The Act Of Contrition

I was raised Roman Catholic, and for quite awhile during my adolescence, I was very devout. I knew nothing of knowing Jesus, but I was a good Catholic until . . . well, until I wasn’t. And then I met Christ, and I became not-Catholic, which, since I’m not of the Orthodox communion, means I’m Protestant.

And because Protestants rebel against “formal” prayers — memorized script that can be mumbled through by rote or offered to the Lord in utter sincerity — I’ve filed away, largely unretrieved, the ones I learned in catechism. I say the Lord’s Prayer; Catholics don’t claim it as only theirs. I reject the Hail Mary, though, just as I no longer sing the hymn “Immaculate Mary” — because it refers to the Immaculate Conception, which is not, as many people think, the doctrine of Christ’s virgin birth, but the peculiarly Catholic doctrine (and by “peculiar,” I mean “specific to,” not “weird”) of Mary’s impeccability, or her absolute, unchangeable sinlessness. Mary needed a Savior, too, and I’m pretty sure, after reading the Magnificat in the Gospel of Luke, that she was well aware of it.

But for whatever reason — very likely the reality that, like Mary, I’m also not in possession of a sinlessly impeccable soul — I have held onto the Act of Contrition, a lovely prayer that doesn’t confer grace or forgiveness, but simply pleads it, and pleads it with a simple confidence in the finished work of Christ Jesus. It may be something to commit to memory, just in case you, Mary, and me have that sin thing in common among us.

Oh, Lord, 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,

Our impromptu, unscripted prayers, whether in crisis or devotion, don’t save us, and neither do traditional, scripted prayers. Only God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, saves us and rescues us from sin’s hold. We evangelicals reject “rote” prayers, which cease to be rote, only written, when uttered in humility and sincerity. But I think there are words and prayers, traditions and rituals, that guide and comfort us. The Spirit’s work isn’t guaranteed in the impromptu, nor necessarily quenched in the written. There’s nothing specifically “Catholic” in the Act of Contrition; it speaks nothing of transubstantiation or Purgatory or Mary’s conception, immaculate or common. It does, though, firmly place the commission of sin in our own rebellion and will, and seeks only God’s merciful promise to remedy what we’ve wrought.

In our fear of “looking Catholic” by reciting scripted prayer, we sometimes end up looking, sounding and feeling just a bit less Christlike. We may be avowedly Protestant, but being Protestant never saved anyone. That someone else first thought of the words of a prayer, and generations have preserved it, makes it no more or no less appropriate and grace-filled. For us to believe that only the impromptu prayers that spring from our hearts can please God is, I’m afraid, evidence that there will always be a need for the love affirmed in the Act — words on paper, pouring nonetheless from the hearts of women and men afraid to pray a formal, scripted prayer out of worry that they might get it wrong, not do it right, or otherwise offend their God.

One Response to “The Act Of Contrition”

  1. Ashwin says:

    Very nice. Liked this very much. Thank you and God bless!

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