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Experiencing the Mass: Presentation of the Gifts (Part 1)

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

by Fr. David M. Knight

View readings for today:

Dear Readers: Since the Church is presently engaged in a Eucharistic Revival, we thought it would be helpful to post excerpts from his booklet called Experiencing the Mass, for the next few weeks. (This is not a sales pitch. However, the booklet is available for order on this website for $5 per copy if you would like have a copy.)

At the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist the gifts, which will become Christ’s Body and Blood, are brought to the altar. It is desirable that the participation of the faithful be expressed by members of the congregation bringing up the bread and wine for the celebration of the Eucharist. Sufficient hosts and wine for the communion of the faithful are to be prepared. It is most important that the faithful should receive the body of the Lord in hosts consecrated at the same Mass and should share the cup when it is permitted. Communion is thus a clearer sign of sharing in the sacrifice which is actually taking place.[1] The [presider] may incense the gifts placed upon the altar...

so as to signify the Church’s offering and prayer rising like incense in the sight of God.[2]

“Thy Kingdom come....”

The Presentation of Gifts can be a lost moment in the Mass. If the gifts are not brought up in a solemn procession, passing through the whole assembly, to be placed in the hands of the presider, the putting of the chalice, bread and wine on the altar can be just a “housekeeping” moment—like changing the props between scenes during a play. To reduce the Presentation of Gifts to this would be to lose a precious movement in the celebration of Eucharist.

First there is the significance of the procession itself. The 1985 Sacramentary says clearly “it is desirable” that the bread and wine be brought up “by members of the congregation” because this expresses “the participation of the faithful” in the celebration of the eucharist. The primary thrust and repeated intention of the Vatican Council’s reform of the liturgy was to restore and encourage the visible, active participation of the laity in the Eucharistic celebration that had been taken away from them over the course of previous centuries. This is the expressed intention and desire of the bishops who speak for the Catholic Church:

It is very much the wish of the Church that all the faithful should be led to take that full, conscious, and active part in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people, ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a redeemed people’ have a right and to which they are committed by reason of their Baptism.[3]

This is also the reason why there should be as many hosts on the paten (plate) that is brought up in the procession as there are people present at Mass:

It is most important that the faithful should receive the body of the Lord in hosts consecrated at the same Mass and should share the cup when it is permitted. Communion is thus a clearer sign of sharing in the sacrifice which is actually taking place.

In the procession every person present in the pews is symbolically being brought forward, represented by a host on the paten, to be placed on the altar. That is why the gifts are brought up from the back, passing through the whole congregation. It is to say the whole assembly is coming forward, “presenting their bodies as a living sacrifice,” as they did on the day of their Baptism, to be placed on the altar and offered with Jesus and in Jesus as one with him in the mystery of his sacrifice on the cross.[4]

This is a reaffirmation of Baptism. It is the “Catholic altar call.” By placing ourselves on the altar with the bread and wine we are saying, as adults, that we accept and embrace our Baptism; that we understand and are entering into what is being done and expressed at Mass; that we want to be part of it.

We are also pledging ourselves to continual conversion; that is, to making constant changes in our lifestyle.

The bread and wine are being put on the altar to be transformed. We put ourselves on the altar with them to be transformed—not into the body and blood of Christ, since we already are that by Baptism—but into the “perfect image” of Christ that Baptism committed us to grow into. This is a pledge of continual conversion which, as we shall see, is a renewal of our baptismal consecration to bear witness to the Gospel by a lifestyle unintelligible without it.

The prayer the presider says as he holds up the gifts is almost identical for the bread and wine:

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,

for through your goodness we have received

the bread (wine)we offer you:

fruit of the earth (vine) and work of human hands,

it will become for us the bread of life (our spiritual drink).

This is a very theological prayer. It summarizes the mystery of redemption, the mystery of grace, by which what is created has become divine.

Like the bread and wine, which represent us, we are the “fruit of the earth”—of generation from our parents’ bodies. And like the gifts, transformed by the “work of human hands” from wheat and grapes into bread and wine, we too are the “work of human hands.” What we are at this moment, as we present ourselves to God, is the fruit, the “work” of all the choices we have made throughout our lives; the choices that have formed us into the persons we are.

God created our human natures. “What” we are by our nature is the same in all of us. But we create ourselves as persons. “Who” we are as persons is unique in each one of us. What our “name” means at any given moment is the cumulative effect of all the free responses we have made to life, to others, to God since we were born. What we hold up to God in the Presentation of Gifts is our present selves: “fruit of the earth and work of human hands.”

In every Mass we recommit to the mystery of our Baptism. We do it with the increased understanding we have grown into (even since the previous day or week) of what our baptismal commitment commits us to. What it asks and what it promises.

We do this, however, conscious of the mystery of redemption. The bread “will become for us the bread of life.” And the wine will become our spiritual drink.” What “earth has given” is going to be made divine. In the same way, by the transforming miracle of our incorporation into Christ at Baptism, we, though human, are to be communicators of the “bread of life” to others. We are to give others “spiritual drink.” We have “become Christ.” We have been made divine. We “present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God” so that Christ might use them as the medium of his own self-expression. With us, in us, and through us, Jesus Christ will express—in the flesh, through our physical words and actions—the divine truth we know through the gift of faith; the divine promise we live for by the gift of hope; the divine love we give to God and others as the gift of his own love poured out in our hearts. Our daily expression of this is animated at Mass:

With love we celebrate his death.

With living faith we proclaim his resurrection.

With unwavering hope we await his return in glory.[5]

We are called, we are empowered, we are sent to bear witness to Jesus Christ by living on the level of God. This is Pope Paul VI’s definition of Christian witness:

Anyone who rereads in the New Testament the origins of the Church, follows her history step by step and watches her live and act, sees that she is linked to evangelization in her most intimate being:

... The Church remains in the world when the Lord of glory returns to the Father. She remains as a sign—simultaneously obscure and luminous—of a new presence of Jesus, of his departure and of his permanent presence. She prolongs and continues him.

And it is above all his mission and his condition of being an evangelizer that she is called upon to continue. For the Christian community is never closed in upon itself.... This intimate life only acquires its full meaning when it becomes a witness, when it evokes admiration and conversion, and when it becomes the preaching and proclamation of the Good News. Thus it is the whole Church that receives the mission to evangelize, and the work of each individual member is important for the whole.

The Church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized herself. (Evangelization in the Modern World, no. 15).

[1] These two paragraphs are from the directions in the 1985 Sacramentary. They are not as complete in the new Roman Missal but the teaching and intention are the same. [2]General Instruction on the Roman Missal, 2002, nos. 73-75. [3] Vatican II, Sacred Liturgy. nos. 11, 14. For those unfamiliar with the laity’s exclusion from full, active participation in the Mass, Bishop Patrick Dunn of Auckland, New Zealand, explains it succinctly in his book Priesthood: A Re-Examination of the Roman Catholic Theology of the Presbyterate: Alba House, New York, 1990, pages 81-85. See also Bernard Botte, O.S.B., From Silence to Participation: An Insider’s View of Liturgical Renewal, translated by John Sullivan, O.C.D., The Pastoral Press, 225 Sheridan St. NW, Washington D.C. 20011, 1988. [4] See Romans 12:1-2. This is the “theme text” for the Presentation of Gifts. [5] Weekday Preface V.

Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry

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