The Sinful Priest: Minister of the Church’s Faithfulness

Joseph Carola SJ FAITH Magazine November-December 2008s

With the help of St Augustine of Hippo and The Ratzinger Report (1985) Fr Carola proposes a timely recovery of a traditional insight into Holy Mass. The efficacy of the Eucharist fows from the holiness of those incorporated into Christ, in contradistinction to the frailty of its indispensable priestly ministers. Fr Carola teaches patristic theology at the Gregorian University in Rome and is a Jesuit of the New Orleans province.

Before bidding peace to the congregation during the Communion rite at Mass celebrated according to the Roman Rite’s Ordinary Form, the priest prays:

Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles: I leave you peace, my peace I give you. Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church [Ne respicias peccata nostra, sed fidem Ecclesiae tuae], and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom where you live for ever and ever.

This venerable prayer dates from the first Christian millennium. Until the late 1960’s, it had formed part of the priest’s private prayers said inaudibly to all but himself prior to his reception of Holy Communion. During the liturgical reform of the Mass in the years immediately following the Second Vatican Council, some proposed to delete this prayer altogether from the rite of Mass with a congregation. Initial schemata suggested leaving it in place only in those Masses which the priest said privately – that is, sine populo. In the end, at the direct insistence of Pope Paul VI, it was retained in the Novus Ordo, but not without modification. Three changes occurred: (1) the prayer and the accompanying exchange of peace, which had followed the Agnus Dei, nowprecede it; (2) the prayer itself is no longer said silently, but rather is recited aloud; and (3) the possessive adjective modifying ‘sins’ in the Latin text has been changed from the singular mea (my sins) to the plural nostra (our sins) – a change, which subsequently found its way into the vernacular translations.

While the Novus Ordo has retained the prayer, it has ceased to be the priest’s private prayer. Therein lies the basic change. The prayer is now audible. This fact seems to account for the possessive adjective’s change in number. There is no other obvious explanation. While this change of number may appear to be insignificant, it has, in fact, far-reaching – and it must be confessed, unfortunate – theological consequences. For, in its original form, the prayer had communicated through the supplication of the ordained minister, who acknowledged himself a sinner, the indispensable role of the baptismal priesthood in ecclesial reconciliation. The priest beseeched the Lord Jesus that in granting the reconciliatory fruits of unity and peace he look on the faith of the entire Church.Thus the prayer gave rise to an authentic voice of the faithful in relation to the sinful cleric within the Church. As we shall see, the possessive adjective’s change in number not only obscures, but indeed threatens this rich theological heritage. In the project that lies before us, Augustine of Hippo and Pope Benedict XVI will aid our quest to recover what has been perhaps unreflectively yet nonetheless regrettably set aside.

The Church: Divine Yet Unfaithful

In 1985 Joseph Ratzinger, then the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, granted Italian journalist Vittorio Messori an exclusive interview on the state of the Church. The Ratzinger Report (RR), as it came to be known in English, covered a wide range of theological topics which were – and indeed have remained – particularly pressing since the Second Vatican Council. At the root of the post-conciliar crisis, Ratzinger explains, stands a pervasive misunderstanding of the nature of the Church. Many no longer believe that the Lord himself established the Church. Indeed, some theologians teach that the Church is merely a human construction which we can freely reorganise at will. They deny that in external human form she possesses fundamental, inviolablestructures willed by God. Conceiving of the Church as a purely human project, they effectively dismiss the supernatural mystery which animates her being. In response to these ecclesiological misconceptions, Ratzinger re-emphasises the Church’s Christological dimension. As Saint Paul teaches, the Church is the Body of Christ, and Christ is her Head. Just as Christ is both true God and true man, the Church, too, is both human and divine. No one denies that the Church is a human institution. But Catholics profess that she is fundamentally much more – in fact, infinitely more inasmuch as she is Christ’s Body enlivened and brought together in unity as God’s People by his Spirit.

