At your hands

I have been thinking about this prayer, spoken by the people during offertory:

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.

Who is speaking the prayer? And to whom is directed?

The prayer is spoken by the people of God, and it is directed to the presider. We pray that God will accept the work of the priest on our behalf. This suggests a reality at odds with the way many Catholics think about the role and power of the ordained. We think that it is the priest who is empowered by ordination to act as the sacrificial agent. We get to watch.

But the prayer suggests a different reality.

As Christians, we are baptized into the kingship, prophethood and priesthood of Jesus. This is usually not taken too seriously by anyone. We hear the words, consider them nice, and go on believing that they apply to the bifurcated church reality of the ordained and the lay. But what is we understood our priesthood and accepted it? What if every Christian acted as Jesus did, without reference to the lines that separated priest from people? He forgave sins, dined and healed without worrying about what lines he was crossing. It's one of the things that got him killed.

And don't talk to me about old-time Pharisees and hypocrites. The same line-crossing would get Jesus killed today.

The offertory prayer provides a rare and valuable insight about our role and what we do with it at Mass. One that is surprisingly in line with the way Jesus operated.

Priests have the power to sacrifice. In the context of the church, that means the power to perform sacramental action. If it didn't then then moniker "priest" would have little meaning. Just another joke on the laity. But if our priesthood means anything, then it means we have the power (and the duty?) to perform tasks usually reserved to priests. Like prayer for each other. And like performing ritual actions, even the Mass itself.

But if we are priests, and could say Mass, why don't we? Sure, we have been taught that it's improper and even sacrilegious to do so. And Canon Law proscribes it. There are practical reasons too -- even if they're kind of lame. Most of us are busy with our jobs, our studies, or raising kids, and don't have time to delve into the Scriptures or liturgical practices. There's something to be said for ritual well-performed.

But still, we are priests, making every Mass a con-celebration or priests who happen to be ordained, and priests who are not. But too many priests (in the limited time-space continuum we inhabit) can spoil the ceremony. And so, we (the laity) temporarily lend our priesthood to the ordained minister, empowering him to act on our behalf to offer sacrifice to God. We do this explicitly in our prayer.

I don't think that I will win any awards for this interpretation. But in spite of the rarity of the sentiment in the rubrics, there it is.

Reclaiming our priesthood should be on every believer's top-ten list. As long as the ordained believe that priesthood is theirs to hoard, then all sorts of abuses are possible. And all sorts of problems. Scriptures that apply to the entire Church have to be turned inside out to seem to apply only to the ordained. Take the Eucharist. As long as the Last Supper is seen as "Christ instituting the priesthood," priests will think they have a leg up on the laity. They (and their holy fingers) will continue to be indispensable for confecting Christ in the Eucharist -- as though they were specially certified pastry chefs.  And as long as priests claim that Christ's breathing his spirit onto his disciples allows them (and not all Christians) the power to forgive sins, then they will have control of God's grace and mercy, to their benefit and the detriment of God's people.

Talk about sacrilege!

God's goodness and mercy cannot be channeled and controlled, doled out to believers at the whim of human beings. The offertory prayer may be the last remnant of this reality in the Mass, but it is one that has profound consequences for the way we see ourselves and for the way it calls us to participate in the life of the Church and our relationship to each other.