Preparing for the Sacrifice

Soon after the current missal was issued in 1970, a Vatican spokesperson was asked why the part of the Mass following the creed and the general intercessions was no longer called ‘the offertory’. It was explained that the name had been changed because this part of the Mass was not really the offering of the sacrifice.
Yet more than thirty years later many Catholics continue to call this section of the liturgy by its old name. Unfortunately the rubric of the present Sacramentary still uses the term ‘offertory song’ for the chant sung during the procession of gifts. This will be changed in the revised Sacramentary.
The name “offertory” probably originated in the Latin term referring to the procession with the bread and wine which was ob fero, meaning “to carry up”. This eventually became offero and offertorium was the name given to the song that accompanied the bringing of the gifts to the altar. However the English word, “offertory” into which offertorium was translated implies much more than a song accompanying a procession.
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 Jesus self-offering 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.
The new title given to what was once referred to as the “offertory” is the Preparation of the Gifts, a name which more clearly describes the purpose of the rite which is simply to prepare the bread and wine for the sacrifice. The primary elements of the rite are the bringing forward of the gifts, placing the gifts on the altar and the prayer said over them. Other elements such as an accompanying song and the prayers of preparation are secondary.
In the past, people were exhorted to place themselves on the paten along with the bread. A better way of understanding the assembly’s disposition at this point of the Mass is to see the preparation of the gifts as a time when we prepare to unite ourselves with Christ’s offering.
Any hymns that are used during the Preparation of the Gifts should not have “offering” as their theme but rather the altar, the bread and wine, and ourselves. The song is often still announced in the order of service or by the cantor as the “offertory” hymn. It is best to call it the “preparation hymn” or the “song during the preparation of the gifts”.
Because this is a minor part of the Mass, silent preparation for the important eucharistic prayer that follows is perhaps a better option than a song. The assembly might even be invited to use this time to prepare their hearts and minds as the altar and gifts are made ready.
This all might seem like making a mountain out of a molehill, but being careful to use the correct terminology in liturgy can help over time to shape the assembly’s understanding of what we are doing at worship.

Elizabeth Harrington