Father Matthew Buettner: The Offertory: Presenting the gifts and preparing for the Consecration
The Offertory procession and preparation
We have spent the past few weeks focusing on the significance of the Offertory. Ultimately, Christ is offering Himself as both the priest and victim of the sacrifice of the Mass. And since we are members of His Mystical Body, the Church, we are also offering ourselves with Him. "Through him, and with Him and in Him," we offer ourselves as a gift to the Father. Before the offerings and gifts are consecrated, though, they must be collected and presented for sacrifice.
At the beginning of the Offertory, the altar is prepared. A square linen cloth, called the corporal, is unfolded in the center of the altar. The name "corporal" comes from the Latin "corpus" (meaning "body"), since this linen cloth is unfolded to catch particles of the host or drops of precious Blood. Along with the corporal, the chalice and communion chalices (if Communion is distributed under both species) are also brought to the altar with their purificators. The purificator is the linen cloth used to wipe and cleanse the chalices or other sacred vessels. Finally, the Missal is placed on the altar. The altar is now prepared to receive the gifts of bread and wine.
Earlier we recalled that the first action of the Offertory is the collection. Here, the faithful have the opportunity to support the various material needs of the Church with their generous contributions. We also recognized that these donations not only support the needs of the Church, but purchase the bread and wine that are presented. Ultimately, the collection symbolically represents ourselves.
It is important to note that the bread and wine, along with the collection, is brought forward in procession by members of the faithful. In the early Church, the faithful would bring gifts to be offered and presented at the Offertory, including bread and wine, and food, money and clothing for the poor. The gifts of bread and wine are accepted by the celebrant or deacon and carried to the altar with the assistance of servers. During the offertory collection and procession, the Offertory Hymn or chant may be sung by the choir or the congregation, at least until the gifts have been placed on the altar.
As the offerings arrive at the altar, the celebrant raises the paten above the altar and offers a prayer in silence or, if there is no music, he may recite the prayer aloud: "Blessed are You, Lord God of all creation, for through Your goodness we have received the bread we offer You: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life."
If prayed aloud, the congregation responds: "Blessed be God for ever."
After this prayer, the celebrant places the paten and any ciboria with hosts on the corporal. The chalice is prepared by the deacon or, if there is no deacon, by the celebrant. He adds a drop of water into the wine and prays in silence, "By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled Himself to share in our humanity."
What is the significance of this ritual?
When He instituted the Eucharist, Jesus mixed water with the wine. Moreover, it was common in ancient Roman society to drink wine mixed with water. This social practice entered the sacred rites of the Mass and assumed a spiritual significance: the wine represents the divinity of Christ, and the water His humanity.
After the chalice is prepared, it is elevated above the altar while another short prayer of praise is recited silently or aloud by the celebrant: "Blessed are You, Lord God of all creation, for through Your goodness we have received the wine we offer You: fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink."
If recited aloud, the people respond again: "Blessed be God for ever."
The celebrant places the chalice and any communion chalices on the corporal and he may cover the chalice with a stiff square cloth, called a "pall."
My sacrifice and yours
After the offering prayers are recited and the sacred vessels are placed on the corporal, the celebrant bows to the altar and prays silently: "With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by You, O Lord, and may our sacrifice in Your sight this day be pleasing to You, Lord God."
The priest speaks in his own name, and on behalf of the faithful, asking God to receive the gifts being offered.
At this moment, the celebrant may place incense in the thurible, bless the incense, and incense the offerings, the altar and the crucifix. This is now the third time that the incense may be used to signify the Church's offerings and prayers rising like incense in the sight of God. The incense unites the symbols of Christ: the altar, the central symbol in the sanctuary for Christ; the crucifix, recalling the redemption that is re-presented in the Mass; and the bread and wine, which will actually become the Body and Blood of Christ.
The incense may then be used to incense persons: first, the celebrant and then the concelebrants, by virtue of their sacred ministry as priests, then the faithful, by reason of their baptismal dignity, which grants them a share in the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ.
After this third incensation, the celebrant then washes his hands. What is the purpose of this gesture?
Ritual purification is not a unique practice in the Mass. Many ancient religions, particularly Judaism, maintained numerous rites for the purification of vessels, as well as for the hands of those participating in the ritual. In the early Church, it was a practical necessity for the priest to wash his hands after the offertory, for the faithful would present a vast array of offerings for the benefit of charity to the poor: food, bread, vegetables, fruits, flasks of wine and clothing.
Known as the lavabo rite, the washing of hands now refers to an internal spiritual purification more than an external one. As the celebrant washes his hands, he recites a private prayer in silence to this effect: "Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin."
The celebrant returns to the center of the altar and implores the faithful to unite themselves with him in the coming sacrifice. The priest says, "Pray, brethren (brothers and sisters), that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father."
The prayer indicates the two distinct sacrifices of the Mass: Christ and His Body, the Church. The prayer is a sort of extended form of the more common "Let us pray." The people stand and say, "May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of His name, for our good and the good of all His Holy Church."
Finally, the "Prayer Over the Offerings" signals the end of the Offertory. The Church prays that God will accept what we offer with sincerity and respond with generous graces as we prepare to enter the most solemn movement in the Mass: the Consecration.
Father Matthew Buettner is the pastor of St. Dorothy Church in Lincolnton. This is excerpted from "Understanding the Mystery of the Mass – Revisited." Previous columns are at www.catholicnewsherald.com.
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