More on “offering” at Mass

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

[emphases added]

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.

21 comments

  1. Would it not have been better if all those prayers had never been created and everything done in silence until the Secret? Not unlike in the Anglican rite?

    1. @Brian Duffy – comment #1:
      “Would it not have been better if all those prayers had never been created and everything done in silence until the Secret?” I agree. The whole rite is terribly muddled.

      The traditional Anglican service books don’t have a secret, but an anthem and “the comfy words” seem to serve as Cranmer’s substitute for an offertory prayer.

      Holding an offertory procession from a station or side chapel in which the laity could participate carrying various items to be offered rather than just husband and wife marching up to the front with ciborium and flagon would present a common effort by both clergy and people. Hosts and money would be collected at the beginning of Mass in some fashion, but not at the offertory.

      Drop any offertory prayers and have representatives of the congregation raise patens/ciboria /chalices along with the priest and the deacon. I’ve seen this done in a few places in Canada and France.

      As the altar is incensed by the celebrant, other representatives of the laity offer candles or throw incense into the brazier located in the midst of the nave. Another favorite of some French churches.

      In churches where the ad orientem position has become common practice, couldn’t the reciting or chanting of the Words of Institution and the anamnesis be transferred to the other side of the altar where the priest faces the people? The host and chalice raised for all to see, incensed, and after the anamnesis the celebrant would move back to facing the apse? I’m thinking of this as an option I’ve noticed in some Lutheran churches in Scandinavia and in a few CofE parishes.

      1. @Brian Palmer – comment #10:

        In churches where the ad orientem position has become common practice, couldn’t the reciting or chanting of the Words of Institution and the anamnesis be transferred to the other side of the altar where the priest faces the people? The host and chalice raised for all to see, incensed, and after the anamnesis the celebrant would move back to facing the apse? I’m thinking of this as an option I’ve noticed in some Lutheran churches in Scandinavia and in a few CofE parishes.

        I wouldn’t be in favor of this. It would tend to perpetuate the idea of the “magic moment” at the consecration, whereas, as we know, it is the entire prayer which is consecratory. A single posture for the whole prayer signifies this.

      2. @Paul Inwood – comment #12:
        I agree. Another reason I am find the notions of (i) chanting only the Institution Narrative, or (ii) reciting the Institution Narrative in Latin with the rest of the anaphora in English, disrespectful of the integrity of the prayer. (Before someone starts citing De Defectibus: using De Defectibus as the filter through which to understand best praxis for the anaphora is to misunderstand the purpose of legislation like De Defectibus.)

      3. @Paul Inwood – comment #12:
        It is interesting that Brian mentions it as a practice that he has seen in Scandinavian Lutheran churches, since it fits quite well with Luther’s idea of the verba consecrationis as a proclamation to the people rather than part of a prayer to God — one turns toward the people just as one would when reading any other gospel passage (Luther underscored this by directing that the verba be sung according to the Gospel tone).

      4. @Paul Inwood – comment #12:
        Yes, I see your point and I agree. I had that “magic moment” in mind for those for whom the consecration stands out so clearly from the rest of the canon with the bells, incense, and torches. It appears the theology governing the precise moment of the transformation of the gifts has been changing from the years when so much emphasis was placed on the Words of Institution alone as the zenith and specially framed to stand out by the elevations, bells etc.

        As an aside, I don’t think the Copts, Ethiopians, and East and West Syrians see the epiclesis as the completion of the consecration as do the Orthodox Byzantines. It is the whole anaphora that consecrates, yet without stating just at what moment.

  2. This whole portion of the Mass is a confused mess in my opinion.

    On the Lord’s Day, a collection or “offering” is also made which brings confusion to the whole thing with trying to sing, and also pay attention for the collection basket.

    Also more recently notions of “stewardship” connected to “tithing” have crept in, and more recently that has been complicated by automatic transfer from bank account collections.

    We need to sort this out.

    Several years ago when the local parish was having a stewardship drive, asking people to set a percentage of income, I asked a group what they thought about stewardship and income percentages.

    First, they all really understood that everything that we have is a gift from God, belongs to God, and our stewardship of 100% is what counts. It is not like we have 95% for us, and then the 5% that we give to the parish is going to God. What we spend on our children is a gift from God, belongs to God, and our stewardship responsibility is how our use of it affects our family.

