Every day should be a series of offertories where we offer ourselves to Christ
By Bishop Richard F. Stika
“No one shall appear before [the Lord] empty-handed” (Exodus 23:15).
To those who say, “I don’t get anything out of attending Mass,” Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen would answer, “It’s because you must bring something to it.” So important is this point that we should ask our selves, “What do I bring to Mass?”
Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, laments in his book, The Power of Silence, that “we have lost the most profound meaning of the offertory.” He observes with sadness how the sacred time during which the altar is prepared, and the gifts brought up and offered are sometimes viewed as “empty space” or an intermission between the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist. But if our life is to truly be “eucharistic,” it must begin and be renewed weekly in the offertory of the Mass.
Among the numerous reflections by Archbishop Sheen, I highly recommend his presentation titled “On the Meaning of the Mass,” which can be Googled and viewed on YouTube. In it, he describes the Mass in terms of a Greek drama with three indispensable parts, or acts, to it. In Act I, the offertory, we offer ourselves to Christ. In Act II, the consecration, we die in Christ’s offering of Himself on Calvary for our sins, which is represented in an unbloodied manner in the Mass. And in Act III, Communion, we rise to new life in Him for “no one dies to Christ without receiving new life.”
During the offertory, we offer the matter required for the sacrifice of the Mass — “the fruit of the earth” and “the fruit of the vine” that “will become for us the bread of life” and “our spiritual drink.” We offer “something” in the offertory that during the consecration will become “someone” — Christ Jesus. But the material gifts brought to the altar must include something else — each of us. For by virtue of our baptism, we are members of the Body of Christ, and the “someone” who will be offered must be the whole Christ — both head and body. This is the “active participation” the Church asks of us — our own offering that will be transformed in Christ upon the altar.
When the gifts of bread and wine are brought to the altar, we also should want to be brought with them, saying to Christ, “I want to be offered with you in your great act of redemption.” In humility, we acknowledge that apart from Jesus we can do nothing (John 15:5), and that for our offering to “be acceptable to God, the almighty Father” it must be united by Christ to His offering, which is of infinite and eternal value.
In the offertory, we bring the poor and insufficient offering of our prayers, our sacrifices, our labors and sufferings of body and soul, our works of mercy. We bring our vocations as a husband or wife, father or mother, our families, our joys and disappointments, our loneliness and trials. We bring everything to the altar and place it with the gift of ourself on the paten and in the chalice, under the form of bread and wine. It does not matter if we think it is an unworthy offering. In truth, there is nothing we can offer to God the Father that is worthy of Him except what Christ His Son offers. How blessed we are then that it pleases Christ to join the tiny morsel of our offering with His.
When the gifts, the crucifix, and altar are incensed during the offertory, and the celebrant and the entire congregation are incensed by the deacon or another minister, it gives further image to how we are all united in the one sacrifice that will be offered in the consecration.
During the consecration, we solemnize our offering by dying in Christ upon Calvary. It is then that our offering, united by Christ to His, truly becomes a sacrifice acceptable to God, the almighty Father. With the immortal words of Christ — “This is my Body…. This is the Chalice of my Blood” — we die in Christ by repeating His words back to Him saying, “This, too, is my body…, this, too, is my blood!”
It is this longing of the heart that cries out, “I am all Thine, My Lord!” that best prepares us for Holy Communion. And the fruit of our Communion with our Lord depends upon the dispositions of our heart, which we prepared with the gifts in the offertory.
The Mass is truly Christ’s sacrifice, but now we can say that it is our sacrifice, our praise and adoration, our thanksgiving “through Him, with Him, and in Him.”
The Mass does not end when we leave church each week. The commands to “Go forth,” to “announce the Gospel of the Lord,” “glorifying the Lord by your life” mean we must now go and “live the Mass” — to “live our Mass.”
Each moment of each day should be a series of offertories where we continue to offer ourselves to Christ, to die in Him, and to give Christ to others. But to be the hands, the feet, the face, and the heart of Jesus, we ourselves necessarily need to be transformed by Christ so that we give more than just ourselves when we give to others.
And it is this transformation that begins in what we offer in the offertory.
May every Mass bear much fruit as you go and live your Mass each day.