Pope Francis conducted his weekly General Audience indoors this week, taking his customary St Peter’s Square audience into the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, to continue his catechesis on the Holy Eucharist, this week considering the penitential rite.
Unusually, the General Audience was held at 9:30 in the morning, where the Holy Father Francis met with groups of pilgrims and faithful from Italy and from all over the world.
In particular, he sought to focus on visitors from Middle Eastern regions, saying, ‘I give a warm welcome to the Arabic-speaking pilgrims, particularly those from Egypt, Lebanon and the Middle East.’
The Pope spoke in Italian, translated immediately into Arabic by one of his collaborators in the Roman Curia.
‘Dear brothers and sisters, the penitential act we perform as a community at the beginning of the Mass, that is, recognizing our sins before God and our own brothers and sisters, allows us to prepare ourselves inwardly to be worthy to celebrate the Holy Mystery.’
Pope Francis reminded his listeners that, ‘He who confesses his sins with humility and sincerity, receives forgiveness and again finds union with God and with his brothers.’
In considering the penitential rite, His Holiness stressed that, even if fearful or ashamed, we just need to ask sincere pardon for our sins to God and let His merciful gaze transform usd, as he did many figures in the Bible.
‘In acknowledging our sinfulness in front of God and others, the priest’s invitation to confess is addressed to the whole community in prayer, because we are all sinners,’ he said.
‘What can the Lord give to one whose heart is already full of himself, of his success? Nothing, because one who is presumptuous is incapable of receiving forgiveness, satiated as he is with his presumed justice.’
Yet one who is aware of his miseries and lowers his eyes with humility, the Pope reminded, feels God’s merciful look resting on him, noting we know from experience that only one who is able to acknowledge his mistakes and asks for forgiveness, receives the understanding and forgiveness of others.
To listen in silence to the voice of conscience, the Holy Father continued, enables us to recognize that our thoughts are far from divine thoughts and that our words and our actions are often worldly.Let God’s Merciful Gaze Rest on You
For this reason, at the beginning of the Mass, the Pope explained, we as a community carry out the penitential rite through a formula of general confession, pronounced in the first person singular. Each one confesses to God and to brethren to have sinned much in thoughts, words, deeds and omissions.
The words we say during the rite, the Pope reminded, are accompanied by the gesture of beating our breast, acknowledging that we sin out of our own fault, not that of others.
The Pope then warned against our tendency to often point our fingers at others, even if at times, out of fear or shame.
‘I remember a story, which an old missionary told, of a woman who went to confession and began to tell the errors of her husband; then she went on to tell the errors of her mother-in-law and then the sins of neighbours. At a certain point, the confessor said to her: ‘But, lady, tell me, have you finished? — Very good: you have finished with others’ sins. Now begin to tell yours.’ We must tell our sins!’
‘Sin,’ the Pontiff underscored, ‘breaks: it breaks the relationship with God and it breaks the relationship with brethren, the relationship in the family, in society and in the community: Sin always breaks, separates, divides.’Stop Pointing Fingers
After confessing our sin, the Argentine Pope reminded we beseech the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Angels and the Saints to pray to the Lord for us.
‘Sacred Scripture offers us luminous examples of ‘penitent’ figures that, looking into themselves after having committed a sin, find the courage to take off the mask and open themselves to the grace that renews the heart.’ Some of these figures we can remember, he said, include King David, Saint Peter, the Prodigal Son or the Samaritan woman.
‘To measure oneself with the frailty of the clay of which we are kneaded is an experience that strengthens us: while it makes us deal with our weakness, it opens the heart to invoke the Divine Mercy, which transforms and converts.’
Pope Francis concluded by reminding the Audience that that is exactly what we do in the penitential rite at the beginning of Mass.