By Dr. Judy Bullock
What is the significance of the Presentation of the Gifts at Mass?
The congregation is seated. The hospitality ministers take up the collection. Members of the assembly prepare to bring the bread and wine to the altar along with gifts for the poor.
In the early church the people brought the bread they had baked and the wine they had made in their homes for the liturgy. In this way it was clear that these gifts of bread and wine represented the people, “the work of human hands.” Over time this ministry became the purview of specialists, as monasteries and religious communities produced the hosts and wine for Mass.
For those old enough to remember the pre-Vatican II liturgy, you may recall that the priest, usually entering from a side door near the altar, brought the bread and wine to the altar as he entered at the beginning of Mass.
With the liturgical revisions of Vatican II the church recommended a gift procession where members of the congregation carry the bread, wine and gifts for the poor through the assembly to the altar. This ritual sought to recapture the same spiritual intent of the early church liturgy. The procession through the assembly brings attention to this offering, hoping to make it clearer that it comes from all the people.
After the gifts have been placed on the altar and the altar prepared, the priest celebrant prays, “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.”
The rest of the assembly responds, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy church.”
Today if asked what their part in the Presentation of the Gifts includes, many would still say that it is their contribution to the collection. Even though the collection is an important support for the work of the church, it is not the most significant part of this rite.
Our part in this presentation of gifts and preparation for the great Eucharistic Prayer is our intention to offer ourselves to the Father with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the church expresses this intention that the “faithful not only offer this unblemished sacrificial Victim but also learn to offer their very selves, and so day by day to be brought, through the mediation of Christ, into unity with God and with each other, so that God may at last be all in all.”
Our sacrifice is to turn ourselves over to God with a willingness to let go of those things that keep us from being Christlike. We are asked to offer our very lives to the Lord, as a living sacrifice. At Communion, when we receive that very bread and wine that we brought to the altar that has been transformed by the Holy Spirit into the Body and Blood of Christ, we pray that we too may be transformed, one body in Christ.
St. Augustine’s prayer says this very well, “May we become what we receive.”
Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.