Looking at the Prayer Over the Offerings

The language of sacrifice and offering or oblation is prominent in this second proper prayer

By Father Randy Stice

Last month, I began a three-part series on the proper prayers of the Mass: the Collect, the Prayer Over the Offerings, and the Prayer After Communion, beginning with the Collect.

In this column, I want to look at the Prayer Over the Offerings. Manuscripts suggest that this prayer was introduced in the fourth or fifth century. From about the eighth century, it was also known as the “secret,” meaning “the prayer over the gifts set aside,” referring to the bread and wine to be used for the Mass selected from among the gifts brought in procession.1 The structure is relatively simple: an invocation, a petition, usually for the transformation of the gifts and their fruitfulness in our lives, ending with a short conclusion. The Prayer Over the Offerings for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time is a good example: “May these sacrificial offerings, O Lord, become for you a pure oblation, and for us a holy outpouring of your mercy. Through Christ our Lord.”

This prayer is said by the priest after the bread and wine have been offered to God and then placed on the altar. It is introduced by the priest’s invitation that begins, “Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours . . .” and the people’s response, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands . . .” This dialogue and prayer throw a spotlight on the Mass as a true sacrifice. To review, Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary and His sacrifice in the Mass “are one single sacrifice: ‘The victim is one and the same . . . the same Christ who offered Himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and offered in an unbloody manner’” in the Mass.2 Furthermore, the body on the cross is the same body offered in the Mass: “In the Eucharist Christ gives us the very body which He gave up for us on the cross, the very blood which He ‘poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ [Matthew 26:28].”3 Finally, the sacrifice is offered by Christ Himself together with His body the Church, through the ministry of the priest, joined by the faithful by virtue of their baptismal priesthood.4

The language of sacrifice and offering or oblation is prominent in this prayer. The bread and wine are “the sacrificial gifts offered here,” “the sacrifice of conciliation and praise,” “this sacrifice from your faithful servants,” and “the sacrifices instituted by your commands.” They are also “the offerings of your people” and “the people’s oblation (offering).” There are also varied petitions for the transformation of the gifts. God is asked “to receive . . . and transform them into the Sacrament of our redemption” and “to transform them into the mystery of our salvation” so that they may “become for us the Sacrament of eternal life.”

The petitions for our fruitful reception of the transformed gifts are numerous and varied. We ask that our reception may “cleanse and renew” us, “restrain us from unruly desires,” “bring ever greater holiness,” help us “grow in charity,” “become for us a holy remedy,” enable us to “make offering of a heart pleasing to you,” and grant us “the grace of being devoted to you.” The petitions also remind us that the Eucharist is the antidote to division and discord. “Bestow on us,” asks one prayer, “the gifts of unity and peace in your Church.” Another asks that we would be “faithfully united in mind and heart.”

The petitions also express the graces of the different liturgical seasons and feasts. The prayer for the Fourth Sunday of Advent asks that the Holy Spirit would “sanctify these gifts laid upon your altar, just as He filled with His power the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” The prayer for one of the Christmas Day Masses asks that the gifts would be “worthy . . . of the mysteries of the Nativity this day, that, just as Christ was born a man and also shone forth as God, so these earthly gifts may confer on us what is divine.” On Epiphany, we proclaim that the gifts offered during Mass are “not gold or frankincense or myrrh, but He who by them is proclaimed, sacrificed, and received, Jesus Christ.”

The petition for the Ascension is that “through this most holy exchange we, too, may rise up to the heavenly realms.” On All Souls, we ask that “your departed servants may be taken up into glory with your Son, in whose great mystery of love we are all united.”

The Prayer Over the Offerings illustrates the richness and complementarity of the prayers of the Mass. While the Collect expresses the character of the Mass of the day, the Prayer Over the Offerings is a transition from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, directing our attention and petition to the eucharistic sacrifice to follow. It instructs us about different aspects of the sacramental sacrifice and the various fruits that flow from the Eucharist so that, in the words of the Prayer Over the Offerings for St. Francis of Assisi, “we may be rightly disposed for the celebration of the mystery of the Cross.”

1 Johannes H. Emminghaus, The Eucharist: Essence, Form, Celebration, p. 169.
2 Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1367
3 CCC, no. 1365
4 See CCC, no. 1368 and no. 1410, and Lumen Gentium, no. 10.


Father Randy Stice is director of the diocesan Office of Worship and Liturgy. He can be reached at frrandy@dioknox.org.


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