Dear Friends in Christ,
As an altar server in middle school, I would sometimes be the cross bearer and process to the back of the church after the intercessions for the gifts to be brought forward. Occasionally I would have to give simple instructions if the children (or parents) were nervous, “Just follow me.” I remember thinking that they didn’t need to be nervous — just walk up and hand the gifts to the priest or deacon, it’s not a big deal.
Later, during my time in seminary, I learned a lot more about Holy Mass, and about that part which includes bringing forward the gifts, called the offertory. It also includes the preparation of the altar, the priest’s prayers over the bread and wine, sometimes incense, and sometimes a collection. It turns out that the offertory is a big deal because what’s happening is so much more than a simple procession.
Pope Benedict XVI described the true reason for this time in his post-synodal document from 2007, Sacramentum Caritatis: “The presentation of the gifts… is not to be viewed simply as a kind of ‘interval’ between the liturgy of the word and the liturgy of the Eucharist… This gesture is actually very significant: in the bread and wine that we bring to the altar, all creation is taken up by Christ the Redeemer to be transformed and presented to the Father” (#47).
Along with this, I think there is another gesture to notice in the time of the offertory that helps us understand what the pope is saying. And it might not often be noticed: that during the offertory, the priest or deacon removes the chalice veil which had been covering the paten and chalice. These two vessels are among the holiest objects that the Church has because on and in them, the Body and Blood of Jesus is offered. Like all holy things, they should be covered and protected at the proper time. Yet, the offertory is the time to uncover, to make ready, and to reveal, in a sense, the place God is going to act. This is a powerful moment because it’s also what we are invited to do in the offertory — to uncover our hearts called to holiness, to make them ready, and to reveal to God what we are offering: ourselves.
Cardinal Sarah, in his book, The Power of Silence, says this: “We have lost the most profound meaning of the offertory. This is the moment when, as the name indicates, the whole Christian people offers itself, not alongside of Christ, but in him, through his sacrifice that will be consummated at the consecration” (#266). What a realization, that at the offertory we are called to offer ourselves — everything we have, everything we are, and all of our intentions — to the Father in union with the Son.
As we seek to rediscover the offertory as a parish this fall, as well as return to some of the practices that have been absent from it for a few years, let us keep in mind this reality: that the offertory is a big deal, because it’s then that the Lord is inviting us to offer ourselves in Him.
Sincerely Yours in Christ,
Rev. David Fons