April 5, 2018

Incorporating Laudato Si’ into the Preparation of the Gifts at Mass

Pope Francis


In earlier columns I explored incorporating Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’” into the Introductory Rites and Liturgy of the Word at Lord’s Day Eucharist. In this blog post, I would like to explore how the encyclical might be incorporated into the Preparation of the Gifts. The seven “actions” associated with the Last Supper (taking, blessing, breaking and sharing bread before the meal; taking, blessing, and sharing wine/cup after the meal) became ritualized as four “actions” in the deep structure of the Liturgy of the Lord’s Table (taking bread and wine/cup = Preparation of the Gifts; blessing bread and wine/cup = Eucharistic Prayer; breaking bread = Fraction Rite; sharing bread and wine/cup = Communion Rite). These reflections will deal with how “Laudato Si’” can influence our celebration of the Preparation of the Gifts.

Preparation of the Altar

“First of all, the altar or Lord’s Table, which is the center of the whole Liturgy of the Eucharist, is made ready when on it are placed the corporal, purificator, Missal and chalice (unless this last is prepared at the credence table)” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal [hereafter GIRM] 73). Where the GIRM outlines ritual activities, Pope Francis invites us to a mystagogical understanding of the meaning of those activities. Quoting Roman Guardini, he underlines the cosmic character of the altar: “Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself and act of cosmic love: ‘Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world.’ Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation.” (Laudato Si’ [hereafter LS) 236).

Liturgy planners might want to ask themselves how this cosmic dimension of the altar can be highlighted for those worshiping. Perhaps a more extensive preparation of the altar could take place, at least in more festive seasons. Members of the assembly might be invited to process in with and reverently arrange on the altar an enveloping altar cloth (possibly with antependia) on which other members of the community situate the corporal (a square of cloth that holds the paten[s] and chalice[s]), the purificator (a rectangular strip of cloth used for wiping the chalice[s]), and the Missal. Catechesis or bulletin notes might make the connection between festive table-setting in the worshipers’ homes and the adornment of the Lord’s Table. Although the cloths mentioned above have traditionally been constructed of white linen, the enveloping altar cloth (or at least the antependia) might reflect the colors of the liturgical season, thus connecting the altar with time. Even more adventurously, these altar coverings might reflect colors and designs associated with ethnic heritages and how these heritages appropriate the created order (e.g., the use of crosses, diamonds and triangles in Navajo weavings).

Procession with the Offerings

“The offerings are then brought forward. It is a praiseworthy practice for the bread and wine to be presented by the faithful. They are then accepted at an appropriate place by the Priest or the Deacon to be carried to the altar. Even though the faithful no longer bring from their own possessions the bread and wine intended for the liturgy as was once the case, nevertheless the rite of carrying up the offerings keeps its spiritual efficacy and significance.” (GIRM 73) I think it is difficult to accept the notion that the meaning of an action can remain the same even if the action is not performed. Thus community members providing bread and wine from their own ovens, vineyards and/or tables will have a more powerful impact than simply carrying up cruets of water and wine with hosts provided by the Church. Even so, Pope Francis’ exposition of a sacramental vision of reality can help worshipers to deepen their experience of the procession with the offerings: “The Sacraments are a privileged way in which nature is taken up by God to become a means of mediating supernatural life. Through our worship of God, we are invited to embrace the world on a different plan. Water, oil, fire and colours [sic] are taken up in all their symbolic power and incorporated in our act of praise…. For Christians, all the creatures of the material universe find their true meaning in the incarnate Word, for the Son of God has incorporated in his person part of the material world, planting in it a seed of definitive transformation.” (LS, 235).

Collection for the Poor and/or for the Church

“Even money or other gifts for the poor or for the Church, brought by the faithful or collected in the church, are acceptable; given their purpose, they are to be put in a suitable place away from the Eucharistic table.” (GIRM 73) Collecting money or other gifts to be brought up with the bread and wine is an explicatory ritual, recognizing that much of what is symbolized by the “daily bread” of the Eucharistic food and drink is actualized and accomplished by monetary exchange. Liturgy planners might suggest that, if the money collected represents the tithes of the worshipers, perhaps 10% of that money would in turn be designated by the worshiping community for something other than their own upkeep. The recipients of such a communal tithe could be identified with an announcement or in the bulletin. (I think it is also telling that while GIRM 73 identifies the objects collected as “money or other gifts for the poor or for the Church,” the parallel rubric for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday states: “[T]here may be a procession of the faithful in which gifts for the poor may be presented with the bread and wine.” Here only the poor, NOT the Church, are mentioned as recipients of the gifts collected.) Catechesis on what Pope Francis calls “the common destination of goods” (LS 93-95) could provide an excellent rationale for connecting the practice of collecting money and goods to be brought up (though not placed on the altar [GIRM 73]) with the offerings of bread and wine.

Song During the Procession with the Offerings

“The procession bringing the gifts is accompanied by the Offertory Chant…which continues at least until the gifts have been placed on the altar…. Singing may always accompany the rite at the Offertory, even when there is no procession with the gifts.” (GIRM 74). I would recommend the following compositions found in Our Common Home as especially appropriate for singing during the procession with the offerings, money and gifts for the poor and for the Church:

Bernadette Farrell: “Act Justly
REFRAIN: Act justly, love tenderly / Walk, walk humbly with your God.
How shall we come before you?
With what gifts to adore you?
Will our sacrifices please you?
What should we bring today?....

