Still more about the “offertory”

Taking up Jack Rakosky’s point (in the “More about the ‘offering’” thread) about the rites surrounding the presentation of the gifts being a confused mess:

Sacrosanctum Concilium 34:

The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity; they should be short, clear, and unencumbered by useless repetitions

In the rites following the presentation of the gifts, we have the following:

(1) This prayer:

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.

(Order of Mass #26)

Can be boiled down to: May these gifts be pleasing to you, O Lord.

(2) This invitation:

Pray, brethren (brothers and sisters),
that my sacrifice and yours
may be acceptable to God,
the almighty Father.

(Order of Mass #29)

Roughly equivalent to: Pray that these gifts may be pleasing to the Lord.

(3) A prayer over the offerings:

Be pleased, O Lord, with our humble prayers and offerings,
and, since we have no merits to plead our cause,
come, we pray, to our rescue
with the protection of your mercy.

(Sample Prayer over the Offerings, Friday of the 1st Week of Advent)

These prayers can mostly be boiled down to: May these gifts be pleasing to you, O Lord.

It seems to me that all of this comes very close to doing the same thing three times over. Does this then qualify as one of the “useless repetitions” referred to in SC 34?

I first wrote about this in the early 1970s. In the meantime, a variety of proposals have been made for possible different formats in this part of the rite, by Talley, Gelineau and others. Can we hope that a future revision of the Missal will sort all this out?


  1. In the one course I had with Aidan Kavanagh (the extent of my formal education in liturgy) he said many things that shook up long-standing prejudices of mine and that have stuck with me over the years. One of them was to ask, “What counts as a ‘useless’ repetition?” His point was that not all repetition is useless, and that one of the problems with the post-conciliar reforms was that any repetition was useless. My prejudice was that all repetition was pretty much useless, and he pointed out to me that this did not fit with the way in which liturgies had developed historically.

    So I take the question Paul is posing is not whether the preparation of the gifts contains repetitions — it seems clear that it does — but whether these repetitions are “useless.” And — back to Kavanagh’s point — I think utility might be in the eye of the beholder.

  2. Paul – my liturgy courses and ars celebrandi course at CTU covered much of what you have articulated in this and the earlier post. Remember that one professor simply summarized it as a tension; that the *presentation* structure was in evolution, etc. In the ars celebrandi practicum, the operating principle was that most eucharists would be on week-ends and that music would cover it…thus, what happens is not the focus of the community. (but this does avoid and ignore your well made points).

    Found some of the *offertory* developments in Bugnini’s book – roughly pages 370-385. The initial formulation that went to Paul VI was described this way by Bugnini:

    “This part of the Mass is especially criticized both for changes in formulae and the formulae proposed.”
    But, Consilium explained these (the present furmula is a Christmas oration which in its full form is not suitable for the action) and Bugnini writes:
    “In my view, they (new formulae) are successful and remove the equivocal impression that the offertory rite is a *little Canon*. Point – it is the collaboration of human work with creation that is the dispostion of the sacrifice in this formulae.

  3. I am not sure where I got this. But it might have been from one of my Taft courses since it is more true of the Byzantine than the Roman liturgy.

    What do we do in response to God’s Word in the readings in preparation for the Eucharistic Prayer?

    1. Pray for one another and the needs of the whole world.
    2. Confess our common faith in the Creed
    3. Be reconciled with one another in the Sign of Peace.

    In my favorite parish, the laity bring up the bread and wine and place them directly on the altar (from the laity side of the altar) while the priest stands at the center of the back wall what would have been the presbyteral bench (there is chair to the side). The laity descend the steps and they and the priest (and deacon) bow to the altar and one another in the same gesture. Then the priest approaches the altar.

    Let me suggest the above (including the quote) is all that is needed, no prayers of any kind. OK some water for the wine, and incense on solemn occasions. No hymn, the Creed is always sung. Incensing could be done then or during the Kiss of Peace. Electronic parish collection; collections for others could be a box, e.g. poor box at the entrance which is brought to the foot of the altar either doing the petitions or the Sign of Peace

    Remember that the premise is that the non-baptized are dismissed at the end of the Liturgy of the Word, and that we the baptized prepare to approach the eschatological banquet and unite our lives with Christ in his Sacrifice. As Taft has said the important thing that occurs is not that the elements become Christ but that we become Christ. The process already began at baptism; we are perfecting it in the Eucharist.

