Saturday, December 27, 2008

Ask a Trad - "Third" Confiteor Controversy

This Photo taken from the Solemn High Mass offered by the FSSP in Washington.

It has come to my attention on more than one occasion that some have questions surrounding the use of the "third" Confiteor (Confiteor before Holy Communion) at the Extraordinary Form Mass in Springfield.

In the reforms published by Blessed Pope John XXIII, this rite was noticeably absent. Nearly fifty years after the publication of that editio typica of the Roman Missal, the "third" Confiteor continues to be said at Masses supposedly said according to the 1962 Missal. Can these Masses be considered to be Holy Masses according to the Mass in force in 1962? Absolutely. Let me explain.

There are a number of reasons why the use of the "third" Confiteor is justified in the Extraordinary Form Mass:

1 It is an immemorial custom, and as such, the faithful more often than not expect it.

2. It is used by Cardinals and others officially representing the Ecclesia Dei Commission

3. The understanding of the Communion Rite in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite

One of the examples easiest to call to the mind of those who attend the Extraordinary Form of a custom trumping the law of the legislator is the case of the Masses in use from at least the year 1370. St. Pius V when he mandated the Roman Missal for the entire Church allowed those regions that had a Missal that could prove its existence to be at least 200 years old to retain the use of that Missal over the law that he intended to bind the entire Church. Custom is recognized as something very sacred because our customs and traditions become instruments in our faith, they help us nuture our faith and help us pass it down through the generations. This explains the leniency of the ecclesiastical legislators when it comes to custom.

The use of the "third" Confiteor is a custom that is centuries upon centuries old (an immemorial custom). According to the New Advent Website on Canon Law regarding customs they provide the following:

A custom is an unwritten law introduced by the continuous acts of the faithful with the consent of the legitimate legislator. Custom may be considered as a fact and as a law. As a fact, it is simply the frequent and free repetition of acts concerning the same thing; as a law, it is the result and consequence of that fact. Hence its name, which is derived from consuesco or consuefacio and denotes the frequency of the action. (Cap. Consuetudo v, Dist. i.)


(a) Considered according to extent, a custom is universal, if received by the whole Church; or general (though under another aspect, particular), if observed in an entire country or province; or special, if it obtains among smaller but perfect societies; or most special (specialissima) if among private individuals and imperfect societies. It is obvious that the last-named cannot elevate a custom into a legitimate law.
(b) Considered according to duration, custom is prescriptive or non-prescriptive. The former is subdivided, according to the amount of time requisite for a custom of fact to become a custom of law, into ordinary (i.e. ten or forty years) and immemorial.
(c) Considered according to method of introduction, a custom is judicial or extrajudicial. The first is that derived from forensic usage or precedent. This is of great importance in ecclesiastical circles, as the same prelates are generally both legislators and judges, i.e. the pope and bishops. Extrajudicial custom is introduced by the people, but its sanction becomes the more easy the larger the number of learned or prominent men who embrace it.
(d) Considered in its relation to law, a custom is according to law (juxta legem) when it interprets or confirms an existing statute; or beside the law (prœter legem) when no written legislation on the subject exists; or contrary to law (contra legem) when it derogates from or abrogates a statute already in force.

Now lets say we assume that the "third" Confieor was used prior to the reforms and yet had no way to prove it, and no way to prove that it is still used today by those who celebrate the Extraordinary Form Mass, in this circumstance we would have to discontinue its use. Back to New Advent on how customs can be revoked (my comments in black):

Customs may be revoked by a competent ecclesiastical legislator, in the same way and for the same reasons as other ordinances are abrogated.

Goodbye "third" Confiteor!

A later general law contrary to a general custom will nullify the latter, but a particular custom will not be abrogated by a general law, unless a clause to that effect be inserted. Even such a nullifying clause will not be sufficient for the abrogation of immemorial customs. The latter must be mentioned explicitly, for they are held not to be included in any general legal phrase, however sweeping its terms may be.

Hello "third" Confiteor! This practice was never explicitly abandoned, it was only noticeably absent from the liturgical books. (More on the path this can lead to later)

Customs may likewise be abrogated by contrary customs, or they may lose their legal force by the mere fact that they fall into desuetude. Finally, an authentic declaration that a custom is absolutely contrary to good morals (rumpens nervum disciplinœ) and detrimental to the interests of the hierarchy or of the faithful deprives it of its supposed legal value.

Most of the world retains the "third" Confiteor and hence a contrary universal custom has not found the force of law at this time.

In Masses offered by those from the Ecclesia Dei Commission, the use of the third confiteor is retained, and as such, its enduring use by the Church is recognized by a competent legislator in the matter. Pictures attesting to this fact will be posted soon. The pictures will be extremely important as use by a Bishop constitutes the proof of the confiteors retention even though it was omitted not just from the Roman Missal but from the Pontificale Romanum of bishops.

The Communion Rite in the Extraordinary Form is NOT considered to be an essential part of the Mass. By 1962, the commission that eventually drafted the Ordo Missae of Paul VI in 1969 already began to make changes in preparation for the gradual introduction of an entirely new Missal (what we know today as the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite). One of these changes was the view that the Communion Rite was an integral part of the Mass. This is in total contrast to the entire history behind the reception of Holy Communion of the faithful in the Roman Rite before the reforms. Holy Communion was commonly received outside of Holy Mass to denote clearly that it was not essential for the completion of the Sacrifice, but only the consumption of the Sacred Species by the priest. For various good reasons the change was made to have the Communion Rite inserted into the Mass long before the Second Vatican Council. This rite was seperate from the Mass, it was literally picked out of the liturgical books and inserted into the Mass. It began with a Confiteor, and then had the Misereatur, Indugentiam, and the Ecce Agnus Dei, just as we see during Mass, this is how the practice began. Holy Communion has from time immemorial, far surpassing the force of local custom, or any kind of particular law, been distributed to the faithful in this manner, whether in the context of the Mass or outside.
Indeed in Stockton, Missouri when the Holy Mass according to the Extraordinary Form was offered there, Father graciously offered members of the choir and those who had gone to Confession following the Mass, a chance to receive Holy Communion outside of the Mass using this Rite, as if one was observing a ceremony that they commonly know to take place DURING Mass.
Earlier in the post I alluded to a mentality that came after the reforms that everything previous had to be done away with if it was not mentioned explicitly in the rubrics. Hence the biretta fell into disuse, the priest ceased joining his fingers after the Consecration of the Sacred Species and countless other observances, simply because the books did not provide for their use.
Luckily we see many of these things being reintroduced, even into the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, precisely because priests are educating themselves to realize that an omission is not the same as an all out notice of a now forbidden practice. The third Confetior has even a doctrinal symbolism attached to it that further helps the Mass be our guide in faith, our Catechism.
Right before we are met with our Creator in the Sacred Species at the "Ecce Agnus Dei", we have a period of recognition of our venial faults and a cleasing, just as what happens in Purgatory before the Beatific Vision. This is a beautiful doctrinal reality expressed so clearly in the context of the Holy Mass. The third confiteor then, provides not only a custom, or a cleansing from venial sins before Holy Communion, but even allows for a manifestation of a doctrinal truth. The Holy Mass as left to us from our fathers before us is truly a treasure and to let the "third" Confiteor fall into disuse would be in my humble opinion a poor way of doing our duty to transit and deposit the faith and the Mass and our Catholic practices to the next generation.
God Bless!