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Procession of Gifts
Q. What elements are placed on the table in preparation for the procession of gifts during Sunday Mass? Recently our parish had a visiting priest who explained that the water should not be placed on the “gifts” table and therefore should not be part of the procession of gifts. Some sacristans argued that the cruet set made provision for wine and water and should be placed on the “gifts” table. I would really appreciate an explanation of the “what” and “why” in regards this aspect of liturgy, and perhaps some historical background to the practice.
A. 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 revised Order of Mass issued after the Second Vatican Council reinstated the ritual in which representatives of the assembly bring forward bread and wine as well as other gifts.
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 General Instruction of the Roman Missal mentions only bread, wine and money or other gifts for the poor and the Church as being included in the procession. In some places, lighted candles accompany the procession of gifts. This is an unnecessary elaboration which adds to the confusion in the minds of some worshippers between unconsecrated and consecrated elements.
One vessel with sufficient altar bread for the assembly, one large container of wine, and a basket with the collection are all that need be presented. Having one vessel for each element symbolises the unity of the one bread and one cup. Including offerings for the poor and the Church is of ancient origin and deep significance.
The procession of gifts is precisely that - a procession of gifts: there is no taking them back again afterwards! Items or symbols that are not gifts could be included in the entrance procession if they are of sufficient liturgical significance.
As the procession of the gifts is a low-key moment in the liturgy it is not a time when singing by the assembly in song has high priority. A choir piece or instrumental music could effectively accompany the procession and keep this part of the Mass in proper perspective. Any music “continues at least until the gifts have been placed on the altar” (GIRM # 74). Silence might be an even better option. The assembly could be invited to use this quiet time to prepare their hearts and minds as the altar and gifts are made ready.
A helpful way of understanding the assembly’s participation in the preparation of the altar and gifts is as a time when we prepare to unite ourselves with Christ’s offering.