A Gift is a Gift

Again this week, liturgy resources sent out by a Church agency have provided me with a topic for my column. As well as a complete set of Prayers of the Faithful, the material suggests that representatives be invited to bring forward symbols of their ministry during the ‘Offertory’.

There are two key problems with this. To use the term ‘offertory’ suggests that this is the part of the Mass when the sacrifice is offered, whereas it is during the Eucharistic Prayer that the self-offering of Jesus is recalled and re-presented. We are joined to Christ’s sacrifice when, as members of the body of Christ, the Church, we offer the consecrated bread and wine to the Father.

That is why the word offertory was replaced in the Missal by the term ‘Preparation of the Altar and Gifts’ after the second Vatican Council. This title clearly describes the purpose of the rite - to prepare the altar, the gifts and the assembly for the offering of the whole Church that takes place during the Eucharistic Prayer.

In the early years of Christianity, the faithful brought with them bread and wine to be used in the celebration of Eucharist. These gifts were collected by the deacons during the liturgy and what was not used for communion was given to the poor and needy. Eventually this rite became a procession of all the people who brought forward gifts such as oil, candles, wheat and grapes in addition to the bread and wine.

The procession of gifts disappeared during the Middle Ages because of the change from using leavened to unleavened bread at Mass and because of a decline in the number of people receiving communion. The current Order of Mass has reinstated the ritual in which representatives of the assembly bring forward bread and wine as well as other gifts for the poor or for the Church.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says this about the Procession of Gifts:
“The offerings are then brought forward. It is praiseworthy for the bread and wine to be presented by the faithful. Even though the faithful no longer bring from their own possessions the bread and wine intended for the liturgy as in the past, nevertheless the rite of carrying up the offerings still retains its force and its spiritual significance. It is well also that money or other gifts for the poor or for the Church, brought by the faithful or collected in the church, should be received. These are to be put in a suitable place but away from the Eucharistic table.” (GIRM 2000 #73)
It is presumed that the assembly will receive back its gifts of bread and wine at communion as the Body and Blood of Christ, and that hosts from the tabernacle are used only if absolutely necessary.

The Procession of Gifts is precisely that - a procession of gifts: there is no taking them back again afterwards! Other items or symbols could be included in the entrance procession if they are of sufficient liturgical significance.

A helpful way of understanding the assembly’s participation in Preparation of the Altar and Gifts is as a time when we prepare to unite ourselves with Christ’s offering.

Elizabeth Harrington