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A - Z of the Mass: Offerings

Monday, August 23, 2010
The Holy Sacrifice of the MassAt the centre of the Eucharistic action is the idea of offering. As the Catechism says: "The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ's Passover, the making present and the sacramental offering of his unique sacrifice, in the liturgy of the Church which is his Body" (§1362). An offering is something freely given to another, in this case God, and it has a sacrificial element which is perfected if it is given out of love. St Thomas cites St Augustine saying that "'Christ offered Himself up for us in the Passion': and this voluntary enduring of the Passion was most acceptable to God, as coming from charity" (ST III 48,3). The Mass is the sacramental sign of the one Sacrifice of Christ's Passion, such that Christ's perfect offering on the Cross is made present in the perfect offering of the Mass. Again, as the Catechism (quoting the Council of Trent) says: "The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different" (CCC §1367). So, the ordained priest, acting in the person of Christ, offers the Body and Blood of Christ, the "acceptable sacrifice", to the Father.

We share in Christ's offering in at least three ways. Firstly, gifts of bread and wine - the elements necessary for the Eucharist - are brought up during the Offertory, and, as the General Instruction to the Roman Missal (GIRM) says: "it is praiseworthy for the bread and wine to be presented by the faithful". In some places, it is still possible to follow the ancient practice of giving to the priest bread and wine actually produced by the faithful. This liturgical action, which has a very practical origin, is a sign of our participation in the self-gift of Christ. Moreover, as the Catechism notes: "The presentation of the offerings at the altar takes up the gesture of Melchizedek and commits the Creator's gifts into the hands of Christ who, in his sacrifice, brings to perfection all human attempts to offer sacrifices" (CCC §1350).

Secondly, in some countries, other food and fresh produce are also offered during the Offertory. Most typically, money is taken up in a collection during the Offertory. Whether in kind or in cash, these offerings support the work of the Church and her ministers. However, they are also a sign of all that is important to us, and vital for our livelihood; we give these back to God in thanksgiving. Procession of GiftsMoreover, as Pope Benedict XVI said: "In this way we also bring to the altar all the pain and suffering of the world, in the certainty that everything has value in God's eyes... [This gesture] enables us to appreciate how God invites man to participate in bringing to fulfilment his handiwork, and in so doing, gives human labour its authentic meaning, since, through the celebration of the Eucharist, it is united to the redemptive sacrifice of Christ" (Sacramentum caritatis, §47).

Thirdly, in the Mass the Body of Christ, meaning the entire Church, is offered to the Holy Trinity. So, the Catechism says: "The Church which is the Body of Christ participates in the offering of her Head. With him, she herself is offered whole and entire. She unites herself to his intercession with the Father for all men" (CCC §1368).

The offering of the Church, of which we are members, has an implication for us. If we are to actually participate in this sacrificial action of the Church, the 'entire Christ' - Head and Body - then, we have also to offer our hearts, our very lives to God. This interior participation in the Eucharist is vital, and it is the essence of the 'active participation' called for by Vatican II. Therefore, "Christians, in all their actions, are called to offer true worship to God. Here the intrinsically eucharistic nature of Christian life begins to take shape. The Eucharist, since it embraces the concrete, everyday existence of the believer, makes possible, day by day, the progressive transfiguration of all those called by grace to reflect the image of the Son of God"(Sacramentum caritatis, §71). In this way, our lives become an offering, as Christ's was. As St Paul said: "I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Romans 12:1).

Lawrence Lew OP


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