The ecclesial Body of Christ, Ratzinger observes, is that reality which Catholic theology traditionally calls the communio sanctorum – the Communion of Saints. In this context, following the New Testament, one rightly understands ‘saints’ to include all the Church’s baptised members. But the Latin word sanctorum, Ratzinger points out, means ‘of holy things’ as well. Therefore, the communio sanctorum also legitimately describes the Church as that community which shares ‘holy things’, that is, the Sacraments, in common. The Sacraments established by Christ are outward signs which give grace. By means of them, earthly matter communicates supernatural life in a manner analogous to the Incarnation itself. The Sacraments make the Church’s members holy. Thissanctifying grace comes from God, and it is by means of this sacramental grace that Christ forms the members of his ecclesial Body. On this account, the Church in the deepest sense is his, the Cardinal Prefect explains, and only ours in what “belongs to her human – hence secondary, transitory – aspect” (RR, p. 48).

In her human structures the Church is always in need of reform – Ecclesia semper reformanda. Not only saints but sinners as well comprise her membership. Indeed, even her saints are nothing other than sinners reconciled through Christ’s grace. This mixed reality of saints and sinners accounts for the sins which plague the pilgrim Church from within as she makes her earthly way through the ages towards her heavenly homeland where one day she will be for all eternity without stain or wrinkle. In the meantime, sin continues to afflict her. As the council fathers at Vatican II taught: “By the power of the Holy Spirit the Church is the faithful spouse of the Lord and will never fail to be a sign of salvation in the world; but she is by no means unaware that down through the centuriesthere have been among her members, both clerical and lay, some who were disloyal to the Spirit of God” (Gaudium et spes 43). Such awareness found historic expression on the first Sunday of Lent during the Great Jubilee Year 2000. On that day Pope John Paul II solemnly begged the Lord’s forgiveness for the sins of the Church’s sons and daughters committed over her bi-millennial history.

Like the council fathers, the great Pontiff carefully distinguished between the Church and the sins of her members. Her members’ sins do indeed mar the beauty of the Church’s human face. At times woefully scandalous, they threaten to hinder the Church’s evangelical mission. But they can never undermine the Church’s inherent holiness. For the Church’s holiness does not in some Pelagian sense directly depend upon her members’ deeds - even though by their lives the saints among her do manifest her saintliness to the world and contribute through their graced cooperation to her growth in goodness. Rather, Christ himself guarantees the Church’s inviolable sanctity. He is the source and foundation of her holiness. It is the Spirit of Christ the Head who sanctifies his ecclesial Body. TheChurch’s holiness is rooted in God, not man. Thus, commenting in 1985 upon Gaudium et spes 43, Ratzinger rightly insists that the fidelity of the Bride of Christ is not called into question by the infidelities of her members. To illustrate his point, he refers to the Latin formula of the priest’s prayer for peace in the Novus Ordo. In doing so, he critiques the revised formula as well.

Essential Place of Ecclesial Faithfulness

Noting the “great significance” of the possessive adjective’s change in number, Ratzinger detects a potentially problematic shift from personal responsibility for sin to a collective form of responsibility which tends to diminish the former. Hiding personal fault in the anonymous mass of the collective ‘we’ undermines the call to personal conversion which requires a personal admission of guilt. A collective confession of sin effectively negates the individual’s immediate sense of sin and impedes his true conversion. “Hence, in the end,” Ratzinger concludes, “where all have sinned, nobody seems to have sinned” (RR, p. 51). Ratzinger acknowledges that the ‘we’ can be legitimately understood in a manner such that the ‘I’ does not disappear. To that end he appeals to the Our Fatherwherein each Christian prays: “Forgive us our trespasses.” But the potential for misunderstanding in the liturgical prayer remains. In fact, Ratzinger notes a further problem. As the priest names himself and the members of the gathered community sinners, one can easily lose sight that the Church herself is not a sinner, but rather “a reality that surpasses, mysteriously and infinitely, the sum of her members” (RR, p. 52). Ratzinger suggests that to receive the revised prayer properly we should insist before the Lord with particular emphasis: Look not on our sins but the faith of your Church. In doing so we are reminded that the Church is his, not ours, “and the bearer of faith does not sin” (RR, p. 52).

