Mea culpa is a Latin phrase that translates into English as "my mistake" or "my fault". To emphasize the message, the adjective "maxima" may be inserted, resulting in mea maxima culpa, which would translate as "my most [grievous] fault."
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 "mea culpa" appears in the prayer from the 16th century. The Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite text of the prayer is (with the new approved 2010 ICEL English translation, recently put into use) :
- Confíteor Deo omnipoténti et vobis, fratres,
- quia peccávi nimis cogitatióne, verbo, ópere et omissióne:
- mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa.
- 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.
The text in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (pre-1970) is (with unofficial English translation):
- Confiteor Deo omnipotenti, beatae Mariae semper Virgini, beato Michaeli Archangelo, beato Joanni Baptistae, sanctis Apostolis Petro et Paulo, omnibus Sanctis, et tibi Pater: quia peccavi nimis cogitatione, verbo et opere: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Ideo precor beatam Mariam semper Virginem, beatum Michaelem Archangelum, beatum Joannem 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 angels and 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. Anglican Missals have the same prayer, such as the Church of England.
Popular meaning 
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.
See also 
- ^ Fortescue, A. (1908). Confiteor. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved March 4, 2009 from: New Advent
- ^ From the 2010 ICEL Translation
- ^ "Authorized Forms of Confession and Absolution", The Church of England, Retrieved February 9th, 2012 from churchofengland.org