The 'Offertory'

People often ask why the “offertory procession” is now called the “procession of gifts” and what items should be taken up in the procession.
‘Offering’ is a difficult word when used in connection with the eucharist. Fundamentally it refers to the action of Christ giving himself to the Father in the sacrifice of the cross. We are joined to Christ’s self-offering when, as part of the Church (the body of Christ), we offer the consecrated bread and wine (Christ) to the Father. This takes place during the Eucharistic Prayer.
In the early Church, the people brought bread and wine to the church and ‘offered’ them to the priest for the celebration of the eucharist. They brought other gifts of food or money that they ‘offered’ to help the work of the Church. It was a concrete way for them to participate in the real offering of the Mass described above. And so the terminology became confused and people became confused about what they were doing at this particular time.
To clarify what is happening here at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the present Order of Mass calls what was previously known as the Offertory the Preparation of the Gifts. The new theological image is of our gifts being presented rather than offered in a religious sacrificial act. Unfortunately the rubrics of the present Sacramentary still uses the term “offertory song” for the chant sung during the procession of the gifts. This will be changed in the revised Sacramentary.
The purpose of the rite is simply to prepare the altar, the gifts and the assembly for the offering of the whole Church that takes place during the Eucharistic Prayer. The procession with the gifts by members of the assembly is a powerful expression of the assembly’s participation in the eucharistic offering. But the real offering does not take place at this time of preparation.
The General Instruction mentions only bread, wine and money (or other gifts for the poor and the Church) in the procession. It is a procession of gifts: only what stays goes in the procession. You can’t take it back again!
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.
Other objects such as symbols, decorations or tokens are out of place here, but could be included in the entrance procession, if they are of sufficient liturgical significance.
As the preparation of the gifts is a secondary rite - a low-key moment between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist - it is not a time when involving the assembly in song has a high priority. Instrumental music could effectively accompany the procession and keep this part of the Mass in proper perspective.
(507 words)


Elizabeth Harrington