Total Pageviews

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Scarlett lesson

I never tire of watching Gone With the Wind.  Every time I watch this venerable Hollywood treasure, I pick up different nuances.  One particular item that I caught centered around the way Catholicsm was portrayed in the film.   In the movie, the O'Haras, especially the parents, are devout Catholics.  Early on in the movie, we see the matriarch of the O'Hara clan, Ellen (shown above with her daughter, Scarlett), lead the family in nightly prayer.  And the prayer we watch them recite?  It's the Confiteor.   Here is the text of the prayer:

I confess to Almighty God, to Blessed Mary, ever Virgin, to Blessed Michael the Archangel, to Blessed John the Baptist, to the Holy Apostles, Peter and Paul, to all the saints and to you, my brethren, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word and deed:  through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.  Therefore, I bessech the Blessed Mary, ever Virgin, the Blessed Michael the Archangel, the Blessed John the Baptist and the Holy Apostles, Peter and Paul, all the sains and you brethren, to pray to the Lord, our God, for me.

Now, while the rest of the O'Hara family (including their slaves) are reciting this prayer, Scarlett continues to plot and scheme her way into Ashley Wilkes' heart, not quite the kind of thing one should be doing during the time reserved to ask God for his mercy.  Nonetheless, this particular scene in Gone With the Wind is a teaching moment of sorts, both about the proper disposition one should have when beseeching God to be merciful and the kind of prayer used.

The Confiteor that the O'Hara family recited was the one that the Church used during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass up until the reforms of Pope Paul VI.   This prayer serves, I believe, a two-fold purpose.  It reminds us of God's covenant mercy, the mercy that he has promised us throughout the covenants He made, beginning with Noah all the way to the perfect covenant sealed with the blood of His Son's sacrifice on the cross.  The second purpose of this prayer is perhaps lesser known and maybe even lesser understood.  When we sin, we not only commit an individual infraction against God, but, a communal one as well.  Sin hurts both our relationship with God and our relationship with the Church.  When we sin, we rupture the communion that we have with God and with his Church.  That is why in this particular Confiteor, names are mentioned.  We ask for the intercession of the Blessed Mary, ever Virgin, St. Michael the Archangel, St. John the Baptist, Sts. Peter and Paul, the whole company of saints and finally, of each other. 

We include this company of saints because, they, too, form part of the Church.  Recall that membership in the Church is not restricted to just the warm bodies occupying the pews.  The saints in heaven and the souls in purgatory are members of the Church as well.   We ask the saints to pray for us and with us, beseeching for God's covenant mercy.

Somehow, when the confiteor was revised in the late 1960s, that communal aspect was lost.  Here is what we currently pray at Mass during the Penitential Rite:

I confess to almighty God,
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have
through my own fault

in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done,
and in what I have failed to do;

and I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin,
all the angels and saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

When the rest of the names were eliminated, I believe that we lost a sense of the beauty of the communal aspect of intercession.  While I have not been able to fully ascertain why Sts. Michael, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul were specifically named in the Confiteor, I have my own theory as to the reasoning.  St. Michael is the Church's traditional defender against the Evil One.  He is the one who does battle against the dragon in the Book of Revelation.  St. John the Baptist preached repentence.  St. Peter's first homily, which he preached on Pentecost, stirred some 3,000 souls into conversion.  St. Paul reminded the early Church about the communal aspect of intercessory prayer.   Removing their names from the Confiteor in the Ordinary Form of the Mass, I believe, tended to water down this powerful intercessory dimension.

Another interesting omission in the current English translation centers around the deletion of the triple mea culpa from the Confiteor.    Someone on one of the Catholic Answers forums wondered why we would make such a fuss over its removal since the individual considered it somewhat of an "overkill."   However, if we were to look inside the Sacred Scriptures, this is not always the case.  Recall the parable that Jesus told about the Pharisee and the publican.  While the Pharisee was engaged in self-glorification, the publican stood off in the back, striking his breast and repeatedly asked God for mercy as he took into account his many offenses. 

The Latin original retains the triple mea culpa, as does just about every other language translation except the English version.  However, that will soon change.  The coming revised English translation of the Roman Missal restores this triple invocation:

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned

in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done
and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault,
through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

We acknowledge the greatness of our sins and offenses and we own up to our culpability in these acts as we recite this revised Confiteor.   Perhaps because we've memorized the prayer early on as chlidren, we've seemed to have lost its meaning.  Of course, I believe that its full impact was somewhat lost when the triple mea culpas were removed.   Even though we recite this prayer at every Mass, sometimes I wonder if we have pondered its full meaning, or, if we are like Scarlett, simply saying the words because everyone else is saying them while we think of other things. 

Learning the revised version of the Confiteor, I believe, will help us to concentrate on the prayer that we are saying.  The words should impact us and help us to consider the ugliness of sin, the power of intercessory prayer and the limitless covenant mercy that God offers us, if only we ask with contrite hearts.

Scarlett begins her saga with a half-hearted recitation of the Confiteor.  By the end of the film, she has lost her daughter, two husbands, her sister-in-law, her parents and her one, true love.   She finds repentence, but, it is too late.  However, even if we were to lose everything, we must remember God's covenant mercy and how He waits for us, even though our sins may be as scarlet.

No comments:

Post a Comment