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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 2010 ICEL English translation):
Confíteor Deo omnipoténti
I confess to almighty God
Confiteor Deo omnipotenti, beatae Mariae semper virgini,
I confess to omnipotent God, to Blessed Mary ever-virgin,
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.