    1. @Ben Yanke – comment #5:
      Ben, what is laughable? The “boiling down” here is an intellectual exercise to get at the heart of the ritual element and the core meaning of the text, not necessarily to propose an alternate ritual text. Did you misread the post? Be careful about mocking what you don’t understand.

  4. Fr. Jack Feehily expressed similar sentiments back in late 2012:

    Why on earth priests should pray silently that God should accept these gifts we offer with humble and contrite hearts and then ask the people to pray that they will be acceptable and then pray the “secret” prayer aloud just for good measure is beyond me.

    Why didn’t the Consilium catch these repetitions? Or did they not deem them as “useless”? Or did they decide that it would be best not to remove them right away, lest too much be changed?

    But the liturgy is full of repetitions.

    Consider the rite of peace, where the priest prays “grant peace in our days”, and then prays to the Lord (who said “I leave you peace”) that He would “grant [the Church] peace”, and then the whole congregation displays a sign of that peace, and then prays for the Lamb of God to “grant us peace”.

    Or the many times during Mass we ask for mercy. There’s the “Lord, have mercy” and “may Almighty God have mercy on us” at the beginning, and then in the Gloria we ask for mercy twice, the priest or deacon prays that through the words of the Gospel our sins might be wiped away, and then towards the end we ask the Lamb of God to “have mercy on us” at least twice.

    Is streamlined liturgy really what we should be aiming for?

    1. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #6:

      Is streamlined liturgy really what we should be aiming for?

      That’s exactly why I asked how we should interpret SC 34.

      I see that no one has yet taken up the proposals for alternative formats that I mentioned.

      Or did they decide that it would be best not to remove them right away, lest too much be changed?

      I think that’s very likely. It certainly happened in other cases.

  5. Ben, I find what you said laughable. The understanding of the Eucharist in the late medieval period is expressed in an offertory rite which treats the gifts of bread and wine as if they were sacred. The NO is inspired by earlier sources in which the gifts of the people are placed upon the altar in preparation for the Eucharistic Prayer. The gifts that then become for us the Sacred Body and Blood of The Lord are offered by priest and people to the Triune God at the conclusion of that prayer. It is very simple and The Mystery of Faith at the same time.

  6. Well, the series of prayers is not redundant.

    The first is a prayer by the priest that the *we* be accepted and that *our sacrifice* this day be pleasing.

    The second is a request by the priest that the people join that prayer. (Which is followed by the people so doing. Should we omit *that* as a “useless repetition” too? Curious that you omitted that. Wonder why?)’

    The third prayer you highlight covers our prayers and offerings, and then in substance goes beyond the others.

    I would say this is a gradual unfolding of prayer in the round, as it were. I don’t think that’s especially confusing as a structure. Thank God the Missal wasn’t edited by Strunk & White (good for journalism and perhaps advisable for academic papers albeit largely ignored up the chain, but not for communal prayer).

  7. I know this is off base from the topic of repetition, but I still think we are having a problem with “offertory” vs. “preparation of the gifts.” Most everyone still refers to it as “the offertory.”

    Rarely do I see a presider who follows the rubrics and realizes that the ritual gesture called for is the placing of bread and cup on the altar. Instead we get elevations not called for. (This includes Pope Francis.)

    The use of the word “offer” has to be understood in a proleptic sense (explain that at 6:30 on a Sunday morning). The 1970 translation “to offer” was a stroke of genius.

    Maybe Fr. Anthony can take a stroll over to the Lit. Press and free up an article by Ralph Kiefer from about 25 years ago title something like “Offertory or Preparation of the Gifts” for those of us who aren’t libraries.

    1. @Barry Moorhead – comment #10:
      Thanks for referencing Kiefer’s excellent article (Worship: Vol.48,No. 10). He makes the point that the integrity of eucharistic offering is damaged because there is the strong verbal and ritual suggestion that there are two offerings – the laity offering bread and wine and the clergy offering the body and blood of Christ. Among his suggestions: priests should heed the missal’s clear intention that the two “Blessed are you…” prayers be said inaudibly. In addition, many priests still insist on exaggerated elevations of the bread and wine at this time (not an option in the missal), clearly implying with powerful ritual that bread and wine are being quite solemnly offered.

