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CNP Feedback - Offertory? --
   or Preparation of the Gifts?

by Gary D. Penkala

The "Feedback Box" on the CanticaNOVA Publications website has proven quite effective in promoting communications on a variety of subjects, and expressing concerns of liturgists and musicians. From time to time, we'll compile a few of these questions or comments and put them in public view, with the hope that others with similar concerns may benefit from their content.

Q. Dear CNP:

I've read we're no longer to say the "Offertory," but rather the "Preparation of the Gifts." We are no longer to think of "offering ourselves" at this time. However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church still refers to it as the "Offertory" and the beautiful prayers said at that time speak of "offering." I'm confused!? Can you give some feedback on this please?

-- A Confused Liturgist

A. Dear Confused Liturgist:

Let me assure you, you are not the only liturgist confused by this situation. Nothing has changed, even since Vatican II, in the fundamental understanding of "offering" at the Mass. The confusion, for those who are serious about understanding the theology of liturgy, lies only in the terminology used and in its translation into the vernacular. Let's look closely at the specific moment you mentioned: from after the General Intercessions until the Prayer over the Gifts.

This time and the song or verse associated with it are known by these names in various documents:

  1. from 1962 Missale Romanum [original Latin]
    Ritual action: Offertorium
    Song: Antiphona ad offertorium

  2. from 1972 Music in Catholic Worship [US Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy]
    Ritual action: Preparation of the Gifts
    Song: Offertory Song (may be vocal, organ, instrumental)

  3. from 1975 Missale Romanum [original Latin]
    Ritual action: Præparatio donorum
    Song: Cantus ad offertorium

  4. from 1984 Messale Romano [Italian translation]
    Ritual action: Presentazione dei doni
    Song: Canto di Offertorio

  5. from 1985 Missale Romanum [Sacramentary -- English translation by ICEL]
    Ritual action: Preparation of the Altar and the Gifts
    Song: Offertory Song

  6. from 1989 Cæremoniale Episcoporum [Ceremonial of Bishops -- English translation by ICEL]
    Ritual action: Preparation of the Gifts
    Song: Song for the Preparation of the Gifts (Offertory Song)
       also: Song for the Presentation of the Gifts (Offertory Song)

  7. from 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church [English translation by USCC]
    Ritual action: Presentation of the Offerings (the Offertory)
    Song: not mentioned specifically
One can see from this brief overview of the evolution of the terminology the inconsistencies that exist. What has remained uniform is the music -- it has always been called the "Offertory Song," and in my view should still be so named. Less clear is what to call the ritual action... and why.

While the documents and their translations have progressed through Preparation of the Gifts (and Altar) and Presentation of the Gifts in various times and languages, the most recent Vatican issuance (the Catechism) seems to return to the idea of "offering," understood in the proper sense. "The bread and wine are brought to the altar; they will be offered by the priest in the name of Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice in which they will become his body and blood." (Catechism #1350)

This ritual is the first of the crucial elements of the Eucharist, which are 1) take, 2) bless, 3) break, and 4) eat. The proper sense of this action seems to be an "offering" of the gifts for the sacrifice about to occur, perhaps presented to God (as found in French, German and Italian translations of texts) but not offered as was commonly attributed to the 1962 Missal.

Robert Cabié, in The Church at Prayer: The Eucharist (1986) writes:
The essential act of the priest who receives the offerings no longer consists in his elevating the paten and chalice in a gesture of offering, as the medieval ritualists imagined, but rather in placing them on the corporal and then holding them a little above the table as he says the prayer. The prayer is no longer the one found in the Tridentine Order of Mass ("Suscipe, sancte Pater") but is modeled on the "blessings" in the Jewish liturgy.
In The Mass (1976) Josef Jungmann, SJ, writes:
In the new Order of Mass, the symbolism contained in the act of placing the gifts upon the altar have been clarified. The Offertory procession of the faithful is encouraged. Even the gesture of elevating the gifts in a movement of offering has been retained. On the other hand, nearly all the accompanying prayers have been dropped, and only one short sentence accompanies the double action. The renewed Offertory formula embodies a three-fold idea: the bread and wine are products of this our earth and thus symbolize our world and our life; they also signify the work of our hands and our daily labor; and they are offered here as the matter for what they will become in the Eucharistic mystery: the bread of life, the spiritual drink. This interpretation at the same time confirms from another angle that the "offering" (offerimus tibi) is not intended in an absolute, self-sufficient sense.
The present liturgical theology is clear in this area, even if the terminology is not. We offer what God has given to us -- bread, wine -- and concurrently our lives and prayers, back for God's use in the what will be the ultimate sacrifice imagineable, Calvary made present to us through Christ the High Priest's action in his Church. The supreme "offering" takes place by virtue of the Eucharistic liturgy in total, whereby Christ, in earthly forms produced by our own lives and hands, is sacrificially offered to the Father for our salvation. Even the Tridentine liturgy, understood correctly, recognized this.

Rev. Pius Parsch, writing in 1957 in The Liturgy of the Mass says about the prayer Suscipe, sancte Pater ("Receive, o holy Father, almighty, eternal God, this spotless host, which I, Thy unworthy servant, offer unto Thee..."):

What does the priest offer? "This spotless victim." He offers the bread, but the expression hostia immaculata shows that the thoughts of the priest in this prayer do not rest here. This bread which he holds in his hands is as yet neither hostia (victim) nor, properly speaking immaculata. Yet already he has its destiny in mind. It is to become the Eucaharist, the Hostia immaculata in very truth, a consummation already anticipated in thought.
The revised attitude that exists toward this "Offertory" time flows consistently from its liturgical history. The Roman Missal that we presently use seeks to focus our attention on the grand offering of the Victim to the Father (the Eucharistic action), with a renewed understanding that the "Offertory" or "Preparation of the Gifts" is merely a prelude to this "First and Foremost Act."

So... what to call this prelude ritual? Perhaps "Offertory" is best, owing to its recent inclusion in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, understanding it to be an "offering for the sacrifice." This would bring in line the dichotomy which can otherwise exist between the names for the ritual action and the song accompanying it. Let's hope this will all be cleared up with the publication of the new edition of the Missale Romanum soon.

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