Many people interpret the penitential rite to be an examination of conscience. It is not. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (# 29) tells us that the penitential rite is made up of a communal confession, which the priest's absolution brings to an end. We acknowledge that we are sinners. All of us. We the community. Not just me.
Till recent years the Roman liturgy, in contrast to those of the East, never knew a public penitential rite within the Mass. The Confiteor among the "prayer at the foot of the altar" was really the private devotion of the priest and his ministers.
During the post-Vatican II revision of the Mass several questions arose concerning a public penitential rite. Should it even appear among the elements of the Mass? If so, should it be optional or required only for certain liturgical seasons? What should be its location? These questions were resolved by placing a simple penitential rite, with three options, among the introductory rites. The rite is neither a listing of sins nor an examination of conscience. Rather, it focuses on the all-embracing mercy of God whose love forgiveness is ever at work among his people.
Incorporated into this rite is the Kyrie. Since it is a song by which the faithful praise the Lord and implore his mercy, it is ordinarily prayed by all, that is, alternately by the congregation and the choir or cantor. The presence of the Kyrie at Mass has a long and varied history. It originated in a litany of petitions with the Kyrie eleison being the people's response after the deacon announced each intention. Transferred from after the homily to the beginning of the Roman Mass, the series of intentions announced by the deacon soon fell into disuse. Only the response remained. The function of the Kyrie is to be that of an acclamation praising God for his goodness and mercy on behalf of all humankind. In accordance with both ancient and eastern tradition, the acclamation is addressed to Christ. The cry "Lord, have mercy" is often seen as specifically penitential, but in fact its history shows that it is more a general acclamation of the Lord. It almost has the character of a cheer rather than a begging for forgiveness.
The key to this may lie in the Hebrew word hesed, which means God's steadfast love and mercy. The phrase "Lord, have mercy" is a cry for God's continued covenant love. The focus in not on our sinfulness but on God's love. Thus this litany invokes Christ and focuses on the gift of forgiveness. Awareness of this gift, recognition of the fact that we are all forgiven sinners, can be a strong motive for praise and gratitude that does not clash with the motifs of joy and celebration.
As an alternative to the regular options for the penitential rite, the blessing and sprinkling of holy water may take place at all Sunday Masses. While especially appropriate during the Easter season, it can be used anytime the community would benefit from reaffirming their identity as the baptized People of God. The sprinkling rite is meant to bring each member of the assembly into contact with water. The sprinkling expresses the pascal character of Sunday and is a reminder of the baptismal washing whereby we die to sin and rise unto new life with Christ.
[Source: St. Paul Roman Catholic Parish Bulletin, Saskatoon, SK, Canada, February 24, 2008]
IMPORTANT NOTE REGARDING THE COMMUNAL CONFESSION:
A Communal confession is valid only for emergency or unusual circumstances such as for those who live in remote areas or in a situation where there are insufficient priests available to hear everyone's confesssion prior to attendance at the Holy Mass. Under ordinary circumstances it cannot replace individual confession (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1483 and Code of Canon Law # 961 and # 962).
In many places, especially in North America, communal confession is administered as a substitute to the regular Sacrament of Confession on a regular basis, even on a weekly basis, the priest and Parish Council both failing to educate the faithful on the legality of the matter. No one is told that, in order for the communion confession to be valid, each individual MUST receive the regular Sacrament of Confession on a one to one basis with the priest as has been the Catholic practice for centuries. And the believer CANNOT receive the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist if he/she is in a state of mortal sin and has not received the Sacrament of Confession after having once received a Communal Confession. You cannot receive two Communal Confessions in a row without a proper confession.
He/she who fails to receive the individual Sacrament of Confession and dies in mortal sin, will be damned eternally. Receiving Communal Confession on a weekly basis does not save a soul! This is especially true in cities where parishioners are too lazy to drive a few blocks away to the next Catholic Church where priests are available to administer the individual Sacrament of Confession!