By Deacon Frank Agnoli
(Editor’s note: The publication of the third edition of the Roman Missal provides a great opportunity for each diocese, parish and individual Catholic to grow in their love for — and knowledge of — the liturgy. In this series Deacon Frank Agnoli, the Davenport Diocese’s director of liturgy, reflects on the parts of the Mass.)
Preparation of Gifts/Altar
As Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, “In the bread and wine that we bring to the altar, all creation is taken up by Christ the Redeemer to be transformed and presented to the Father” (Sacramentum caritatis, #47).
The bread and wine — and our gifts for the ministry of the Church and care of the poor — symbolize who we are, all we have done in the previous week (our “work”), and all of creation. Even the “pain and suffering of the world” is taken up in order to be transformed.
In other words, everything has value in the eyes of God. There is a powerful dynamic at work here. God has given us the gift of creation and of human work. We offer back to God the “fruit of the earth and work of human hands,” which are transformed, for our sake and for the sake of the world, into the very presence of Christ.
Praying the Eucharistic Prayer, and receiving such a gift in holy Communion, we are transformed — and make to God the return-gift of a life lived in accord with the Gospel. As the U.S. bishops put it (Introduction to the Order of Mass, #105):
The procession with the gifts is a powerful expression of the participation of all present in the Eucharist and in the social mission of the Church. It is an expression of the humble and contrite heart, the dispossession of self that is necessary for making the true offering, which the Lord Jesus gave his people to make with him. The procession with the gifts expresses also our eagerness to enter into the “holy exchange” with God….
But such a “divine exchange of gifts” is impossible to see if we routinely use only part of the wine that is presented or commune members of the assembly from the tabernacle. The symbols of bread and wine, offered and transformed and returned, are powerful if we let them speak. This is one of the key differences between Eucharist and communion services.
Prayer over Gifts
After the priest invites us to prayer, we stand and then reply: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands ….” He then offers the Prayer over the Gifts, which asks not only for the transformation of our gifts but for our transformation as well. Perhaps the next time that we are at Mass we can listen for the petition — the change that the prayer is calling us to — and make it our own.
The Ars Celebrandi
Do we allow the symbols to speak fully? Do we make sure that all the wine that is offered — a symbol of the gifts these people offer, the people themselves — is used? Do we prepare enough wine so that all who wish to commune under both species are able to do so? Do we make sure that all commune from the bread brought in procession, and not from the tabernacle? Or do we subtly (or not so subtly) give the message: We do not want you or your gifts! Do we subtly (or not so subtly) reduce Eucharist to distribution of Communion?
Have we considered marking the importance of the procession of the gifts by having the gifts accompanied by lighted candles so this procession mirrors the others? For example, candles accompany the cross during the processions into and out of the church and candles accompany the Book of the Gospels during the Gospel procession. Do we sing a song during the collection, and then leave the procession of the gifts in silence?
Entering the Mystery
Do I place myself — who I am and what I have done, my hopes and dreams, my pains and sorrows, in the procession? Do I offer myself in the bread and wine? Do I enter into this “holy exchange” with God with gratitude, and acknowledge my need to be transformed? Do I see in these simple gifts all of creation “groaning” (Rom 8:22) for redemption?