At the beginning of the Offertory we are about to enter into the very Sacraficial Act of the Mass itself. What is a sacrifice? Do we realize that sacrifice is necessarily an act, the act of worshiping God by giving Him a gift? We may be too accustomed to sitting there in the pew and watching the priest from afar at the altar, take a little wafer of bread; which he has brought to the altar himself, as if that were entirely his doing alone.
We probably have forgotten that for us, too, Mass is an action, not just a prayer. We must act our part at least in mind and intention, since with the size of most modern congregations the old custom of an offertory procession is not feasable. Long, long ago in the Traditional Latin Mass however; when churches were smaller and Christians fewer, they marched the procession at this point in the Mass. Up they went to the very altar, on which they actually placed their gift: bread, wine, or oil. Often they presented also something to be passed on to the poor after it had in the sacrifice fulfilled its function of representing the giver himself, being as it was the fruit of his own toil.
During this ceremony the whole congregation sang a psalm, which has been much shortened to form our present Offertory verse we see in todays Mass.
Surely nowadays when time seems so important even at Mass, the Church has simplified the act of offering by having us give coins and dollar bills in the collection instead of a great variety of foodstuffs aside from giving such items to the poor.
But the symbolism is quite the same, as was recognized by a popular unknown pastor in Claudel’s poem, who thus exhorted his stony listeners in the pews to the appropriate conformity of mind with the Sacrificial Act:
“Tis not just the paten, not merely the chalice of wine,
It is you, my people–all of you
That I want to hold and elevate between these priestly hands of mine.
On the collection plate have you nothing to place except a paltry dime?
Nothing to offer but an impersonal coin?
Why deprive God of all those things which are
His possessions as likewise His very need?
Your tears, together with your faith,
Your blood mingled in the chalice with His own
These are the wine and water of the Sacrifice
This is what through Him redeems the world !
Take pity on Him, then, who had but thirty years to pay.
Unite your passion to His own, since He can die but once.”
Even though the most dramatic way of expressing our Offertory is no longer feasable, we can nevertheless still act with the priest when he raises up the (“Spotless Host”) and the
(“Chalice”) of eternal salvation. We are not mere spectators but actors in this divine drama that takes place on the holy alter.
For instance, if a man telegraphs flowers to someone he loves, he is truly the giver as if he had presented them with his own hands. But the flowers would be meaningless unless
they represented him, unless they were the bearers of his love and thoughtfulness.
So when a priest offers bread and wine, we put meaning into the simple gesture by telling
God that those things really stand for us. In the old Jewish sacrifice the offerer placed his hands on the ox or lamb to be immolated, thereby signifying his wish to identify himself with the victim, his willingness to die in its place, if that were possible.
So, unless we offer ourselves, we are not offering our Mass, and we have only a very superficial part in the Sacrifice.
It is somewhat staggering to realize that Jesus Christ our Savior has willed to limit His own omnipotence by standing in need of the earthly substance under the consecrated species of bread and wine we offer as the material gift for His Redeeming Sacrifice.