This week in this Year of Faith series on the Common Prayers we should all know, I want to take a look at the Act of Contrition.
The necessity of repentance
One of the biggest problems for those who argue that salvation is possible outside the visible bounds of the Church has always seemed to me to be the necessity that we die in a state of grace.
For the Catholic, there is one sure means of achieving this, namely making proper use of the sacraments, especially of confession, that transforms our imperfect contrition into perfect. For non-Catholic Christians, however, or for those claimed to have perhaps experienced an implicit or explicit 'baptism of desire', a state of perfect contrition, or sincere and complete remorse for all the sins we have committed for of love of God alone is also necessary. That is surely no easy thing to achieve in the face of the erroneous views on the nature of contrition taught by Luther and other protestant theologians; and a culture that clouds our sense of the natural law and what is and isn't sinful, and indeed rejects the very notion of sinfulness.
One of the key weapons in combatting that false culture, then, is the knowledge of and frequent use of a good act of contrition, firstly for use in the context of the sacrament and secondly in order to cultivate a state of perfect contrition for our sins - which of course includes the desire to receive the sacrament of reconciliation - particularly whenever we may have committed a mortal sin.
An act of contrition
There are many variants on the act of contrition, but the one given in the Compendium of the Catechism is as follows:
Deus meus, ex toto corde pænitet me ómnium meórum peccatórum, éaque detéstor, quia peccándo, non solum pœnas a te iuste statútas proméritus sum, sed præsértim quia offéndi te, summum bonum, ac dignum qui super ómnia diligáris. Ídeo fírmiter propóno, adiuvánte grátia tua, de cétero me non peccatúrum peccandíque occasiónes próximas fugitúrum. Amen.
You can hear it read out loud here.
Or, in English:
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.
Looking at the Latin
Here is a literal, word by word translation of it:
Deus (God) meus (my), ex (from/out of/with) toto (the whole) corde (heart) pænitet (he/she/it is sorry/causes to repent) me (me) ómnium (of all) meórum (my) peccatórum (sins), éaque (and them) detéstor (I detest/abominate), quia (because) peccándo (transgressing/sinning/offending) non (not) solum (only) pœnas (punishment) a (from) te (you) iuste (just) statútas (cause) proméritus sum (I have deserved), sed (but) præsértim (especially) quia (because) offéndi (I have offended/to have offended) te (you), summum (the sum) bonum ([of] good), ac (and) dignum (worthy) qui (who) super (above) ómnia (all) diligáris (you are loved/worthy). Ídeo (Therefore) fírmiter (firmly) propóno (I resolve), adiuvánte (helped by) grátia (grace) tua (your), de (from) cétero (the rest, remainder) me (me) non (not) peccatúrum (sin) peccandíque (and of sins) occasiones (occasions/opportunities) próximas (near) fugitúrum (fleeing). Amen.