In his efforts to provide an acceptable theological understanding for the revised Latin formula, Ratzinger chooses to emphasise the possessive adjectives: our sins and your Church. Given the revised formula Ratzinger’s suggestion does indeed help to receive a liturgical linguistic reform which proves theologically challenging. Such verbal emphasis compensates for the inherent ambiguities in the present Latin formula. But, quite frankly, it fails to address directly the present prayer’s impoverished theology. The original juxtaposition - indeed, a far richer juxtaposition, I would argue - lies not in the possessive adjectives alone but also in the two substantives found in the Latin phrase: peccata (sins) and fides (faith). To be more precise, theoriginal formula dating from the first Christian millennium specifically juxtaposes the priest’s sins and the Church’s faith. As Ratzinger himself observes, this prayer in its original form - Lord, look not on my sins - was the obligatory prayer of the priest “which liturgical wisdom inserted at the most solemn moment of the Mass” (RR, p. 51). As we shall see, the wisdom, which shines through this liturgical text, beneficially emphasises clerical sinfulness within the context of the ecclesial community of faith. For Christ guarantees the Church’s holiness - a necessary note by which she is constituted. But the priest’s personal holiness is not likewise guaranteed even though his sacramental ministration within the Church is no less necessary.

In its original form, this venerable prayer had been the sinful priest’s prayer for peace. The self-acknowledged sacerdotal sinner prayed that the Lord Jesus in granting peace and unity to the Church look not upon his sins but rather upon the Church’s faith which Christ himself assures. The juxtaposition between clerical sin and ecclesial fidelity lies at the level of instrumentality. In confessing himself a sinner, the priest acknowledges that his moral status is not instrumental in obtaining reconciliatory fruit, that is, peace and unity, for the Church. The efficacy of the Sacraments in no way depends upon the purity of his conscience. Rather, the Lord Jesus is to gaze upon the faith of the entire ecclesial community. The true instrument of Christ’s reconciliatory grace is thefaithfulness of the saints present among the clergy and the laity alike. The holy faithful form the praying heart of the Church wherein dwells the Holy Spirit who forgives sins. Here one rightly beholds the broad ministry of the Church through which God grants pardon and peace. In sum, reciting the ancient text, the priest effectively prayed: “Lord, look not on my infidelities but on the fidelity of your holy people -your Body the Church whose fidelity you yourself assure by the indwelling of your Spirit in their hearts - and grant your people the reconciliatory fruits of peace and unity.” Praying thus the priest salutarily humbled himself before God, opposed any tendencies towards clericalism within himself, and recognised the communio sanctorum’s vital role in ecclesialreconciliation.

Augustine: Essential Place of Ecclesial Intercession

It would seem that no direct historical connection exists between this liturgical prayer and Saint Augustine of Hippo. Nonetheless, the prayer’s theology unquestionably reflects the reconciliatory ecclesiology which the great Church Father elaborated during his early fifth century polemical exchanges with the schismatic Donatist community of North Africa. As we shall see, Augustine’s theological vision is no less pertinent today, some sixteen centuries later.

The Donatists had insisted that a cleric guilty of grave ecclesiological sin - for example, of having surrendered the Scriptures to Roman officials during the Diocletian persecution - severed himself from the Church and therefore could no longer be a source of sanctity for her. According to the Donatists, maintaining ecclesial communion with such seriously sinful clerics contaminated the Church and her members. In rejecting communion with such bishops, the Donatists held that their community here and now was ‘the Church of the saints’ - ‘the Church of the pure’. While Augustine disapproved of the ministry of notorious sinners among the clergy and attested to their legitimate degradation from the clerical state, he, nonetheless, dismissed the Donatist classification of ecclesiological sinas unscriptural. Like all actual sin, clerical sin is personal, the Bishop of Hippo maintained. It cannot spiritually contaminate others by association. Moreover, the priest’s sins - no matter how grave - never impede the Church’s holiness, for sacramental efficacy does not depend upon the cleric’s uncompromised moral status within the ecclesial community. The Sacraments sanctify because Christ himself is their agent. When the Church’s minister baptises, it is in fact Christ who baptises. The origin of the Church’s holiness, therefore, is found in the Lord and not in the cleric’s human merits.

