Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Bolton

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Together at Mass

Together at Mass 8

The Liturgy of the Eucharist

 

From the table of the word …

So far we have gathered together, deliberately seeking to become a genuine worshipping community. We have listened to the Word of God in the Bible, reflected on it in the homily and pondered on it in silence, and made our  initial response to God’s Word in creed and in prayers.

 

… to the table of the Lord’s body and blood

Now we move on to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In the liturgy of the word we think about all that God has done for us; now it is time for us to thank God for his goodness. We do so in the supreme prayer of thanksgiving, the Eucharistic Prayer, which begins with the priest’s invitation “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God” and the people’s response that “It is right to give him thanks and praise”. That is what we have assembled for.

But first, a time of transition. From the tradition we inherited we still tend to speak of this part of the Mass as the Offertory, though in the Missal it is called “The Preparation of the Gifts”. That title expresses quite clearly the aim of this part of the Mass: we are just getting everything ready to make our offering to God, which will take place shortly, within the Eucharistic Prayer.

The rite of preparation is a simple rite, not demanding very much of us, and giving us time to change our focus of attention towards the altar and to prepare for what lies ahead. The preparation is mainly action. At the Last Supper, Jesus “took, blessed, broke, gave” and commanded us to do the same. This is the first of the series of actions which represent those actions of Jesus at the Last Supper – he took the bread and the cup filled with wine, and in the preparation of the gifts we do as he did.

 

 

 

The preparation of the gifts

To describe the rite of preparation as a simple rite, not demanding very much of us, does not mean that this part of the Mass should be glossed over as though of no importance. Not at all. It is full of meaning and significance which deserve our careful and prayerful consideration.

 

Let us see what the Missal has to say about this part of the Mass:

 

The Gifts of Bread and Wine

“the gifts which will become the Lord’s body and blood are brought to the altar”

We bring our gifts to the altar out of love and thanksgiving. We bring what God has already given to us, “fruit of the earth”, gifts which represent God’s goodness to us. They are gifts which also represent our lives which are to be offered to God, “work of human hands”. The preparation of the gifts highlights our involvement in the offering. We are about to be taken up into Christ’s great act of commitment to his Father, his offering of himself in sacrifice. He wants to take us with him to the Father; he asks the gift of our hearts, minds and wills; he asks us to live in communion with him and with each other in him; he asks us to share his concern for others. The gifts “which will become the Lord’s body and blood” are signs of our readiness to unite ourselves unreservedly with his own self-offering.

 

The Procession of the gifts

“it is desirable for the faithful to present the bread and wine … (This) continues the value and spiritual meaning of the ancient custom when the people brought bread and wine for the liturgy from their own homes.”

The procession of the gifts is a sign that the Mass is offered by the people as well as by the priest – “my sacrifice and yours” says the priest later. Our attention is drawn to this ancient custom and of its spiritual meaning for us today.

St. Hippolytus, from early in the third century, tells of the procession of people bringing their gifts to the priest. They were of agricultural background, and the bread and wine they brought quite naturally represented their life – industrial,  economic and social. Some of what they brought was used for the eucharist; what remained was put aside for the poor and needy. Life, worship of God and care for the poor go hand in hand.

Also from the third century, we read of St. Cyprian writing to a rich person: “you ought to blush, coming to Mass without bringing something to offer, and receiving in communion from what a poor person has offered.” Eucharist, everyday life, loving care for others – these are inseparable.

 

The Collection

“this is also the appropriate time for the collection of money or gifts for the poor and the Church 

Some people have expressed the feeling that taking the collection during Mass is quite inappropriate, a regrettable intrusion of secular concern for material matters that would be better dealt with away from this sacred action. This is to fail to understand the connection between the collection and the gifts of bread and wine. The monetary collection underlines what has been said about the significance of our own giving of something which represents our own life. It affirms that these gifts of bread and wine truly represent the very stuff of our real workaday lives, ensuring that we never separate Mass from real life. Further, since the money given is “for the poor and the Church” it expresses forcibly our commitment to sharing our Lord’s attitude of caring for others. It is a happy practice in this church, that many of the envelopes put into the collection basket are destined for Cafod and SVP and other charities, for the service of the poor both locally and world-wide. This is not an extra – it is belongs to the very essence of what we are doing at Mass

