The Prayer over the Offerings we heard on Sunday evokes the worship of the Old Testament as we participate in the worship of the new covenant.
O God, who in the one perfect sacrifice
brought to completion varied offerings of the law,
accept, we pray, this sacrifice from your faithful servants
and make it holy, as you blessed the gifts of Abel,
so that what each has offered to the honour of your majesty
may benefit the salvation of all.
Through Christ our Lord.
The language of sacrifice is something that has been newly highlighted in the current English translation of the Roman Missal. In the 1970s translation of the Missale Romanum many of the references to sacrifice were softened or excluded, because of sensitivity to the neuralgic quality of the metaphor for protestant Christians.
More recently Catholics and other Christians have come to rediscover value in the metaphor.There is a new appreciation for the way in which the metaphor is renewed in Christ: in him sacrifice is not a something exterior that is offered to God, symbolising our desire to be in right relationship with him, but it is Christ’s own being. The sacrifice and the one making the offering are one and the same.
That integrity between the act and the acting-person, perfectly achieved in Christ, is beautifully foreshadowed in the person (and sacrifice) of Abel, whose offering is remembered in Eucharistic Prayer I.
Some of the old disputes about the appropriateness of using the language of sacrifice to describe Christian life and worship have found some sort of resolution today. Catholics recognise more clearly that the Mass is the Sacrament of the Sacrifice of Christ. We do not offer a new sacrifice to the Father in the Mass. But we do in the Mass re-present to him, in Sacrament, the once and for all Sacrifice, in and with Christ.
This Sacrifice is made newly efficacious for us through liturgical offering, for it re-connects us with the saving love of Christ so that, in him we might lovely be. So that we too might present ourselves in the ordinary circumstances of our daily lives as sacrifice, an offering of ourselves, lives lived so as to be pleasing to God.
Mosaic of the Offerings of Abel and Melchizedek, San Vitale, Ravenna. (6th Century)
Photography (c) Allen Morris, 2004.