Augustine accused the Donatists of usurping Christ Jesus’ unique mediation between God and men. For Donatist bishops had envisioned their ministry in terms of a realised Levitical priesthood whose sinless members, while interceding before God on behalf of the sinful members of the community, had no need of prayer themselves. Consequently, it seems, the Donatist laity were never encouraged to pray for their clergy. Rather, the ‘sinless’ bishop singularly mediated between God and the people. Grave sin on the part of the bishop would nullify his mediatory mission and thus place in dire jeopardy the people’s salvation. For God does not hear the prayers of sinners, the Donatist Primate Parmenian, appealing to John 9:31, had insisted (Against the Letter of Parmenian 2.8.15). Augustineretorted that the only sinless priest without need of prayer is Christ Jesus whom the Levitical priesthood prefgured. All other priests are sinners, and God, in fact, does not reject the contrite sinner’s prayer. But even if the Donatist argument were correct - that is, even if the prayers of a sinful bishop are not heard - a good and faithful people would have no cause for concern, Augustine counselled (cf. ibid., 2.8.15). For in opposition to the Donatists’ erroneous notion of episcopal mediation, the Bishop of Hippo recognised in the Church’s reconciliatory mission a broad ecclesial dimension.

As members of Christ’s Body, all Christians, clergy and laity alike, are to pray for one another. Against Parmenian, Augustine instructed: “On this account [St. Paul the Apostle] commended himself to the Church’s prayers and did not set himself up as a mediator between God and the people so that all the members of Christ’s Body would pray for one another. …and thus the reciprocal prayer of all the members still labouring on earth will ascend to the Head who preceded them into heaven, in whom we have forgiveness for our sins” (Ibid., 2.8.16). Augustine insisted that the clergy has no monopoly on intercessory prayer. Rather, in terms of their personal prayer, the clergy and the laity equally intercede for one another as baptised members of Christ’s Body. Christ himself receives theirprayers, and in him those prayers bear reconciliatory fruit. In light of this broadly ecclesial understanding of intercession, Augustine returned to Parmenian’s argument.

Alluding to the non-Hebrew prophet Balaam whose requested curse became a blessing for Israel (cf. Numbers 24), Augustine explained: “It is no marvel, then, that in a similar fashion the good words which are said for the people in prayer, even if they be said by bad bishops, are nonetheless heard not on account of the prelates’ perversity, but on account of the peoples’ devotion” (Ibid., 2.8.17). In other words, when answering a sinful priest’s prayers, the Lord looks not on the cleric’s moral status but rather on the Church’s faith. Not only, then, had the Donatists’ conception usurped Christ’s unique mediation, but it also undermined the prayerful efficacy of Christ’s ecclesial Body. Within the ecclesial Body Augustine himself emphasised the laity’s proper and indeed indispensable rolein ecclesial reconciliation.

Preaching one Easter Saturday, Augustine explained to a lay congregation that, in entrusting the keys of the kingdom to Peter, Jesus entrusted them to the entire Church whom Peter uniquely personifies. In Peter Jesus bestowed upon the whole Church the spiritual reconciliatory authority to bind and loose sinners. In virtue of the Church’s living Tradition, Augustine the Bishop acknowledged that he himself possessed those keys. But he did not stop there. He went on to instruct the lay faithful present in church that paschal morning that they, too, bind and loose the sinner. “Anybody who’s bound, you see,” he explained, “is barred from your society; and when he’s barred from your society, he’s bound by you; and when he’s reconciled he’s loosed by you, because you too plead with God for him”(Sermon 229N.2). Thus Augustine taught the lay faithful that they rightly bind the sinner through fraternal correction and loose him by means of their intercessory prayer.

Among other things, such fraternal correction entailed keeping an eye on the public penitent and when necessary admonishing him within the community. In the case of serious sin which merited a sentence of excommunication (medicinally administered in view of an eventual reconciliation), not only did the bishop impede the penitent’s access to the Eucharistic altar but the penitent’s family denied him table-fellowship at home as well. In this way they, too, bound the excommunicate penitent. In terms of Matthew 18:18, Augustine noted that the one, whom the lay faithful bound on earth, was likewise bound in heaven (cf. Sermon 82.4.7). The lay faithful’s intercessory prayer, moreover, was no less efficacious in loosing the sinner’s bonds.

Identifying a penitent astrologer present one day in the congregation, Augustine exhorted the lay faithful: “Pray for him through Christ. Begin at once. Offer today’s prayer for him to the Lord our God. We know with certainty that your prayer will blot out all his acts of impiety” (Commentary on the Psalms 61.23). Thus in the sinner’s regard, the authentic voice of the faithful is one efficaciously raised in prayer. Indeed, the collective prayer of the holy faithful is, for Augustine, the principal instrument by means of which God forgives sins in the Church. Faithful to the North African exegetical tradition, Augustine saw in the unique dove of Song of Songs 6:9 a privileged symbol of the Church. But in contrast to the Donatists, he understood the dove’s sighs to be theholy faithful’s efficacious intercession for sinners. The sigh of the ecclesial dove is the voice of the faithful, and “the dove unbinds” (Sermon 295.2.2).

