In the Book of Exodus, God invites the People of Israel to remember their life experience. Once you were slaves in Egypt. Do not do to others what was done to you. God reminds the People of Israel that he is a God of compassion and he will listen to their cries.
In chapter 22 of Matthew’s Gospel, there is an ongoing debate between the religious leaders and Jesus. They are trying to trip him up. Today they ask a question that we all ask at some point in our living and dying. What is most essential? What must I do? Jesus says love is your purpose: God, themselves, and their neighbor. When he says neighbor, he means everyone. Jesus links love of God and love of neighbour. They cannot be separated. We cannot love one and hate the other. Jesus makes it clear that our lives are linked – we are made for love.
Paul reminds the Thesssalonians that they have received the Word of God, the Spirit of God in difficult circumstances. He reminds them that how they treat him and how they treat others will shape their love for God. They are known everywhere for their faith which is visible in their actions. He encourages them.
On December 4, 1963 the Second Vatican Council produced the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy – it talks about the role of liturgy in our lives.
The Promotion of Liturgical Instruction and Active Participation
14. Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.
In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work.
For the next several Sundays, I want to speak about the Sunday Liturgy/Sacraments – today I want to talk about our Offering and the Preparation of Gifts at the Sunday Eucharist. How we are celebrating the mass right now is not how we ought to celebrate the mass. We are doing the best that we can, given our present lived experience.
I want to highlight a few practical things.
Music – Music and singing are an expression of our praise and thanksgiving. We ought to have music whether it is Christmas, Easter, a long weekend or the long hot days of summer. We don’t have to have voices that will win a Grammy. We sing to praise God. Can you lift your voice in praise of God? Yes! You may not want to but we are called to sing, and when the community sings, we sing. The mass is not a spectator sport. It calls for full, active and conscious participation. We pay attention and we engage. When we are serving at the altar, taking up the collection, placing our contribution in the basket, taking the gifts to the altar we ought to be singing. The leaders of song must resist the temptation to perform – they lead and encourage us. Entertainment is a bonus and not the main purpose.
Historically, the Offering and Preparation of the gifts was just that. Ordinary people shared actual gifts – animals, produce, prepared food, tools, clothing, money, etc. for those who were in need. They shared what they had.
Today, as Catholics we are trying to relearn what it means to share. Sometimes pastors encourage people to bring gifts for the foodbank or the Christmas hamper or for some special occasion. These gifts are presented at the altar or they are placed somewhere in the sanctuary. These practices are good. They remind us we are one people – connected – needed and with needs. God shares. We share.
We Catholics are relearning what it means to give. 40 years ago, a group of ministers in Edmonton were talking about their congregations. An evangelical pastor shared that on average each person in his community offered $45.00 each Sunday. When the Catholic priest did his calculations, he discovered that on average each person in his parish offered $0.33 each Sunday. We often admire the programs and resources that Evangelical Churches have. When we are generous we can make things happen too.
Historically, at the Sunday liturgy, gifts of bread and wine were brought forward, presented to God and shared amongst the people. Jesus offered bread and wine to God, and the priest continues the gesture. The offering of gifts is a reminder to us that here and now we offer ourselves. We give to God what we have received. God transforms the bread and wine and we receive more than we offer. The prayers are spoken out loud or quietly as the community sings. Either practice is acceptable.
After the offering the priest quietly asks God to accept the gifts. He then washes his hands asking God to wash away his sins. At one time the priest washed his hands because they were dirty from receiving the gifts and handling the incense. Today the washing of hands is symbolic. It is about sin and not about clean hands.
Following the washing of hands, the priest invites the people to join with him in prayer asking God to receive the offered gifts as a gesture of praise and thanksgiving. The Offertory prayer sums up our gesture, our desire. This Sunday we ask that what we do by way of service may give glory and praise to God.
A couple of take aways:
In Exodus, God invites the people to remember where they came from. Jesus reminds the people to pay attention to God, to themselves and to their neighbor. Love is to shape all they do. Paul reminds the early Christians that what they do gives praise to God.
The Offering and Presentation of Gifts at the Sunday Eucharist is accompanied by music – by ritual giving – money and gifts for the work of the Church and for the poor. Our Offering should be generous – we are giving ourselves to God and to those who are in need. We take stock of what we offer, and we ask God to accept us and our offering as an expression of our praise and thanksgiving for what God is doing in and around us.
It is important for us to support our Church with financial donations. Our Church will not grow because of smiles and prayers. We need financial donations.
Let us not forget that what is essential is that we nourish in our hearts a spirit of gratitude for all that God has given us. What is essential is that we make a commitment to share what we have received with others whether it is a can of beans, a shoe box, a cheque or an hour of labor. There are countless ways to serve. We give what we can according to our circumstances.
What am I doing? How am I expressing my thanks and praise?
On Sunday and on every day of the week how am I loving God, myself and my neighbour?
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI