Why do we tap our chests during Mass or make the sign of the cross three times during Mass?

Both non-Catholics and Catholics have questions about some of the rituals practiced during Mass. By knowing the meanings behind these rituals, Catholics can better understand their faith.

Some may wonder why reciting the Confiteor includes tapping their chests in the middle of it. Father Mark Ott explained that this tradition comes from Jewish and Hebrew roots.

“We do this action during the part in the prayer where we acknowledge that we have sinned ‘through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,’” he said. “This triple repetition of ‘my fault’ is kind of an old Hebrew way of expressing a superlative. The Hebrew language does not have a different word form for superlatives, so it just repeats the adjective to emphasize the superlative. This is meant to be a most profound moment of realization of the depth and effect of my own sin. The beating of the breast that accompanies this is an outward sign of that interior realization.”

Another ritual some may have questions about is the practice of making the sign of the cross on the forehead, lips and heart before the Gospel reading. Father Mark pointed out that this represents a prayer parishioners should be saying mentally to accompany this gesture: “May this word be on my mind, on my lips and in my heart.”

“The Gospel reading is where we come in closest contact with the actual words and deeds of Jesus,” he said. “In order that this Gospel may be living and effective in us, we ask through this prayer and gesture that God allow it to influence our thoughts, our speech and our acting will.”
–Written by Scott Kriska