Sacramental Ministry: In Persona Ecclesiae

None of the preceding means to say, however, that Augustine denied the ordained ministry its proper role in ecclesial reconciliation. The bishop alone had the canonical authority to excommunicate. In the ancient Church, he alone determined the duration of the public penitent’s penance. He alone imposed hands at the moment of reconciliation typically celebrated in the prayerful midst of the liturgical assembly on Holy Thursday. Without the clergy, Augustine insisted, there was no possibility of ecclesial reconciliation (cf. Letter 228.8). This remains equally true today. Only the priest in virtue of Holy Orders can speak the very ‘I’ of Jesus and sacramentally absolve sins in persona Christi capitis. But, according to the Bishop of Hippo, neither did the ancient bishopnor, for that matter, does the priest today act independently of the ecclesial community’s intercessory role. While the liturgical gesture of imposing hands exclusively pertained to the bishop in the ancient Church’s reconciliatory rites, it incarnated the Church’s saintly members’ collective intercession by means of which the penitent’s sins are forgiven. It would not be incorrect to say that for Augustine when the reconciling bishop imposed hands he was acting in persona Ecclesiae, and by this ministry of his Christ reconciled the sinner. The laity, neither individually nor collectively, can exercise such a ministerial role. Nonetheless, the lay faithful, always in unison with the clergy and never separated from them, do exercise a real spiritual authority which forms anintegral part of the Church’s reconciliatory mission.

Augustine grounds the lay faithful’s spiritual authority in their baptismal vocation. At their baptism Christians receive a royal-sacerdotal anointing and become members of Christ’s sacerdotal Body. On this account, Augustine, while acknowledging the distinct reality of the ordained priesthood, did not hesitate to call all baptised Christians priests (sacerdotes) (cf. The City of God 20.10). In their twofold anointing Christians receive the regal mission to bind the sinner through fraternal correction and the sacerdotal mission to loose him through intercessory prayer. The Christian faithful’s intercessory prayer is efficacious because it is in the final analysis the prayer of Christ the Head whose bodily member each Christian is.

There is One Mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ who mediates in his humanity. While his mediation is unique, it admits of participation. The holy faithful share with Christ a common human nature. Through the grace of Baptism and the Eucharist, they are sacramentally incorporated into his Body. Consequently, they are made one with Christ in his sacred humanity, that is, at the locus of his mediation. Given this sacramental incorporation, their prayer for sinners is a graced participation in Christ’s unique reconciliatory mediation. As Augustine explained, “when the body of the Son prays it does not separate its head from itself” (Expositions of the Psalms 85.1). In the Whole Christ (Christus totus), that is, the Head, who is the Incarnate Word, and theBody, which is the Church, the faithful are made one single man with Christ: “We pray, then, to him, through him and in him; we speak with him and he speaks with us. We speak in him, and he speaks in us” (Expositions of the Psalms 85.1). The prayer of the holy faithful is the prayer of Christ, who, seated at the Father’s right hand, intercedes for sinners and alone remits sins.

