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Liturgical Question: Sacrifice from Your Hands

WARRINGTON’S QUESTION:

Dear Fr Joe, thanks for your blog. It’s very useful even in my part of the world!

I had a query about the words, “may the Lord accept the sacrifice from your hands…” so I went to Catholic Answers and read the explanation (attached below). But my query remains: Is not “the sacrifice” Christ himself? If so, did not God send His Son to be the “sacrifice (Lamb)” for our sins? So why are we requesting God to accept “His” Son back to Him?

Unless the “sacrifice” referred to here is “our sacrifice (good works)”? Rather than “good works” (i.e., charity), I would like to think this reference to sacrifice might refer to “our life,” particularly a call to go outside our comfort zone to live a life for Christ.

Would you please clarify whether either of these is on the right track or am I completely missing the point?  Cheers!

CATHOLIC ANSWERS

Question

Why do we pray in the third person instead of addressing our pleas and praises directly to God? For example, the priest says, “Pray, my brothers and sisters, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father” and we answer, “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 Church.” Could we say instead, “Lord, accept the sacrifice offered for the praise and glory of your name, for our good and the good of all of your Church”?

Answer

We don’t pray in the third person. The Church’s liturgy is its official public worship of God. Since it is not private worship, the members who are present are acknowledged throughout the service. So every so often, the priest-presider will address them with, “The Lord be with you,” and the people respond, “And also with you.” We are communicating with each other. This is not a prayer.

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 Church is not a prayer. It is addressed to the priest as an acknowledgement of the sacred action he is about to undertake. It is a response to his request: “Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” Even though he has just asked the people to pray, their response is to him and is not meant to be a prayer.

The ultimate offering prayer comes later: “Through him, with him and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever.” Only the priest says this, and the people affirm the prayer with “Amen.” Both the priest’s words and the people’s words are prayer and are addressed directly to God.

FATHER JOE:

I would take exception with the assertion that the words in question are not prayer. Even the dialogue sections between the priest and people are parts of the great prayer of worship that is the Mass. The Mass is the Church’s most important communal prayer and it contains within it all other forms of prayer: praise, thanks, contrition, petition, and in a unique manner, propitiation. Let us look at the words that confuse you:

Facing the people, the priest says: “Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.”

The congregation responds: “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.

The priest then says his prayer over the offerings to which the people respond, “Amen.”

The priest is calling everyone to focus on the Eucharist. Implicit in the dialogue is the hope and expectation that God will accept us and our offering.  The celebrant addresses the people but he knows full well that our offering will only be received if God sees it as pleasing and desires to accept it.  We cannot force the hand of God.  The people respond to the celebrant by acknowledging his priestly work in union with Christ.  Yes, they are talking to the priest, but as with any intercessory prayer, its proper object is almighty God.  They are making the priest’s prayer and the work of Christ into something of their own.  This sacrifice is to the honor and praise of God.  It is also deemed efficacious for the local church at prayer and for the universal Church.  The corrected translation makes a distinction between the priest’s sacrifice and that of the people. It does not represent good works as such but targets the work of the Mass. This segment no more stands alone than any other part.  It leads us to the meat of the oration, the Prayer Over the Gifts.  The great High Priest of the liturgy is Jesus Christ. However, the celebrant at the altar participates or shares in this one priesthood through his ordination. While they cannot preside at the Mass, the laity is connected to Jesus and his sacrifice through their baptismal priesthood. Priests may take a stipend for a Mass they offer each day. The fruits that come to the priest may be applied to this intention, for anyone living or dead. You may note these names in the bulletin for the Masses said. This reflects the sacrifice and its benefits that come to the priest at the altar. The laity may come with their own intentions, which they are to bring to mind at the beginning of the Mass prior to the Opening Prayer or Collect. The people participate with their priest who makes possible the Mass and they benefit with fruits of grace. The reference to sacrifice is a direct acknowledgment that the Eucharist is a re-presentation of the bloody oblation of Christ on Calvary, albeit in an unbloody or clean manner upon the altar. The sacrifice of Jesus is not locked into time and place. At the words of consecration, Jesus is made REALLY present in Holy Communion— both in his full identity and person as well as in in saving activity. The only difference between Calvary and the Mass is OUR participation. Now we can offer ourselves grafted to Christ (the Lamb of God) as one perfect sacrifice to the eternal Father. The Mass surrenders to the heavenly Father the only gift that makes a difference and that earns our redemption, his Son, Jesus Christ.

The Mass enters us into Christ’s one-time offering of himself.

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