Spirituality of the Mass

The editor of the local deanery magazine, Together, asked for a brief contribution to the latest issue, just out. Since I am behind in preparing a new post for here, the article is included below. Waste not, want not….

“My sacrifice and yours”: Towards a Renewed Spirituality of the Mass

In the revised Roman Missal which we have begun already to use in the English-speaking Church, we find a small but significant correction to the English text (one correction among many). At the Preparation of the Gifts, having offered the bread and wine, the priest now invites the people to pray “that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father”. In the previous translation a paraphrase had been intruded: “our sacrifice”. One assumes this was for the sake of reducing a perceived wordiness in any accurate translation of the Latin original.

Yet sometimes such a simplification is not be helpful. A subtle and intentional ambiguity had been lost here in our previous translation. By the editors’ decision to plump for “our” as a way of translating “my… and yours” they reduced the scope of meaning simply to the sacrifice of the host and chalice, soon to be the Body and Blood of Christ – the offering of which makes us present to Christ’s self-sacrifice on the Cross, the highest point of love ever to be achieved in this world. And on that level it is true: the faithful are called to unite themselves with the priest as he offers this Sacrifice on their behalf. The Church, as the Body of Christ, offers the Sacrifice with and by means of the priest who represents, and acts for, Christ the Head of the Body.

How often, we might ask ourselves (monks and priests included!), are we conscious of what is happening at this point in the Mass, and to what we should be actively paying attention?

Yet, by substituting “our” for “my… and yours”, the other half of a rich ambiguity had been erased, and so we no longer heard the call to another level both of meaning and of active participation at this point of the Mass. For every Christian is called to offer sacrifice, the sacrifice of praise, which reaches a personal climax for each of us as we offer our own bodies to the Father in union with the Body of Christ. If that sounds strange to you, recall St Paul (Romans 12:1):

I appeal to you therefore, brethren, 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 other gifts were brought up at the Offertory with the essential ones of bread and wine, gifts intended for the support of the clergy and the missionary work of the Church. These are now condensed into the offertory collection, which is still brought up with the gifts. This collection symbolises the giving of ourselves, the spiritual sacrifice of our bodies. But it should not stop with a coin in a plate. Our minds should be occupied with an awareness of this self-offering we make in union with Christ’s, praying that as the Lord sees Christ’s sacrifice he will see ours as well, and likewise accept it. 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 (John 15:13).

This is one example of what we might call prayerful attentiveness to the Mass, which is the richest form of participation in our liturgy. Suffusing all activity in the Mass should be the spirituality that inevitably flows from such prayerful attentiveness. For the more we can consciously offer ourselves to God, the more can we become aware of and enriched by His offering of Himself to us in Christ.

Image of Self-Offering with Christ at Mass, by Elizabeth Wang at Radiant Light.

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