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Mea culpa is a Latin phrase that translates into English as "through my fault". It is repeated three times in the prayer of confession at the Catholic Mass: meā culpā, meā culpā, meā maximā culpā – "through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault". The three phrases are in the ablative case, which gives the instrumental meaning "through".
The origin of the expression is from a prayer of confession of sinfulness used in the Mass of the Roman Catholic Church known as Confiteor (Latin for "I confess"), of which the first evidence dates from shortly before 1100AD. The phrase "meā culpā" appears in the prayer from the 16th century. The Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite text of the prayer is (with the 2010 ICEL English translation):
Confíteor Deo omnipoténti
et vobis, fratres,
quia peccávi nimis
ópere et omissióne:
meā culpā, meā culpā,
meā máximā culpā.
Ideo precor beátam Maríam semper vírginem,
omnes angelos et sanctos,
et vos, fratres,
oráre pro me ad Dóminum Deum nostrum.
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;
therefore 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.[not in citation given]
Confiteor Deo omnipotenti, beatae Mariae semper virgini,
beato Michaeli archangelo, beato Ioanni Baptistae,
sanctis apostolis Petro et Paulo, omnibus sanctis, et tibi pater:
quia peccavi nimis cogitatione, verbo et opere:
meā culpā, meā culpā, meā maximā culpā.
Ideo precor beatam Mariam semper virginem,
beatum Michaelem archangelum, beatum Ioannem Baptistam,
sanctos apostolos Petrum et Paulum, omnes sanctos, et te pater,
orare pro me ad Dominum Deum nostrum.
I confess to omnipotent 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 Father:
that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word and deed:
through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.
Therefore I beseech the Blessed Mary ever-virgin,
Blessed Michael the archangel, Blessed John the Baptist,
the holy apostles Peter and Paul, all the saints, and you, Father,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.
Those saying the prayer beat their breast at the italicized words. The pre-1970 Roman Missal specified that that should be done three times.
In the popular vernacular, the expression mea culpa is an admission of having made a mistake by one's own fault (one that could have been avoided if the person had been more diligent). It may be used even in trivial situations: if a sports player, for instance, admits that his team lost a game because he missed an opportunity to score, this may be called a mea culpa, meaning that he admitted his mistake, which he could have avoided (at least in theory), and that resulted in a subsequent evil.
- Fortescue, A. (1908). "History of the confiteor" in Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved March 4, 2009
- "From the 2010 ICEL Translation". United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 2013-04-16. Retrieved 2013-08-28.