  8. I think it’s easier to write off certain parts as “useless repetition” but that’s one of the most ambiguous phrases. For example, does repetition of the “Holy, Holy, Holy” count as useless? You might think that exaggerated, but I know of one vernacular in the South Asia which eliminated this threefold mention citing “useless repetition” (mind you, I think this was post-hoc justification, but nonetheless….)

    The post-conciliar liturgy I think suffers sometimes from an atomization of sorts. Everything must be done once and only once . Now, to a certain extent, too much duplication does not clarify the nature of the parts. But on the other hand, extensive pruning removes the “feeling” from the communal prayer of a rite.

    Sometimes I think – and I might be totally off-base here – that “streamlined” rites work well in monastic settings and among people who have read liturgical books, and have become involved in that language. They can appreciate silence and just the gesture. But I think for many others it can appear simply as impoverished. The Roman liturgy, as it is, incorporates little of the devotional feelings of the worshipper.This is true of Western liturgy in general. One thinks of the Anglican “Bombay liturgy” which incorporated much material from Syriac St. James in order to appeal to the devotional climate of another culture.

    Culture may have something to do with it, but the Western silent prayers sprang up in the West not the East – and why, if not to give expression to a genuine desire that needed to be expressed? As Taft points out, this happens at many “soft spots” in the liturgy. Nowadays, there is this line that is drawn between “public liturgy” and “private prayers”. Certainly there is the danger of some sort of private spirituality hijacking a public communal action – and worse, turning it into an extension of “my” private spirituality, so that the whole action is seen in terms of one figure.

  9. But I think it is the “private prayers” – even the overlapping, repitious ones – that makes the priest who comes in for the noon Mass in the middle of a busy day able to imbibe a certain attitude. And the same is true for all those assembled. Do I know that we are all offering the Eucharist if the priest says “Let US pray” – sure. But a text like the “Orate fratres” brings it to the fore at times when I don’t have that luxury of contemplating on the different words.

    The late Anscar Chupungco once had a proposal (think it was in Ecclesia Orans) on a revised ferial liturgy, that was minimalistic to say the least. It had a highly abbreviated entrance rite with little more than the Collect, then the Liturgy of the Word, the preparation of the table, Prayer over the Offerings, Eucharistic Prayer, Our Father, Communion, Postcommunion prayer, dismissal. Very clear, very streamlined and had the advantage of Word and Eucharist being the centerpoints. But I couldn’t help thinking that it would not fit into parishes I attended, and would be better suited for a community given to long contemplation. It didn’t necessarily give voice to all the aspirations of those assembled.

    1. @Joshua Vas – comment #13:
      “Prayer over the Offerings”

      That reminds me that the liturgy does shift in language from “donorum” (gifts) to “oblata” (offerings) through the course of the Preparation of the Gifts / Offertory: the formerly-called “secret” prayer is now the “oratio super oblata”.

  10. Imagine my son’s room is messy, so I tell him to clean it up. He does, but then he takes the command to clean up as a sort of permanent mantra. He sees everything through the essentialized lens of “clean up,” even though the situation in which the command was given is now in the past.
    Anyone familiar with the liturgical context of S.C. knows the context in which the S.C. speaks of “useless repetition”–e.g., the practice of the priest reciting the readings silently. The context of the command is gone now; to essentialize the command outside of its context and apply it to a missal composed after S.C. was written, and makes no more sense than in my above example.

    1. @Ameila Snow – comment #14:
      Actually by that point the silent readings were gone – perhaps you are referring to the Propers? In any case, the explanation given later along with art. 50 (and printed in the Acta) does say specifically mentioning the Offertory: “Orationes sacerdotis, quae potius privatam vel singularem pietatem sapiunt, recognoscendae; oratio super oblata clara voce dicenda”. Not that this goes too far away from your point, because it does say “revised” (recognoscendae) not eliminated, so clearly some thought that it was not a useless repitition.

  11. Repetitive prayer can be found in all the major religions, but it is rhythmic, with the accented words not very far apart in time (see chants of various sorts).

