In the Gospel of Luke (18:10-14), Jesus told the parable of two men, who prayed in the Temple: one very religious, felt he was perfect; the other who stood at a distance, fearing God, who declared himself a sinner. Jesus praised the second man’s prayer.
The Mass begins with the Penitential Rite, and it is important to make use of this part of the Mass, because it focuses on our sinfulness and creates a deep sense of our need for God. In the last forty years there has been a general loss of consciousness of sin, and that is, as some say, the greatest success of Satan: make us feel that we have not need for God and His forgiveness.
In his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew5:23-4), Jesus told his disciples that broken relationships can hinder our relationship with God. If we have a problem or grievance with a friend, we should resolve the problem as soon as possible. We are hypocrites if we claim to love God while we hate others. Our attitudes toward others reflect our relationship with God (1John 4:20).
At the beginning of the Mass there is a public confession. This prayer is directed not only to God, but to everyone present. We acknowledge our acts that separated us from God; through our own fault, in our minds, in our hearts, in our actions and - very important- in what we have not done. It is an admission that we are in desperate need of God to rescue us from our plight. Our sins have consequences: they separate us from God, they create discord, cause pain. Not only we need God who can rescue us, but we also need God to empower us to change our lifestyle.
We must note one thing about the Jewish idea of prayer. The Jews believed that a prayer of an individual runs a risk of being centered on oneself, and so, the highest kind of prayer—the Jews believed—is the prayer of community, from which we should not separate ourselves. It has always been the belief of the Church that when we gather to pray as a community, we are joined by the angels and saints: heaven comes down to us. We acknowledge the “unseen” world that joins us. We ask the Mother of God, the angels, and the saints to do, what the people gathered with you and the priest are asking you to do and do it: ask God to hear their prayers!
The Penitential Rite is a general prayer of absolution. It does not have the power to forgive us the mortal sins in the way that the prayer of absolution does in the Sacrament of Penance, but in a general way reminds us that this prayer is one way to accept the mercy of God that is given to the church through the merits of Jesus Christ. Open your heart to this gift.