Monday, December 5, 2011

Simple Changes, Not So Simple Thoughts

Our Parish Priest made the following statement on his Facebook wall, “Tell me what you think of this phrase: "Pray brothers and sisters that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the almighty Father." How simple that seems to be, and in fact I thought the answer was clear in front of me. (Which I think is really the purpose of his statement, to make us think.) What does it mean? As a man who is fairly new to the Catholic faith (I'm not even Catholic, yet), it's very interesting to me to consider just such a thing.

How does a change from “Pray brothers and sisters that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God the almighty Father” to “my sacrifice and yours” change the tone of the sentence? For me it makes me actually have to think about what the sentence says. The first thing that pops out to me is the word “pray”.

Notice it's not someone asking you to pray, but rather it's in the imperative form. That tells me something important about this sentence, in fact it tells me that the priest, or rather the person speaking at the time, is telling me to pray. Who is speaking? The priest... and yet more. You see the priest is physically speaking yes, but he is reading the liturgy. The liturgy is formed by the church. So the church is speaking. The church is formed by Christ and contains the living Word of God, after all we believe our churches are led by the Holy Spirit. So not only is the priest talking, but the church is talking, which means the Word is talking.. which means.. Christ is talking. Christ is telling me to pray.

That blows me away. (I find myself using this phrase a LOT lately.) Christ commands me directly, Pray that our sacrifice, mine and yours may be acceptable. Now I know Christ's is acceptable. What does that mean? It means we are commanded to pray that our sacrifice will be joined to Christ's. That what we offer will be made worthy, because on it's own, mine is NOT worthy. (We all know this.) So first from this very simple change, I see that while the word “our” conveys a similar concept, the new wording shows us something very deep and special... that Christ's sacrifice and ours, are not the same.. but we can join in the sacrifice and through Christ's sacrifice, ours can be made worthy. Mine AND yours. Mine + yours. If ours is not offered in truth and spirit, can it be joined to Christ's? Can it be made worthy?

Yet, we also have to consider that in fact the priest is talking as well. It reminds us that the priest, while a man like the rest of us, also has a much different calling than we do. As a man who has received Holy Orders he also has taken a vow of chastity. He has given his entire being to serving the church and Christ. He has given a sacrifice that many of us are unable to make. Many of us choose to marry, to take on vocations outside the church, to serve not only God but our families and lives. There is nothing wrong with that. But our sacrifice is not the same one he is making.

It also makes another imperative present. We are to pray for our priest! All too often we are quick to condemn the clergy. To look at their actions and dissect them. “Oh I saw the priest from so and so parish last week, and he was drinking and playing cards!” “I once heard a priest had done something really bad, yet he was at church the next day!” “That Pastor used to be a drunk, I can't believe He is a preacher!” It happens in all religions. We judge people on their actions and forget that though they are men of God, they are also men. They need our prayers. We are to pray that their sacrifice is worthy!

So it reminds us that not only is the sacrifice different, but it's also an imperfect one, just like ours. That our priests can make mistakes, but they also receive grace from God in this simple ceremony. That it's not just we, the people in the audience, who receive grace, but also our men of God. They need grace too.

Then there is another thing that we also have to see. In English it's hard to notice the tone of the word 'your'. Because in English, your can mean both singular and plural. We have to simply take the context and attempt to determine who they are talking to. However, in the original Latin it says vestrum, which is the second person plural for yours. Think about that for a minute. We are not just commanded by Christ to pray for the priest in particular, but for every other person in the room. It is all too easy when we hear “our sacrifice”, combined with all the talk about the 'personal relationship' with God, that we could easily see it as a command to pray for our own personal sacrifice and the priests. Or for everyone's all at once, but no one in particular. This command says that we are supposed to pray for “the priest” and “everyone else in the room”.

That fits in well with the community sense of Christianity. The Jewish sense of faith wasn't just a single person and God, while it was a personal relationship, it was also "we Israel." They took it very seriously when the Torah indicated 'The people all responded together, "We will do everything the LORD has said."' I think we often forget that sense of community. That we should be praying for each others sins, as well as those who have gone on before us. How much more so this statement of 'mine and yours' brings us to a similar thought to the process of the Eucharist. After all we are not just offering a percentage of our money, some wine, and bread on the altar; we are being transported in time to the sacrifice of Christ. We are participating in the Heavenly liturgy, which St. John glimpsed in Heaven, when he saw the Lamb of God, standing before the altar as slain. Jesus is our Heavenly minister, offering His sacrifice for all time for each of us. How appropriate is it that we pray that our own meager offerings be joined with His eternal one, that each one of us both priest and laity may be found made worthy through His purification.

Remember, these are my own thoughts and my understanding is likely very flawed. There are many things I don't understand, and faith is a very long learning process. I am very excited though to have an opportunity to learn, to see these changes in action, and to be challenged to learn about a faith which I find fascinating. (If there are any errors, please feel free to email me and let me know.)

In Christ,