    The prayers under consideration are not at all rhythmic, at least not in English. Do the words perhaps repeat some valuable meaning that needs to be emphasized? Why is this sort of repetition of content valuable at this point in the Mass? Are we *pleading* for acceptance of ourselves and our gifts? That wouldn’t seem necessary, given that God is a loving God.

    1. @Ann Olivier – comment #16:
      Are we *pleading* for acceptance of ourselves and our gifts? That wouldn’t seem necessary, given that God is a loving God.

      I think the repetition is less about who God is, and more about who we are. We are in need of God’s acceptance. To ask several times, and in varied ways, lends (in my mind) authenticity to the request. To ask once seems perfunctory and robotic, perhaps even presumptuous. And to ask not at all (given that God is a loving God) would be arrogant.

      Do the words perhaps repeat some valuable meaning that needs to be emphasized?

      I would say they emphasize different facets of the theology of offering/sacrifice.

      1. The priest’s prayer (“With humble spirit and contrite heart”), which evokes Psalm 51 and Daniel 3, emphasizes the importance of parity between the physical act of offering and the spiritual attitude of the ones offering: “with humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and may our sacrifice…” As the Catechism states, “Outward sacrifice, to be genuine, must be the expression of spiritual sacrifice.” (Catechism 2100; see also 1 Sam 5:22) The allusion to Daniel, as Mgr. Harbert points out above, reminds us that we are offering ourselves along with the bread and wine (which represent us) and ultimately the Eucharist: “with a contrite heart and a humble spirit may we be accepted, as though it were with burnt offerings of rams and bulls, and with tens of thousands of fat lambs; such may our sacrifice be in your sight this day.” (Daniel 3:39-40)

      2. The priest’s invitation to the congregation (and their response) call to mind our shared participation in the offering, and our unique contributions to that offering: “my sacrifice and yours.” Our response gives a “motive” (if you will) for God’s acceptance: God’s praise and glory, our good, and the good of the whole Church. We acknowledge that the sacrifice is offered at the hands of the priest (cf. Sac. Conc. 48) but we know that we are offering it WITH the priest as well.

      3. The oratio super oblata consistently includes two petitions: that God would accept our offerings, and that we would receive graces in return. Because it changes from day to day (unlike the other prayers) it can mention something specific where the other prayers are general.

  12. It may be helpful to recall that the prayer beginning ‘With humble spirit . . . ‘ is an allusion to Daniel 3, 39-40, part of the ‘Song of the three holy children’, which is used in Morning Prayer on Sundays and on Tuesday of the fourth week of the Liturgy of the hours.
    The situation is this: three Jewish lads have been thrown by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, into a furnace for failing to obey him. They are far from Jerusalem, and so cannot offer sacrifice in the temple. Moreover, they have no rams, bulls or lambs to offer. so one of them, Azariah, prays that, in place of a normal sacrifice, God will accept them themselves. The whole passage is well worth reading.
    On the lips of the celebrant of a Christian Eucharist, then, Azariah’s prayer indicates that he is offering himself along with bread and wine.
    The people too offer the sacrifice of themselves, and each person’s sacrifice is different : one has been working hard, another bearing sickness, another looking after children and so on ad infinitum. That is why he speaks of ‘my sacrifice and yours’.
    In their reply, they speak of ‘the sacrifice’ in the singular because, as VII said in Presbyterorum Ordinis 2 (also worth a read) ‘by the ministry of presbyters, the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful is completed in union with the sacrifice of Christ, the one Mediator’. That is, at Mass all our sacrifices become one.

  13. It’s a presumption peculiar to liturgists that the legislated is the practiced, but although the repetition of the readings had been made officially optional by this point, it did in fact frequently happen–perhaps more frequently than not.

  14. Put another way: What would a SC 34 rosary look like?
    if we follow this interpretation of SC 34, it would take about 3 minutes.

    1. @Ameila Snow – comment #23:

      I used to quip that an Irish priest of my acquaintance whose celebration ‘style’ was ‘speedy’ might be expected to read the Litany of the Saints like this:

      All the Saints on Page 1: PRAY FOR US.
      All the Saints on page 2: PRAY FOR US

      and so on.

