The promised note on the Presentation of the Gifts…
My thesis: the way the Presentation of the Gifts is done almost universally today is not what the rite is actually asking for. This has been true since the first promulgation of the 1969 Ordo Missae.
In almost every instance, the gifts are handed to the priest who either hands them on to another minister to place on the altar or places them on the altar himself. Then he picks them up again and holds them above the altar while saying the Berakah prayers either silently or aloud. This is not what the rite supposes will happen.
The reason it happens is because we unthinkingly continue to carry out the presentation of the gifts in the same way as in the preconciliar Tridentine rite. A hermeneutic of continuity indeed!
The impression can be given that the altar is used as a “sideboard”. The gifts are “parked” there until the priest is ready to deal with them. This is demeaning both for the altar of sacrifice and for the people whose gifts these are.
So, what does the rite assume will happen? Here’s GIRM 75:
The bread and wine are placed on the altar by the Priest to the accompaniment of the prescribed formulas
This means that the gifts have not previously been placed on the altar, only to be taken up again, but that they are placed there for the first time when those prayers are said. In other words, the gifts are placed on the altar, not picked up from the altar.
For confirmation, see Order of Mass #23:
The Priest, standing at the altar, takes the paten with the bread and holds it slightly raised above the altar with both hands, saying in a low voice:
. . .
Then [my emphasis] he places the paten with the bread on the corporal.
This is repeated in GIRM 141.
In other words, the priest is standing at the altar, where he receives the paten or other container for the bread from the lay person, holds it slightly raised (so that it does not look like a gesture of offering) and says the prayer, and then places the vessel on the altar.
The Order of Mass is less prescriptive for the wine, but the general thrust of the rite is unmistakeable and #25 still says “Then he places the chalice on the corporal.”
GIRM 142 has this:
After this, as the minister presents the cruets, the Priest stands at the side of the altar and pours wine and a little water into the chalice, saying quietly…
In some places other vessels are used instead of cruets. Notice that the priest is asked to stand at the side of the altar. This means “around the corner”, along the short side, not at one end of the longer rear side. Notice, too, that nowhere does it say that the vessels or chalice are placed on the altar for the purposes of charging the chalice. GIRM 142 continues:
He returns to the middle of the altar and with both hands raises the chalice a little, and says quietly…
The end of this paragraph is the same as Order of Mass #25:
Then he places the chalice on the corporal…
Why is all this important? In my opinion, it is because allowing lay people to penetrate further into the sanctuary and be more visible emphasizes that they have a legitimate and important role in this part of the rite, that in fact these gifts are not only the people’s but the gifts symbolize the gathered assembly itself. The bread and wine represent us: all that we have and all that we are.
Once people have grasped that, what happens in the Eucharistic Prayer and what we receive back in Holy Communion have a changed and heightened significance. It is also helpful in demonstrating just why services of Word and Communion are an inferior substitute for Eucharist.
So, how might this part of the rite be done in practice?
I suggest that the priest remains standing behind the altar, in the middle. The first lay person approaches him with the vessel for the bread. He takes it, holds it a little way above the altar, says the prayer (silently if there is music, aloud if there is not), and puts the vessel down on the corporal. Then, and only then, does the first lay person move away.
Meanwhile, the second lay person has been standing at the side of the altar holding the vessel for the wine. Now s/he hands that to the priest, who repeats the process. The wine can then be poured into as many chalices as required. Alternatively, one or more servers standing at the side of the altar (or preferably at the credence table, which is where a deacon is recommended to do this ― GIRM 178), can assist the lay person in charging as many chalices as are required, after which the lay person brings the main chalice to the priest who repeats the process.
I have seen other practices, too. For example, at one celebration a bishop stood behind the altar while two lay persons stood at either end of the altar, facing the middle, holding up their respective gifts simultaneously over the altar while the bishop pronounced the prayers. Only after that did he take the gifts and place them on the corporal.
At Mass with a deacon, it is noticeable that among the six functions of the deacon mentioned in paragraph 171 of GIRM nothing is said about the presentation of gifts at all. Nevertheless paragraph 178 does give details. Once again, I note that nowhere does it say that adding a little water to the chalice is done on the altar ― and the credence table is given as an option, as already mentioned.
If we do change our practice, this will undoubtedly affect the way this part of the rite feels, and in my opinion this is a good thing.
Our habitual practice at the presentation of the gifts is of course not the only hermeneutic of continuity in the way we celebrate the postconciliar rite. I am thinking of such things as the continued practice by priests of elevating host and chalice after the institution narrative, when the rite clearly says (and has since 1570, in fact) that there is a showing, not an elevation (the elevation takes place at the doxology). But all that is the subject of yet another thread.