Tomorrow we enter into the season of Septuagesima, a time of anticipated penance which originated to supply for the days taken from the Lenten fast; Sundays and feast days. The Liturgy of Septuagesima Sunday calls us to meditate on the uncertainty of salvation. The Introit chant and the Collect speak of being surrounded by the groans of death and affliction but also of God’s faithfulness in hearing our cries. The Epistle coaches us for the spiritual race that we run and spurs us on towards the reward of an imperishable crown, an encouragement tempered with a reminder that many before us have received the graces that we continue to receive and yet failed to please God. The Gospel expands on this theme as we read of the workers who are given the reward determined by the master- ‘Many are called but few are chosen.’
When we come before Almighty God we must do so in a spirit of humility and penance, recognising our sin and His mercy. We must neither presume our salvation nor despair of his mercy as both extremes lead us to either complacency or despondency as we run the race.
It is in this way that the Confiteor of the Traditional Roman Rite leads us to call upon the mercy of God with confidence. German writer and Traditional Catholic Martin Mosebach (yes, there are some Catholics left in Germany!) offers a beautiful reflection on the old rite Confiteor in his book ‘The Heresy of Formlessness.’ Explaining that the origins of this prayer is in the prostrations made at the beginning of the rite in its ancient from and developed to mirror the Confiteor in the office (the opening of the office of compline), he describes the importance of several elements which have been removed in the Novus Ordo.
The organic development of this part of the Mass led to a separate Confiteor for the priest and the people (represented by the server). Unlike the new Mass, this underlines the unique role of the priest as the mediator, offering the sacrifice in persona christi , enables him to prepare for the immense task before him and provides an opportunity for the people to pray for him. The server says the ‘Misereatur tui’ to the priest before reciting the Confiteor on behalf of the people this all done with the posture of a profound bow. Following this, the priest says the ‘Indulgentiam’ which is a sacramental absolution of venial sins before the liturgy progresses to the Mass of the Faithful. The profound bow and the absolution are not present in the new Mass.
There is one final feature which is especially pertinent to the theme of Septuagesima Sunday as described above- the invocation of particular saints in the Traditional form. Where, in the new Mass, there is an invocation of ‘all the angels and saints’, the original form called upon the intercession of ‘Mary ever virgin, blessed Michael the archangel, blessed John the Baptist, to the holy apostles Peter and Paul and to all the saints.’
Mosebach offers much for our meditation when he explains each figure as a human face each facet of a penitential approach to God. Here they are summarised and expanded for our contemplation over the coming week.
Mary ever virgin– The Immaculate Conception who after the annunciation moves with haste to the hill country of Judea. Our Lady reminds us of what all human being should be, the perfect image of God, unstained by sin and responsive to his will. Whereas sin entered the world through the disobedience of Eve who ate the fruit of the tree, the New Eve brings salvation to the world when, through her obedience, the fruit of Her virginal womb was sacrificed on the tree of the cross; a fruit which will be offered to us in Holy Communion as the only remedy- the Bread of Everlasting Life. In the Confiteor we seek to imitate her purity, humility, her trust in God’s promises and her unfathomable love for him above all things.
Blessed Michael the archangel– a figure who was present and instrumental at Satan’s fall. ‘Who is like God?’ In addition to being a protector and prince of the heavenly armies, he is the one who challenged the pride of lucifer, a vice that we each imitate when we make ourselves the arbiters of good and evil. In the Confiteor we seek his protection in the day of battle and we are humbled by his rebuke of the pride of sin.
Blessed John the Baptist– reminds us of the need of repentance and conversion. He also brings to mind our baptism and our need to make straight the way of the Lord through penance. In the Confiteor we seek to imitate his example.
The holy apostles Peter– the holder of the keys reminds us of the power of the Church to lose and to bind. We also remember that Peter knew the forgiveness of Jesus first hand. For his three denials, Jesus gives him a chance to repent. ‘Peter, do you love me?’ In the Confiteor we approach with tears as did St Peter ‘Lord, you know that I love you!’
…and Paul– reminds us of the power of God’s grace to transform the hardest of sinners. In the Confiteor we seek he intercession of one who was, before his conversion, as ‘vessel of election’ and we too are chosen by God, with a great work to do for the Kingdom if we would allow his grace to transform us.
And so, as we enter this season of Septuagesima, let us meditate on the Traditional Confiteor and the truths of the perennial Catholic faith which it communicates to us. In these times when the Traditional Roman Rite is so villainously attacked let us also think on the clarity with which it communicates the unchanging truths of the faith and its organic development over centuries under the guidance of the Holy Ghost and let us redouble our penance for our own sins and those who wish to destroy what God has built.