One change, or rather, correction in the Revised Missal that may escape the notice of some comes at the end of the rite of the Preparation of the Gifts at the altar. Having ritually cleansed his hands, the priest turns to the people and says,
Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.
From September (in England and Wales) the celebrant will address the people saying,
Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.
The change might seem a fussy one, and even those who know the original Latin may find it pedantic. But the change is important, not only because it is faithful to the Latin original, but because it sheds much light on the participation of the congregation at Mass.
To dispose of the more apparent point first, the change is indeed a correction. The Latin original, on which all translations must be based, clearly says ut meum ac vestrum sacrificium: (literally) “that my and your sacrifice”. This invitation and its response are found in the Roman Missal prior to the introduction of the new Roman Missal after the Council (and is referred to as the Orate fratres – “pray, brethren”). It is not an exercise in circumlocution. It is a reminder, built into the liturgical rite itself, that the sacrifice the priest will offer is not solely his own. The sacrifice is also offered on behalf of the people, and indeed all the Church. Thus the priest reminds the people that the sacrifice he offers is also on their behalf, and that rightly they should pray with him that it might be acceptable to the Father. The current translation of “our” is on one level logical: mine + yours = ours. But this piece of editorial logic weakens the reminder that the priest is giving the people, which was the stronger with the distinction of “my” and “your”.
Perhaps on a more dangerous level it might lead some to belive that the congregation itself is offering the sacrifice to the Father along with the priest. This is a faulty understanding of the Mass. It is the priest who offers the Sacrifice of the Mass, the Lord’s Body and Blood. And he does so because by ordination he is empowered to act in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. Because, as we all know, it is not any many human who offers Christ to the Father; rather it is Christ’s self-sacrifice to his Father, for us and for salvation. At Mass, as in other sacraments, the priest is the instrument by which Christ acts.
Nevertheless, the people do offer a sacrifice, and at this point in the Mass the dialogue can serve to remind the people to ensure they offer it. St Paul (in Romans 12:1) tells us what this sacrifice of the people is:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
In the early Church not only were bread and wine brought up at the Offertory, but also other gifts that might be of service to the local Church. Today those gifts are condensed into and symbolised by the money given in the collection. That money, as too those original gifts, are themselves symbols of the offering of ourselves to God, of our bodies in spiritual sacrifice.
So the correction made in the revised Missal will serve not only to remind the people that the priest is offering a sacrifice that is not solely the priest’s but on behalf of all the Church, a symbol and microcosm of which is the congregation gathered at that particular time and place. This puts the congregation’s half of this dialogue in its proper context:
May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.
Yet the correction also serves as a timely reminder to the people to ensure that they unite the offering of themselves, their spiritual sacrifice, to that being offered by Christ at the priest’s hands on their behalf. The Church, the Body of Christ, offers itself in its individual members in union with Christ as he offers himself in the one great sacrifice of the Cross to the Father in his Body and Blood through the ministry of the priest. This all part of the individual Christian’s mission to unite himself, or herself, ever more intimately to Christ, indeed to become one with Him, which is the heart of holiness. For as Christ offers himself for us, lays down his life for us, so too are we called to offer ourselves with Him, to lay down our lives for our friends, for greater love than this there is not! (cf John 15:13)