Presenting gifts allows each of us to make an offering of ourselves

By Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

December 4, 2002

In discussing the beauty and meaning of the Mass, we've come finally to the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

The preparation of the gifts, the Eucharistic Prayer and the Communion rite all belong to this great portion of our worship. Through these moments of the Mass, "thanks is given to God for the whole work of salvation," and supremely then at the Eucharistic Prayer, "the offerings of bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ" ("General Instruction for the Roman Missal," 72).

We'll look at the preparation of the gifts this week, which includes the preparation of the altar, procession of gifts, preparation of the gifts themselves and the prayer over the gifts.

At the preparation of the altar, the Missal is placed on the altar as well as the chalice, sometimes the paten (a flat, usually precious metal dish) and various linens. These linens include the purificator for cleansing the chalice, and also perhaps a square pall (a piece of stiff linen), that covers the chalice contents. The chalice may be covered with a chalice veil, which can be white or match the color of the day's vestments. If no deacon is present, the servers may prepare the altar up to this point.

The collection of financial offerings now takes place. In the early Church, each individual or family brought up in procession either offerings of the bread or wine to be used at Mass, or contributions for the poor and the Church. As time went on and the number of faithful increased, the processions became symbolic. However, their meaning remains the same. The gifts of bread and wine are offered by the baptized, along with donations for the support of the Church and her works. The act of presenting the gifts allows each of us to make an offering of ourselves, in our own gifts and limitations, so that we may be transformed like the bread and wine.

The priest or deacon accepts the gifts and places them on the altar. Music may accompany this time of presentation and preparation. If so, the priest may quietly pray the prayers. Otherwise, the assembly joins in responding to him. The prayers acknowledge that elements of the earth, made into bread and wine by "the work of human hands," are imperfect, but we ask that they be taken up into the perfect praise of Christ. This part of the Mass is another invitation for us to offer our lives in a sacrifice of praise to God. Here the common priesthood actively engages in the sacrifice taking place.

Did you ever wonder why the priest or deacon adds just a drop of water to the chalice? The symbolism here points to the marriage of divinity and humanity. As the drop of water disperses into the wine, we recall that created humanity was indissolubly united with God when Jesus became man. The wine in the chalice, including that small drop of water, will be transformed into the blood of our Lord.

Can we see ourselves as that drop of water, willing to offer ourselves with Christ? You'll notice, too, that the priest symbolically washes his hands. His prays quietly that he may be interiorly cleansed as the Eucharistic Prayer approaches. Your own silent prayer may be the same.

The celebrant then invites the assembly: "Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice...." In years past, we've remained seated as we make the response. Now the new General Instruction asks us to stand as the priest finishes this invitation, and we respond: "May the Lord accept this sacrifice...."

Why the change? Because immediately following the assembly's response, the priest will pray the Prayer over the Gifts. This ranks as one of the central prayers of the Mass. As you remember, we've already discussed the Opening Prayer or Collect of the Mass, now we have the Prayer over the Gifts. To give the emphasis this prayer deserves, all should stand attentively, uniting their hearts to the words of the priest.

Each Prayer over the Gifts is specific for the time of the liturgical year. Just as with the Opening Prayer and the Prayer after Communion, the particular eucharistic sacrifice in which you take part happens within the context of the Church's on-going celebration of the liturgical year. No Eucharist ever occurs in isolation, outside this unity with every other eucharistic celebration of the year. And as before, the assembly's "Amen" makes it their own prayer.

The archbishop's thoughts on the liturgy will continue next week.