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May 12, 2010
The new Roman Missal: the role of the priest
By Sister Esther Mary Nickel, R.S.M.
This is the second of a four-column series on the new Roman Missal. To access the complete series, please visit www.archden.org/newromanmissal.
During this Year for Priests, we continue to pray in the Archdiocese of Denver, “May your priests be holy, filled with the fire of your love, seeking nothing but your greater glory and the salvation of souls.” The obligation of the priest, especially in the celebration of the Mass, is to lead the faithful into a deeper and more personal relationship in friendship with Jesus Christ. Because the priest acts in the person of Christ the Head (“Catechism of the Catholic Church” No. 1548) and offers the sacrifice on behalf of the faithful who participate in this offering, he should be transparent. This means that the focus of the Mass is the Lord. First we profess our love, gratitude and worship of God, and from this relationship flows a deeper love and communion with our neighbor. In celebrating the Mass, the focus of the priest is also on the Lord, in order to be “filled with the fire of his love.”
Priestly identity is interwoven in a particular way with the celebration of the Mass. How each priest celebrates the Mass can lead souls closer to God, or become a distraction for the faithful and potentially an obstacle to grace. In a similar way, how each of our priests receives and communicates about the new translation of the Roman Missal will help the faithful. We need to pray for our priests, that they may gratefully receive the gift of understanding the prayers of the Church. Some extra work in liturgical and theological formation will be required. To assist them, the Office of Liturgy for the Archdiocese of Denver is providing an audio recording of the eucharistic prayers along with a copy of the Order of Mass annotated with sacred Scripture, so that they may prayerfully prepare to use the new translation.
How is priestly identity communicated in the prayers of the Mass? Let us reflect on one example: the ancient prayer referred to as the Orate fratres during the Offertory Rites of the Mass. The current English translation is, “Pray, brethren (or brothers and sisters) that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” First, fratres in Latin is inclusive of men and women, thus “brethren” is also inclusive. Next, in Latin the prayer is ut meum ac vestrum sacrificium, translated anew as, “that my sacrifice and yours.” The Latin dictionary defines meum in English as “my” and vestrum in English as “yours.” Some could ask what difference does this make, since in English we always make contractions, so “mine and yours” should become “ours.” However, there is a theological distinction that for centuries has been handed on through our prayers.
The prayer is rooted in sacred Scripture, as we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, “Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins” (Heb 5:1). When a man from among the baptized faithful is chosen by God to serve the Church as a priest, through the sacrament of holy orders, he is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices on behalf of the faithful. In the Rite of Ordination, the bishop places a “paten holding the bread and a chalice containing the wine mixed with water” for the celebration of Mass in the hands of the new priest as he prays: “Receive the oblation of the holy people, to be offered to God. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.”
Thus, “my sacrifice” indicates the priest, consecrated to act in the person of Christ the Head. The words “and yours” indicate that the baptized faithful participate in this offering as the Body of Christ. Our response follows: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands.” Let us pray that our priests may be led to greater holiness as they receive the new translation of the Roman Missal with humility and gratitude, “seeking nothing but the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls.”
Sister Esther Mary Nickel, Ph.D., S.L.D., is a Religious Sister of Mary of Alma, Mich. She is a professor of sacred liturgy at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver.
For more national information, visit the U.S. Bishops' website at: www.USCCB.org/romanmissal
For more local information, visit www.archden.org/newromanmissal
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