By Father Stephen Battey
Q. Why do parishioners bring up gifts of bread and wine during Mass?
We’ve all experienced it at one time or another; the priest stands at the foot of sanctuary and no one stands up to present the offertory gifts. Some would argue that we would do well to abandon this practice. After all, it is not as if the people are bringing the bread and wine from their own homes as they might have in the past. In addition, it would spare our parishes from the occasional awkward moment. Valid as these points may be, there is a far deeper spiritual significance to the presentation of the gifts which helps explain why this practice is still praiseworthy to this day.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, #73 can be a very helpful source to begin with. It tells us that it is ideal for the faithful to carry up the offertory gifts, which are received by either the priest or deacon. It should be noted, that it does not say that the faithful should only bring up the gifts when there are no acolytes present to do so. The Church envisions that this role is set aside specifically for the faithful. The GIRM later goes on to say that this action expresses their participation in the sacred liturgy in a concrete way.
While it is true that the faithful no longer bring bread or wine from their own homes, the spiritual meaning of the presentation still remains. By bringing up the gifts, the faithful are participating by making an offering to God. Everything that we receive is a gift from God, and the offertory procession is an opportunity to recognize that those things ought to be given back to Him for the good of the whole people of God. Even if only two or three people from the congregation take part in the procession in a physical way, it is a chance for all of those present in the quiet of their interior prayer with God to recommit themselves to giving thanks to God and to strive to use their individual gifts and talents well. If this is something that we’ve struggled with in the past, perhaps we can ask God for the grace of being better stewards of those gifts in that moment at Mass.
One question that arises sometimes is whether or not those of other faiths can bring up the gifts at Mass. This situation can be especially common at weddings, when the parents of the bride or groom who are of another faith might want to take part in the offertory procession. It seems to me that by using the term “the faithful,” that this role is reserved to those of the Catholic faith. Those of other faiths may not have the same understanding or even the desire to make the same kind of offering to God as a member of the faithful would.
Regardless, the next time the priest makes his way to the foot of the altar, know that this is not just an empty practice for the sake of formality. It is an opportunity for a deeply spiritual movement on the part of the faithful, to participate in the sacred liturgy and offer back to God what they have received.
“Ask the Newly Ordained” features Fathers Brian Morris, Joseph Brice and Stephen Battey — who respond to questions about the faith from Rhode Island Catholic readers. Have a question? Ask the Newly Ordained! Readers may submit questions by sending them to Editor@thericatholic.com.