From a reader, edited:
I sometimes wonder about the part of the prayer of the priest at Mass which goes “Pray, Brethren, that our sacrifice will be acceptable to the Lord our God.” And to which the people respond (I am sorry I do not know the Latin) “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands…”
I am curious as to what this prayer is about and how best to pray it meaningfully in our lives.
Here is something I wrote for my column And With Your Spirit which appears in the UK’s weekly, The Catholic Herald, along with some additional observations.
The gifts of bread and wine are now on the altar. They have been prayed over and incensed. The priest turns to the people (the rubric says, “versus ad populum”) and invites everyone to even more intense prayer. The form of the invitation, the “Orate, fratres” we use today first appears in 12th century Italian manuscripts. It developed from an appeal by the bishop to the clergy nearby to pray for him. It is now a request from the priest to the congregation to join their sacrifice to his own.
Orate, fratres, ut meum ac vestrum sacrificium acceptabile fiat apud Deum Patrem omnipotentem.
I’ll add emphases to make the changes easier to spot.
Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.
NEW CORRECTED VERSION:
Pray, brethren (brothers and sisters), that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.
The new translation has the option of saying “brothers and sisters”. This is not without precedent. The liturgical scholar Joseph Jungmann identified 28 old manuscripts with “fratres et sorores”. Furthermore, Latin fratres can include both sexes.
The most important change is the correct translation of “meum ac vestrum… my and yours”. That “our” in the outgoing version distorted the theology of the text.
There are various Latin conjunctions for “and”. Ac is used to join two different but related words into a single complex concept. This is what ancient orators called hendiadys (Greek for “one through two”). In Latin, an ac in hendiadys generally gives the first word more importance than the second.
The Second Vatican Council in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium 10 defined that the priesthood given in baptism is a true participation in the priesthood of Christ, but that it differs qualitatively from the ministerial priesthood conferred by the sacrament of Holy Orders. The ordained don’t merely receive more priesthood. They receive a priesthood different from that which they already had from baptism.
These two modes of priesthood, distinct but sharing a common source, relate to each other as a single person’s head does with the body.
In the Council’s the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests we read that, by Holy Orders, priests are configured in their being to Christ the Priest so that they are able to act in the person of Christ who is the Head of the Body, the Church (cf. Presbyterorum ordinis 2).
Priests are ordained for their own sake (to help them save their own souls by doing God’s will) and for all the faithful (who must be directed to God through teaching, governance and sanctification).
Priests offer gifts and sacrifice to God for the people (cf. Hebrews 5).
Lay people, with the priesthood of the baptized, are the vanguard of the Church’s mission in the world.
Priests, set apart by ordination, concern themselves mainly with that which is sacred.
Lay people are primarily concerned with the secular.
Priests form and inform, nourish and strengthen, heal and guide lay people for their indispensable work.
Lay people do what no priest can: through deeds and words they bring Christ to every sphere of daily life in the world.
The complementary – not competing – roles and states of life of the ordained and of the laity must be respected. This is especially important in our liturgical worship.
At the Offertory the priest says “my sacrifice and yours”. He acts and speaks in the person of Christ, the Head of the Body, the Church. He calls the people, Body of the Church, into complementary unity. He invites them to pray that his sacrifice, according to his manner of offering sacrifice as an ordained priest, and their (“your”) sacrifice, according to how the baptized offer gifts and sacrifices, will be accepted.
What the priest does is done is for service. A priest is not less in need of a Savior than anyone else present.
St. Augustine of Hippo (d 430), speaking of his role as bishop, described his relationship with his flock in the best way when he said, “I am a bishop for you, but a Christian with you” (s. 46.2).
Were ten thousand baptized men, women and children to pronounce the words of consecration over their bread and wine, the offerings would remain bread and wine. One priest, alone or with a congregation, by God’s power changes the people’s bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. The baptized unite their way of offering sacrifice to his way.
“My sacrifice and yours” is an important and long-needed improvement.
Here is something I can recommend for your deeper active participation in this invitation by the priest.
It can help to identify ourselves with the gifts placed on the altar for consecration.
The congregation is invited by the priest to unite their sacrifices to those he offers in his manner of offering.
We all have both burdens and reasons to rejoice. Therefore, when the priest or deacon is preparing the chalice, when he puts drops of water (the symbol of the human) into the wine (the symbol of the divine) to be mingled – the lesser being transformed within the greater – try consciously to place into that chalice all your cares, aspirations, sentiments of gratitude, petitions, and all that you are. Let it all be joined, before they are stupendously transformed by God.
This may make the invitation and then the response ring with something new each time you hear it and respond in turn.
Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.
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.