Why do we present gifts during Mass?
The preparation of the gifts is also called the “offertory,” and it assumed great importance in the early church.
St. Cyprian, martyred in Africa in 258, chided those who came to Mass and received the Eucharist but made no offering of their own: “You are wealthy and rich, and do you think that you celebrate the Lord’s Supper, not at all considering the offering? Who comes to the Lord’s Supper without a sacrifice, and yet take part of the sacrifice which the poor man has offered? Consider in the Gospel the widow… ”
St. Augustine was impressed by a fifth-century procession of gifts in Rome in which the faithful brought from their own homes things from their kitchen tables.
Augustine called this an “admirable exchange” — for their gifts God gave back Jesus. The prayer over the gifts from the sixth day in the octave of Christmas uses Augustine’s language: “Lord, receive our gifts in this wonderful exchange: from all you have given us we bring you these gifts, and in return, you give us yourself.”
For Mass, the Church uses unleavened bread made only of pure wheat flour and water, and wine only from grapes. Why?
Because that’s what Jesus used. He told us to “do this” in his memory, and if “this” changes too much, we’re no longer following his command.
Even in places of the world where wheat or grapes are scarce, the church still insists that these foodstuffs be imported instead of substituted with local products such as corn flour or rice wine. For persons with celiac disease or alcohol intolerance, the church permits virtually gluten-free hosts and mustum, wine whose fermentation has been arrested.
Collection of money
“From the very beginning, Christians have brought, along with the bread and wine for the Eucharist, gifts to share with those in need” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1351). Tithing and almsgiving are acts of worship (2 Corinthians 9:10-15) and express not only our desire to help those in need but also our generosity to God.
Made by hand
The ordinary form of Mass uses adapted Jewish “berakah” (blessing) prayers whose words are packed with meaning, even if they’re done silently during the music.
Bread and wine symbolize a wonderful cooperation between God and humans. We lay upon the altar not only creation’s goods but ours, too. The gifts are not mere wheat and grapes, but “the work of human hands.” Symbolically, that’s us on the altar, offering ourselves to God. In the eucharistic prayer, we will ask God to send the Spirit to change the gifts and change us as well.
The gift of ourselves is never easy, and the church, knowing that, treats our offerings with great care. The priest places them in a dignified place on the altar, incenses them reverently, and asks God to receive them to himself.
“Pray, sisters and brothers, that our sacrifice” — not only bread and wine, but what they symbolize: our work, struggles, joys, money, our very lives — “may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.”
To read about the other parts of the Mass and what’s happening, and why, check out the other articles in this series under the Related Content section below.
About Father Tom Margevicius
Father Tom Margevičius worked for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources before joining the National Evangelization Teams (NET) and working for St. Paul’s Outreach in the Twin Cities. He is a full-time instructor at the St. Paul Seminary. He has served the parishes of Nativity in St. Paul, St. John the Baptist in Dayton, and currently is also pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Northeast Minneapolis, where he celebrates the sacraments in Sign Language for the deaf.
© 2007 Rev. Thomas Margevicius
Used with permission.