    Second, they understand that we all are the church, therefore all our money already belongs to the church, and again it is how we use it that matters. The money given to the parish is for the parish needs, and the group was very clear what the criterion should be. “Just tell us what you exactly need, e.g. computers for the school, and we will find the money. Don’t give us this percentage task, it does not make sense. Give us a budget.”

    The bottom line is the whole notion of making something “sacred” by setting it aside for God and/or the clergy no longer makes sense to people. Everything is a gift from God, and everything we have also belongs to the church since we are the church.

    Finally there is the issue of the poor, and collections for those at a far distance. I think we should take the parish collection out of the Mass and treat it in a more mundane way, i.e. what does the parish really need. However the other collections are signs of communion and seem more appropriate as a part of Mass although probably not to be collected during the presentation of the gifts.

  3. I agree with what was said above, and if I were the pastor, that would be a practice that I would have no problem instituting.

    My only problem is getting people to bring up the gifts. For me that aspect would be the most challenging. In all the parishes I’ve been stationed at, we’ve had a Dickens of a time just getting people to bring the bread and wine to the Communion rail at the Presentation; they don’t want the attention drawn to themselves. I have had people flatly come out and say”No” when I asked them. At best they gave a reluctant sigh and said yes. Just imagine the attitudes of people coming into the Sanctuary, without any “cover” whatsoever. They would be totally exposed to the scrutiny of their fellow parishioners.

    1. @Fr. Pat Barkey – comment #4:

      My only problem is getting people to bring up the gifts.

      I appreciate this, and suggest a rota may be one way of helping to deal with it. If we had started doing this in 1970 you wouldn’t be having this problem now!

      My limited experience with lay people coming further into the sanctuary is that, once you explain to them that they are representing the entire body of the church (and more) and that this is helping to show their and their fellow parishioners’ integral part in the sacrifice of the Eucharist, they then become flattered (and humbled) to have been asked.

  4. I have also heard this story before, but surprisingly the source was Fr Z’s blog. He also claims the addition was a well meaning insertion by a curial administrator.

    Incidentally Fr Z also claims to be the originator of the infamous Paul VI crying over the abolition of the Pentecost octave story – apparently he was reliably told the story by an old cardinal (now dead) who knew a monsignor who had overheard a priest talking to a bishop who was there etc etc… so it must be true.

    Given that the story also appears on Fr Z’s blog, I’m inclined not to believe it. I think there’s so much Vatican intrigue around that the more likely story is that Paul VI inserted the words ‘we offer you’ into the text. At least unless more reliable evidence to the contrary becomes available.

  5. I agree with the overall ideas expressed in your post, and with your main contention on the dynamics of the rite (e.g. the silliness of placing something on the altar then picking it up again, etc.). One of the unfortunate aspects of the Reform of the Reform is the disregarding of subtler aspects of gesture, posture and spatial location while focusing on other aesthetic visual concerns. I wish that more places utilized the option of preparing the chalice at the credence when a deacon/concelebrant is present, and that this was also an option for celebration without a deacon/concelebrants.

    That said, a few quibbles:

    1. Despite the clear ‘’offering’ emphasis of the ’62 books, nonetheless, the solemn Mass and some forms of the sung Mass preserve the dynamics of what is outlined here. The paten does not touch the altar – it is passed from one minister to another, and only after the prayer is the host placed on the corporal. For low Mass, when the chalice is already on the altar from the beginning of the Mass, this dynamic is obscured. Putting down and picking up again doesn’t necessarily form part of the traditional action.

    2. I think the rubric about standing at the side of the altar is open to the interpretation of standing on at the end of the ‘long’ side (assuming a rectangular altar). In one sense, I do not see the great improvement visually (are we saying the ‘short’ side of the altar is ‘less altar’ than the center?). But in addition, the phrase “ad latus altari” has been used in clarifications on the IGMR to talk about the placement of the missal stand in the revised liturgy. They could hardly be referring to placing the missal stand on the ‘short’ side of the altar.

