The Penitential Act is a reminder that we who worship God belong to a community full of people who are in need of forgiveness and prayer. First, the priest invites the congregation to the Penitential Act:
Ps 32:5; 38:18; Sir 4:26Brethren (brothers and sisters),After this introduction to the Penitential Act, there is a moment of silence. We should use this silence properly: it is not meant for dramatic effect, but for silent reflection and examination of conscience.
Jer 14:20; Jas 5:16; 1 Jn 1:9let us acknowledge our sins,
and so prepare ourselves
1 Mc 4:56; 1 Cor 4:1; 5:8to celebrate the sacred mysteries.
As the words of the priest indicate, this preparatory action requires us to “acknowledge our sins.” Instead of just calling them to mind, we are acknowledging and confessing them before God, the saints and angels in Heaven, and our brothers and sisters around us. We admit our sins and ask God for His mercy, so that we can be reconciled with one another before approaching the altar. (Mt 5:23-24) This is necessary because “forgiveness is the prerequisite for both the Eucharistic liturgy and personal prayer.” (Catechism 2631)
It is no accident that the priest uses the word “sins” rather than, say, “weaknesses.” St. Paul speaks rather highly of his weaknesses, not his sins: “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9-10) We can be content with weaknesses, but never with sin; Jesus did not come to save us from our weaknesses, but from our sins. (Mt 1:21; Lk 1:77)
The Catechism provides a very succinct definition of sin: “an abuse of the freedom that God gives to created persons so that they are capable of loving him and loving one another.” (Catechism 387) Sin is a corruption of our freedom: God gives us the freedom to choose the good, but we misuse that freedom to choose evil. It may sound silly at first that God gives us freedom so that we can choose to do good, but if you have ever been pressured into doing wrong, it should be clear to you how hard it can be sometimes to do the right thing. Sin is slavery; virtue is freedom.
With all that in mind, we can participate in the Penitential Act with a contrite heart, striving “for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14)