Christ forgives sins by means of his Spirit who has been poured forth into the hearts of the faithful (cf. Romans 5:5). The Holy Spirit lovingly binds these saintly members of the Catholic Church together in unity. He prays within them and thereby assures the efficacy of their prayers (cf. Romans 8:26-27). Within this divinely established bond of prayerful unity valid baptism becomes efficacious for the forgiveness of sins. Such pneumatology underlies Augustine’s broad vision of ecclesial reconciliation and led him to reject the Donatists’ false notion of episcopal mediation. Rhetorically engaging the Donatist bishops, Augustine preached: “It’s the Spirit who forgives, not you. But the Spirit is God. So it’s God who forgives, not you. …God dwells in his holy temple, that is among his holyfaithful, in his Church; it is through them he forgives sins, because they are living temples” (Sermon 99.9). Thus does God through the Spirit-filled ministry of the whole Church grant pardon and peace to the sinner.
The lay faithful exercise their regal-sacerdotal mission in a context of tolerance. We must note immediately that by tolerance we do not mean pervasive indifference leading to a climate of relativistic pluralism. Rather, in the ancient Church, tolerating a sinner within the community meant keeping him nearby so as to be able to correct him. For outside the Church there was no hope for his salvation. On this account, Augustine insisted that the pilgrim Church rightly remains a mixed society of saints and sinners wherein the saints tolerate sinners in their midst for the sake of the latter’s conversion. Only in the eschaton will the Church be completely without stain or wrinkle. This mixed reality holds true for those seated in the sanctuary as well as those standing in the nave. Preachingon the parable of the wheat and the tares, Augustine instructed his Catholic congregation perhaps unduly influenced by their Donatist neighbours: “I must tell your graces plainly that in the sanctuaries of the church there are wheat grains and there are weeds, just as among the laity there are grains of wheat and there are weeds” (Sermon 73.4). On another occasion the Bishop of Hippo humbly confessed: “Certainly, brothers and sisters, because God has willed it so, I am his high priest, I am a sinner, together with you I beat my breast, together with you I pray for pardon, together with you I hope God will be gracious” (Sermon 135.7). Augustine was no Donatist bishop. He recognised quite well his prayerful solidarity with the lay faithful in beseeching God’s mercy. Heeffectively prayed: “Lord, look not on my sins but on the faith of your Church.”

Hope in the Face of Scandal

Priests are sinners. That is news to no one - least of all to the priest himself. But since 2002 the criminal sinfulness of certain priests has received extensive news coverage in the United States of America. A comparable situation has occurred in Ireland since the 1990’s, and the Church in Poland generally for reasons particular to contemporary Polish history has experienced much of the same over the past few years. Much soul-searching has taken place in every quarter of the Church. Arising out of these crises, the voice of the faithful clamours to be heard. It is above all in the Church’s liturgy that one rightly hears this voice raised in prayer for the sinner, both clerical and lay. This had been particularly true of the sinful priest’s millennium-old prayer for peace. As we haveseen with the aid of Saint Augustine’s
pastoral theology itself refined in the crucible of an ancient ecclesial crisis, that prayer in its original form gave authentic voice to the lay faithful’s indispensable role in ecclesial reconciliation. By an otherwise simple grammatical change of a possessive adjective’s number from the singular to the plural - peccata mea to peccata nostra - this liturgical voice has been muted and consequently it seems a profound theological vision so necessary for today has been obscured. The present experience confirms yet once again: lex orandi, lex credendi. How we pray not only reveals, but indeed also informs what we believe. At present dissident voices use the scandalous weakness of some Church leaders to foster that denial of the Church’sdivinity which Cardinal Ratzinger highlighted back in his 1985 Report. These voices bear distinctly Donatist overtones. As a result the authentic voice of the holy faithful is not heard. Present need and opportunity call for the Church both to confess clerical sin and to profess the Church’s fidelity which Christ assures and by means of which he reconciles sinners. This critical period in Church history, which is ours, provides an almost singular opportunity for the Church to reaffirm the laity’s baptismal vocation to bind the sinner through fraternal correction and to loose him through intercessory prayer. That prayer - as Augustine’s saintly mother Monica so powerfully attested - manifests itself more often than not in tears.

In his 2007 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI, “[t]aking into account ancient and venerable customs and the wishes expressed by the Synod Fathers, […] asked the competent curial offices to study the possibility of moving the sign of peace to another place, such as before the presentation of the gifts at the altar” (Sacramentum Caritatis 49, note 150). As we noted at the beginning, a slight shift in the placement of both the priest’s prayer for peace and the accompanying exchange of peace, along with two other significant changes, did occur in the Novus Ordo. Whether or not it is opportune or even necessary to move the sign of peace again and in a more radical manner remains to be seen. It would be most propitious,however, to study as well the possibility of reclaiming the singular possessive adjective mea (my) and thereby in the context of the priest’s essential liturgical ministrations reaffirming the broadly ecclesial dimension operative in sacramental reconciliation. Such a study need not imply that the prayer necessarily become again the priest’s private prayer recited quietly to himself. On the contrary, it would be most salutary for both priest and people alike to hear the priest humbly confess aloud in the midst of the Church that he, too, is a sinner in need of God’s mercy. Could this not have been the prophetic insight of Pope Paul VI which moved him to insist that this ancient prayer be retained in the Roman Rite? If so, it still awaits to be given full voice.

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