      As to ‘useless repetition’ It seems that most ancient liturgies repeat a lot. Catherine Pickstock remarked that this was, in fact, an essential component of worship.

      If you’ve got problems with the offertory (I don’t like the ‘blessed are you’ prayers), then the best thing is to say the lot silently. There is no obligation to say them out loud, quite the reverse in fact.


      1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #25:

        No, I don’t think the old prayers were better.

        There was an element of muddle about them, the first being in the first person singular, the rest in the plural, etc.

        Nor do I think it’s possible in practice to have an action without someone wanting words to go with it. That was (someone correct me if I’m wrong) why the ‘blessed are you’ prayers were introduced in the first place.

        I find that they are confusing for didactic reasons.

        My experience is that when you take the general instruction’s line and say to people that the liturgy of the eucharist follows Christ’s actions at the Last Supper: took, gave thanks/blessed, broke, gave, they will always tell you that action 2 ‘gave thanks/blessed’ is represented by the ‘blessed are you’ prayers. My experience of teaching is that the eucharistic prayer is seldom identified with ‘he blessed’ or ‘he gave thanks.’

        Furthermore, the sense of these prayers is amply taken up in the many prayers over the offerings, where the idea of fruit of the earth and human work passing into sacrament is represented in rich and diverse ways.

        As far as actual performance of the rite is concerned, my take on this is that the rubric assumes that the priest says these prayers quietly. Even if there is no singing he still does not have to say them aloud, and even if he does, the congregation is not obliged to say ‘blessed be God ..’

        The liturgy is surely wordy enough as it is. Think of the torrent of speech between the end of the eucharistic prayer and the communion. I just think that it is better to have some silence before and after the canon.


  15. the dilemma with these prayers before the new translation ruined them was that they were so much better from a literary point of view than the Eucharistic prayers. My instinct is normally to say them silently (now in the proper translation!) so as to reduce the extent to which the real offertory is undermined.

  16. One of the issues surrounding ‘offertory’ is that the English verb ‘offer’ is not synonymous with Latin ‘offero’. English ‘offer’ usually carries a sacrificial connotation – we relinquish possession of that which we offer, providing that it is accepted. But Latin ‘offero’, from ‘ob’ = ‘towards’ + ‘fero’ = ‘to carry’, may mean no more than ‘to put something in front of somebody’. So in the prayers under discussion, ‘panem, quod tibi offerimus’ could mean simply ‘the bread we are bringing before you’.
    But here we encounter the political dimension of liturgical translation. Because of earlier theological controversies, the catholic bishops of the English-speaking world would be very unlikely to accept that as an official translation, since it might seem to water down the sacrificial aspect of eucharistic doctrine.
    I never say these prayers aloud, and I never say them in English. This leaves me free to understand ‘offerimus’ in the Latin sense I have mentioned.

    1. @Mgr Bruce Harbert – comment #27:
      “English ‘offer’ usually carries a sacrificial connotation – we relinquish possession of that which we offer, providing that it is accepted.”

      Really? False premise. I offer you my condolences without sacrificing anything. If I may offer another solution without relinquishing anything, it sound more like a case of imitating or replicating Latin vocabulary,, i.e. of so-called ‘false friends’ to want to translate ‘offerimus,’ in this case, by ‘(which) we offer.’

    2. @Mgr Bruce Harbert – comment #27:

      So in the prayers under discussion, ‘panem, quod tibi offerimus’ could mean simply ‘the bread we are bringing before you’.
      But here we encounter the political dimension of liturgical translation. Because of earlier theological controversies, the catholic bishops of the English-speaking world would be very unlikely to accept that as an official translation, since it might seem to water down the sacrificial aspect of eucharistic doctrine.

      While agreeing absolutely with you about the possible meaning of quem/quod tibi offerimus, I think saying that the bishops would never approve it is untenable because, as I already pointed out in the other thread on this part of the rite (, comment #27), the English-speaking bishops did in fact approve such a translation: the late-lamented 1998 version that said “through your goodness we have this bread/wine to present to you“.

  17. It is only useless repetition when you’re not offering yourself in it. No heart, mind, body and soul into the words, actions and deeds then they are dead, useless repetition. Rational minds will never understand, you have to receive through your heart, sacrifice your ego and lower beast nature to be a sincere burnt offering.

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