 

Mixing water with the wine

“the priest pours wine and a little water into the chalice …”

During our Lord’s time, it was common practice to dilute the heavy wine with water. The first Christians followed the same procedure, simply as the accepted practice. But later this mixing of water with the wine began to take on a deeper meaning. It came to symbolise the union of the divine and the human in Christ, and our own union with him. As a few drops of water are absorbed into the wine, this double union is beautifully expressed in the silent prayer: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” Every gesture and prayer is ordered to draw us ever more closely into union with Christ, in whose sacrifice we are about to share.

 

Prayer over the gifts

Finally the rite of preparation concludes with a brief prayer over the gifts, which leads us into the central part of the Mass, the Eucharistic Prayer.

 

 

Gifts of Bread and Wine

At the Last Supper Jesus took bread; he took the cup filled with wine. There was nothing accidental about this; he did not simply pick up a piece of bread because it happened to be on the table. For him the bread and the wine were full of meaning, rich in significance already.

 

For the people of Jesus’ time bread was the main part of every meal. It was the main sustenance of life, so much so that it could be a symbol of life itself. They saw bread as God’s gift and yet, living close to the earth, they knew that bread is also a sign of human work, of toil and sweat. When Jesus “took bread” it was for him the bread of his people with all their history. It was fruit of the earth but also of hard work – a symbol both of God’s gift of life and of their everyday life.

 

And what of the wine? For the Jews wine was the sign of a feast. At ordinary meals they drank water. Wine was something special: a joy given by God, symbol of love and friendship, an expression of the joy of living. Like the bread, it too has come from the earth, but it too carries the story of their work, and of their hopes for happiness and their struggle for freedom. When Jesus took bread and wine they were already for him symbols of God-given life and joy, symbols of human work and hope, symbols of his own life and mission.

 

And now Jesus invites us to do what he did: to take bread and wine full of rich  significance. For us, too, there is a natural symbolism here. We frequently use the word “bread” to signify food in general. And food is life — quite simply if you do not eat you die. And for us too food and drink are signs of joy and of friendship, expressions of life shared. And for us too food is the result of our labour. Our joys and sorrows, our labour and our life can all be summed up in symbols of food and drink. They are so important to life that they can be an adequate symbol for the whole of life. The bread and wine we give represent the very stuff of our lives, full of our hopes and cares, our ideals and our struggles.

 

The Missal says “at the beginning of the liturgy of the Eucharist the gifts which will become the Lord’s body and blood are brought to the altar”. But what are those gifts? They are not just ‘hosts’ to become Holy Communion. They are gifts of bread and wine, symbols of our entire life, with all our toil, our tears and joys, our sorrows and anxieties, our love and our failure, our hopes and our fears, our prayer and our repentance - our whole self to be taken up into the Lord’s body and blood. We bring our gifts and we ask God to send his Spirit upon them “to make them holy, so that they may become for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ”.

 

So through these our gifts, simple bread and wine yet rich in meaning, we bring ourselves and our entire being to become one with Christ. We bring a piece of bread, fruit of the earth, and it will become the body of Christ. We bring a piece of bread, work of human hands, and it will become the body of Christ. We bring a piece of bread, sign of our joy and of our sharing, and it will become the body of Christ. We bring a piece of bread, symbol of our entire life, and it will become the body of Christ. Our work, our joy and sorrow, our hopes and fears, our entire life, and our world, is to be consecrated, made one with Christ, to be offered with him to the glory of the Father.

 

 

 

For reflection — from Vatican II  “The Church”

The following quotation is from paragraph 34 of the Council document on the Church, in the section on the laity.

“To those whom Christ intimately joins to his life and mission he also gives a share in his priestly office, to offer spiritual worship for the glory of the Father and the salvation of man. ...  all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavours, their ordinary married and family life, their daily labour, their mental and   physical relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne, all of these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. During the celebration of the Eucharist these sacrifices are most lovingly offered to the Father along with Lord’s body. Thus, as worshippers whose every deed is holy, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.”