There are two principle components of each Mass: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. (For well informed YFF, Homeschool, or ACS parents — yes, there are technically 4 parts of each Mass when you include the smaller Introductory and Concluding Rites). During the first major component of Mass, the Liturgy of the Word, we primarily receive instruction through the Word of God and through the Homily. During the second major component of Mass, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we participate in the Eucharistic feast (notice the word “participate” rather than “receive” — we will come back to that!). The transition between the two main pillars of Mass is typically marked by the offertory, which is currently omitted (at least on the surface!) due to pandemic protocol. This temporarily omission offers an opportunity to take a closer look.
Bring, Offer, Receive:
The Liturgy of the Eucharist is like a wedding; there are two selves that are offered to each other; there are two persons that are reciprocally received; and two people that become one. Imagine a bride’s indignity if she were to be described as merely the recipient of her groom! After all, she also gives herself; her groom also receives her. The Liturgy of the Eucharist culminates in our reception of Christ, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, but it also contains what we bring — our own personal offering of self.
Work of Human Hands:
Typically during the offering (pre-pandemic!), the Eucharistic gifts — bread and wine — are processed forward by lay members of our parish community. Bread and wine are recurrent biblical themes — from the first offering of Melchizedeck (Gen. 14: 18); to the Passover (Ex. 12); to the parables taught by Jesus about leaven (Mt. 13:33), grape growing (Jn 15: 1-8), wheat (Mt. 13: 24-30; 36-43), and wine skins (Lk 5: 33-39); to the Last Supper and institution of the Eucharist (Lk. 22: 14-20). While the rich symbolism of these elements is beyond what we can explore here, there is one important aspect of both articles that our Mass emphasizes.
When our Priest brings the bread and wine to the alter (before the consecration), he offers them to God. Each offering prayer contains the words, “fruit of the earth/vine and work of human hands.” Bread and wine are both made with gifts given by God (grapes and wheat), but they are cultivated/created by mankind. In short, the bread and wine — that actually become Christ — are created and offered by you and I. In some way, we are in the elements of the Eucharist feast. Christ does not materialize from nothing; rather He becomes present in substance — His substance in the form of bread and wine; His presence in and through you and I.
You are in the Offering:
“The Eucharist is also the sacrifice of the Church … The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value” (CCC 1368). Regardless of whether or not the Eucharistic gifts are processed forward, regardless of whether or not offering baskets are passed, you are called to make an offering of yourself with every Eucharistic celebration.
Strictly speaking, God does not need anything from us, yet in His great love, He chooses to collaborate with us. He gives himself to us as we give ourselves to Him. We offer ourselves, and He transubstantiates our hearts, beyond ordinary human form, into His own likeness. In you, Christ is presented to the world.