Mea culpa

Mea culpa

[me-ah kool-pah; Eng. mey-uh kuhl-puh, mee-uh]
Mea culpa is a Latin phrase that translates into English as "my fault", or "my own fault". In order 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 traditional prayer in the Mass of the Roman Catholic Church known as Confiteor (Latin for "I confess"), in which the individual recognizes his or her flaws before God.

The traditional text in Latin is:

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.

The traditional translation of the phrase, which appeared in most people's missals prior to 1970, was "through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault." This same translation appears in missals used today in Masses of the Extraordinary Form, the so-called Traditional Latin Mass.

Anglican Missals of the Episcopal Church in the USA and in the Church of England that included this prayer used the same translation, though sometimes the last part was translated "my own most grievous fault."

Popular meaning

In the popular vernacular, the expression "mea culpa" has acquired a more direct meaning, in which, by doing or performing a "mea culpa", someone admits to having made a mistake by one's own fault (meaning that it could have been avoided if that person had been more diligent). It may be used even in trivial situations: if an American football player, for instance, admits that his team lost a game because he missed a field goal, 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. In today's American vernacular, people often say "my bad."

In some countries, phonetic versions of the phrase are used with the same meaning. For instance, in Slovene, the phrase "Moja Kolpa" is often used, sounding almost the same, but literally meaning "My Kolpa" (Kolpa is a river in Slovenia).

In Literature

"... mea culpa, mea culpa, Blessed Virgin forgive me." - is used on the first page of the 5th chapter called "November Saints AD 1064" in the novel The Voice of The Fire by Alan Moore.

Mea culpa - mea culpa - mea maxima culpa is mentioned in Ayn Rand's novel, the Fountainhead (on p693 of the hardcover edition).

"... I, George Darling, did it. MEA CULPA, MEA CULPA." is used in Chapter 2 of Peter Pan by James M. Barrie

"Mea maxima culpa, my Lord Prince, you got me there" As John Ryan speaks to the Prince of Wales in Patriot Games by Tom Clancy.

In Media

In Love, Stargirl Perry says "Mea Culpa" to Stargirl after she points out to him that he was wrong in assuming that she was a typical girl.
"Mea culpa" is a catchphrase Lisa Simpson (from the highly popular Fox television program "The Simpsons") uses occasionally in the video game "Simpsons: Hit and Run"
"Mea culpa" is an award winning Spanish language Television series, depicting real life crimes. (TVN Chile 1994-2008)
"Mea Culpa" is the title of a scene from the movie Fight Club, in which the Narrator first realizes his role in the group.
"Mea Culpa" is the title of an episode (season1, episode 9) of Alias.
"Mea Culpa" is the name of a song from progressive metal band The Human Abstract from their album Nocturne.
In the song Hellfire (Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame) in which Minister Frollo is singing, he says it is not his fault he is in love with Esmerelda, and large hooded figures in red appear and begin singing 'Mea Culpa' as he continues to sing "It's not my fault, if in God's plan, He made the Devil so much stronger than a man."
"Mea Culpa" is the title of an episode (episode 4) of Ultraviolet starring Jack Davenport.
"Mea Culpa" is the name of a song from David Byrne and Brian Eno's Album Entitled, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.
In the Showtime series The Tudors Thomas More (played by Jeremy Northam) is shown speaking this Latin prayer.
Singer, Jimmy Buffett, uses the words "Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa" in the song "Fruitcakes".
"Mea Culpa" is the name of a song from "Enigma (musical project)".
The Spanish translation of this prayer is shown in a scene in Almodovar's 'Bad Education' where Padre Manolo is being watched by the Ignacio he abused as a boy saying "por mi culpa"

"Mea Culpa" is mentioned by the Priest to Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta

Sources and references

See also

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