stated the following:
(150) Taking into account ancient and venerable customs and the wishes expressed by the Synod Fathers, I have asked the competent curial offices to study the possibility of moving the sign of peace to another place, such as before the presentation of the gifts at the altar. To do so would also serve as a significant reminder of the Lord’s insistence that we be reconciled with others before offering our gifts to God (cf. Mt 5:23 ff.); cf. Propositio 23.
That was twelve years ago, but the “competent curial offices” have not, so far as we know, produced a response to Benedict’s request….
We are fast approaching Ash Wednesday, a day when the Penitential Act is actually moved to the position we have been discussing. The Penitential Act is omitted on this day and replaced by the Blessing and Distribution of Ashes, which comes between the homily and the general intercessions. Even if the blessing and distribution takes places outside Mass, it still follows the Liturgy of the Word.
Can we hope that a future revision of the Missal will recognize that Ash Wednesday is a model in this regard, and that modifying the Order of Mass to reposition the Penitential Act and Sign of Peace at the end of the Liturgy of the Word could be of benefit to worshippers?