Michael Joncas: “God of Might and God of Mercy"
…Help us recognize your presence
In the gifts of field and vine:
Broken bread, a Christic body;
Outpoured cup, his love divine….

Bob Hurd: “Every Creature is Sister and Brother
…From the grain of the harvest,
The grapes of the press,
We bring to Christ these gifts now to bless.
Let them be gifts that show
Our care for the earth,
Labor that serves the common good….

Janet Sullivan Whitaker: “As Christ Is for Us
…May the bread we share keep us mindful
And the fruit of the vine make us one.
Let the whole human fam’ly together
Heed the cry of our island home….

Preparation of the Offerings at the Altar

“The bread and wine are placed on the altar by the Priest to the accompaniment of the prescribed formulas[.]” (GIRM 75) The “prescribed formulas” are modeled on the Jewish berakah, a short ascription of praise to God, beginning with the stereotyped statement “Blessed are you, Lord our God, Sovereign of the universe,” followed by a short declaration of the reason for blessing God, and concluding with a shortened version of the opening statement. The formulas employed in the Roman Rite Mass magnificently declare the collaboration of God and humanity in the creation of food and drink: “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread/wine we offer you, fruit of the earth/vine and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life/our spiritual drink.” The germ of a theology of ecology appears in these texts. First, God is acknowledged as the source of all beings and blessing, challenging what Pope Francis calls “modern anthropocentrism” (LS, 115-121). Second, humanity is acknowledged for its ability to collaborate with God through the exercise of intelligence and will. Worshipers do not offer nature “raw” (as might be symbolized by offering grain and grapes), but nature transformed by human foresight and purpose (symbolized by offering bread made of grain and wine made of grapes). Third, God accepts and transforms what humanity has done with the “fruit of the earth/vine” into a privileged means of access to divine life. Pope Francis teaches: “Grace, which tends to manifest itself tangibly, found unsurpassable expression when God himself became man and gave himself as food for his creatures. The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach out intimate depths through a fragment of matter. He comes not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world of ours.” (LS, 236). Quoting Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis underlines the ecological responsibility that worshipers accept when they say “Amen” as they receive the transformed bread and wine of the Eucharist: “The world which came forth from God’s hands returns to him in blessed and undivided adoration: in the bread of the Eucharist, ‘creation is projected toward divinization, towards the holy wedding feast, towards unification with the Creator himself.’ Thus the Eucharist is also a source of light and motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation.” (LS, 236)

Incensing the Offerings, Altar, Cross, Priest and People

“[T]he Priest may incense the gifts placed on the altar, and then incense the cross and the altar itself, so as to signify the Church’s offering and prayer rising like incense in the sight of God. Next, the Priest, because of his sacred ministry, and the people, by reason of their baptismal dignity may be incensed by the Deacon or by another minister.” (GIRM 75) While the GIRM emphasizes the honor given to the Eucharistic offerings, cross, altar, priest and people by means of incensation, one can also recognize that a result of incensing is to create a cloud of “holy smoke” that unifies all those who have gathered (all who have entered “into the cloud”). As the translucent incense cloud makes rays of light visible in the worship space, it also brings to mind the Shekinah, an extra-biblical Hebrew term meaning “dwelling” or “settling” to indicate the glory of the personal presence of the divine as it dwelt or settled in the Jewish Temple. This radiant disclosure of the glory of God dwelling among us clearly relates to Pope Francis’ teaching on sacramental signs: “The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things.” (LS, 233)

Prayer over the Offerings

“Once the offerings have been placed on the altar and the accompanying rites completed, buy means of the invitation to pray with the Priest and by means of the Prayer over the Offerings, the Preparation of the Gifts is concluded and preparation made for the Eucharistic Prayer…. The people, joining in this petition, make the prayer their own by means of the acclamation Amen.” (GIRM 77). Frequently the Prayer over the Offerings belonging to a particular formulary assigned to a given liturgical feast (e.g., the Prayer over the Offerings at the Mass during the Day on Epiphany) does not have an immediate connection with the teachings in Laudato Si’. However, many Prayers over the Offerings in “Section II. For Civil Needs” of “Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions” perfectly articulate themes from Pope Francis’ teaching:

Receive, O Lord, the offerings and supplications of your Church / and grant that, through the human labor we offer you, / we may have a part in the work of Christ the Redeemer. / Through Christ our Lord. (“26. For the Sanctification of Human Labor B”)

O God, who are the true Creator of the earth’s produce / and nurture carefully the fruits of the spirit, / give success to our labors, we pray, / so that we may gather the fruits of the earth in abundance / and that all things owing their origin to a single providence, / may always work as one for your glory. / Through Christ our Lord. (“27. At Seedtime A”)

Look with favor on our offerings, O Lord, / so that we, who bring you grains of wheat made into bread / to be changed into the Body of your Son, / may find joy in the blessing you bestow / on the seed to be sown in the earth. Through Christ our Lord. (#27. At Seedtime B”)

Look, O Lord, on the oblation we present to you / from among your wonderful gifts, / so that the offering which signifies abundance of divine life / and unity in charity / may impel us to share all things justly / and to care for one another as brothers and sisters. Through Christ our Lord. (“#33. In Time of Famine or for Those Suffering Hunger A”)

Fr. Jan Michael Joncas

Photo of Michael Joncas

Michael Joncas

Best known for popular songs like “On Eagle’s Wings” and “I Have Loved You,” Father Joncas is also a supremely gifted choral composer. For his latest project, he’s writing hymns of the day for every Sunday and holy day of the year.

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