  6. 3. I think the general thrust of the GIRM supports a separate place distinct from the altar where the gifts should be received. No. 73 says, “The offerings are then brought forward. It is a praiseworthy practice for the bread and wine to be presented by the faithful. They are then accepted at an appropriate place by the Priest or the Deacon to be carried to the altar.” This envisions two separate locations since the gifts are then “carried to the altar”. This is borne out by other parts in the GIRM. e.g. No. 140 says “The offerings of the faithful are received by the Priest, assisted by the acolyte or other minister. The bread and wine for the Eucharist are carried to the Celebrant, who places them on the altar, while other gifts are put in another suitable place.” For a Mass with a deacon, it says that “He also assists the Priest in receiving the people’s gifts. After this, he hands the Priest the paten with the bread to be consecrated, pours wine and a little water into the chalice, saying quietly, By the mystery of this water, etc., and after this presents the chalice to the Priest.” Similarly, no. 190 says, “Then, if necessary, the acolyte assists the Priest in receiving the gifts of the people and, if appropriate, brings the bread and wine to the altar and hands them to the Priest.”

    1. @Joshua Vas – comment #8:

      I agree that the various paragraphs of the document are ambiguous.

      It’s also worth remembering that extensive rewriting has occurred since 1969, often by people who had not had the benefit of the discussions we are now having, so what GIRM says today has been influenced by “reformers of the reform” in CDWDS.

      1. @Paul Inwood – comment #8:
        Paul, ROTR rewriting of the IGMR may be true in some individual cases, however I don’t think it is true here. The previous versions of the IGMR (from 69 upto and including 2000, but not 2002) all spoke of the Missal being placed “ad latus sinistrum altaris” (no. 212; now 255). It is 2002 which has eliminated this wording – hardly a ROTR move.

        Similarly, the earlier versions of the IGMR were even more explicit on the different location of the reception of the gifts. The old no. 101 (now 140) spoke of the gifts being “carried to the altar” and had the priest receiving the paten “from a minister”. This is eliminated in 2002, where the priest is only handed the paten by a deacon (or acolyte, but this is optional). The same holds true with the old subdeacon’s parts in the first editions of the IGMR, which are more explicit than the current instructions for the acolyte.

        @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #11:

        I don’t think so since the corporal is always spread under the chalice from the beginning. The priest mimics the rite of solemn Mass by moving the chalice off to the side at the beginning of the Offertory, and then “taking” the paten from the top.

  7. If I have this right:

    Paul Inwood: The GIRM secretly wants the gifts to be carried up to the altar by laypeople.

    Joshua Vas (#7): Actually, the GIRM expressly states that the priest or deacon [note, the English says “or,” but the Latin has vel, “and/or”] is to receive the gifts somewhere else and carry them up to the altar himself.

    Paul Inwood (#8): You could be right, but back in 1969 it didn’t say that. It’s been changed since then, by people with an agenda.

    1969 GIRM, no. 49: “[P]anis et vinum laudabiliter a fidelibus praesenantur, a sacerdote autem vel a diacono loco opportuno accipiuntur et super altare deponuntur comitantibus formulis statutis.” [The bread and wine are laudably presented by the faithful, but they are accepted in a suitable place by the priest and/or deacon and placed upon the altar, accompanied by the prescribed formulae.]

    I’m afraid this dog won’t hunt.

  8. Thank you Paul. For some years now, even when there is no hymn, I still prefer to pray the priest’s prayers quietly. We can all benefit from a quiet prayerful interval as we prepare to say the Eucharist Prayer.

  9. All this business about a paten. Isn’t that the vessel upon which some priests place their own “personal” host? For as long as I can remember the people carry a large vessel containing all the bread in the procession. It also contains the large bread that I break during the Lamb of God. That’s in the GIRM also. Paten….really?

  10. in response to fr pat’s concern about people approaching the altar, might i suggest that either the 2 servers or CM’s be the ones to receive the gifts “at the rail” and then bring them to the side of the altar and proceed as Paul Inwood suggests. not sure about when/where the water is added to the wine since the rite calls for only a clergyman to do this. i guess the server/CM holds the wine vessel and hands the water vessel to the deacon/priest who adds the water to the wine. and then the wine is handed to the priest/bishop. Any thoughts on this??
    As far as the Anglican rite the deacon prepares all the vessels during the collection. When the collection is done, everyone stands, the priest offers up the gifts followed by the preface.

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