We now move from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Accompanied by song, our gifts are brought in procession to the altar (as was done in the earliest liturgies - refer CCC #1345): the sacrificial gifts of bread and wine, which "will be offered by the priest in the name of Christ [and] will become His body and blood"; and our collection, symbolic of the first fruits of our daily labour, for the support of the Church's ministries and charities. Innate in our offerings should be a sense of sacrifice and generosity: God accepted Abel's gift of the best of his flock (Gen. 4); Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son (Gen. 22); the Israelites offered God the first fruits of the harvest (Deut. 26) and St. Paul reminds us that Jesus is the "first fruits", the perfect offering, the unblemished sacrifice. "The presentation of the offerings at the altar takes up the gesture of Melchizedek and commits the Creator's gifts into the hands of Christ who, in His sacrifice, brings to perfection all human attempts to offer sacrifices." (CCC #1350)
OFFERTORY (continued): We are invited to participate in a meal to be united with Jesus, and to be made holy. The table/altar is the main focus of the Eucharistic Liturgy. Bread and wine are the primary symbols offered, used by Jesus at the last supper. As grain is gathered from different fields to be milled together into bread, and grapes are gathered from different vines to be pressed together into wine, so we, of different backgrounds, are gathered together as one Body. The prayers the priest uses differ little from the prayers Jesus would have used at the last supper, praising and thanking God for His gifts. As the priest mixes the water with the wine he prays: "By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled Himself to share in our humanity." Take time to think about prayer and the next time we respond "Blessed be God forever" let us do so with hearts overflowing with gratitude for the generosity of our Creator.
The priest prays "Lord God, we ask you to receive us and be pleased with the sacrifice we offer you with humble and contrite hearts", a reminder that our attitude should be one of humility not the presumption that God should be pleased with what we give. (Remember Cain!) On occasion, the priest will incense the altar and gifts and another minister will incense the priest and the people. This is a sign of reverence and prayer: "Let my prayer rise like incense before you" (PS 141; Rev. 8:3-4). Now follow the priest's ablutions or purification - the washing of hands. "Lord, wash away my iniquity; cleanse me from my sin." This can truly be our prayer as we prepare ourselves to participate in the great Eucharistic prayer. The priest prays over the gifts and we respond, asking God to accept the sacrifice of lives dedicated to Him, that we may be made holy, the whole Church be sanctified, and God's name be praised and glorified.
(adapted and taken with permission from Anne Perez, Dir. Religious Ed., Holy Family Parish, St. Petersburg, Fla.)