You will notice some changes to our liturgy (the order and form of the service). Far from representing a leap to the latest liturgical trend, the changes in our service embrace the ancient roots of our tradition and point us towards an appreciation of deeper meaning and mystery. In our liturgy we are collectively stewards of the mystery of God. In our worship we participate in an event that has the potential to enter our beings at a very deep level. Our liturgy has evolved over centuries and is built upon the elements of ritual and symbol. Some aspects of our worship have an obvious meaning while other are nuanced and warrant of our attention to discern intent and meaning.
The Offertory is an element of the service that has a long tradition. In the early Church, each person brought bread, wine and sometimes other gifts to the service. In many western churches, these gifts of the people were received during the part of the service that we call the offertory. As much of the bread and wine as would be needed for communion was placed upon the altar by the deacon(s). The remainder was placed aside until after the service, at which time it was apportioned out to serve the needs of clergy and the poor.
Our current prayer book incorporates this aspect of the early Church’s worship by instructing that Representatives of the congregation bring the people’s offerings of bread and wine, and money or other gifts, to the deacon or celebrant. In their book, Liturgy for Living, Price and Weil observe that “The Offertory is the representative gift of the baptized and forgiven people of God. In placing on the altar money and bread and wine, the congregation offers itself and its world
Money is an obvious symbol of the work and labor of the congregation. Symbolically, we offer bread to become the body of Christ. Bread is also a powerful symbol of our work and labor. From an earlier agricultural age, bread connects to images of planting, and growing wheat, the time for harvest, followed by the milling of the grain and the eventual making and baking of bread—symbols all of human toil and work. Likewise, the wine produced by human hands is offered to be consecrated by God and given back to the people to nurture, affirm, and support their new life in Christ.
The Offertory is nothing less than a sacrificial act of the congregation whereby we offer our lives to God on our journey to become God’s people in the world. The bread and wine offered by the congregation is then blessed, the bread is broken, and then the now consecrated bread and wine are offered back to the people of God to nurture their life of faith.
Notice that to present the gifts (alms, bread and wine) we select representatives of the congregation. With a priest leading, the entire congregation then participates in saying the Eucharistic Prayer and all baptized members are invited to share in the meal offered at the Lord ’s table. Notice also that when the bread and wine are offered along with the alms a slightly longer piece of music is used. This gives the deacon or priest the time to receive the bread and wine from the congregation and then to place them on the altar. It also gives us the ability to sing a greater range of music with which to offer our praises to God.
Next week I will take some time to talk about the symbols of Christ that we use in the service. How we highlight each symbol and convey a sense of dignity, importance and awe is the task and goal of good liturgical planning.
Blessings, Fr. Eric+