Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Extraordinary Form: The Offertory

Following the Creed, we enter into what could be viewed the second “part” of the Mass. In classical terms, this section of the Mass is known as the Offertory. If you want to find an area where people criticized the Extraordinary Form, it was this part of the Mass. If you wanted to find an area that was also overlooked in the hearts of many, it was the Offertory.

More often than not, the Offertory was viewed as “fill in” time between the proclamation of the Gospel and the Eucharist. That the majority of the prayers were carried out by the priest in an inaudible tone did not help, so the critics said. In the modern liturgies of today, there really is no Offertory. A few prayers are said while the collection plate is passed around, and faster than one can blink, you are into the Canon.

Yet if one wants to understand what is really going on in the Extraordinary Form, you really need to understand the Offertory. The prayers contained here are almost unparalleled within the liturgy as far as doctrinal content and symbolism. Far from a “filler”, the Offertory should be that final moment where we prepare ourselves to participate in an action so august it truly is timeless.

With that said, let us define our terms. Some people mistakenly say that “Offertory” means “offering”, as in the impression is given that the sacrifice of the Mass is offered during these prayers, instead of the canon. Like so many problems, it is a misunderstanding of language. The word comes from the Latin offertorium, which could be understood as a place where the gifts to be sacrificed were brought. More importantly, it is the time where the offering is prepared

This makes sense. Before anything is offered in Sacrifice, it is prepared for Sacrifice. Before His arrest, Christ was anointed with oil by the woman, an act He praised, and said all would remember her for. Likewise when we give someone a gift, we never just give them the gift. We wrap it, we adorn it. When we give clothes, we make sure those clothes aren’t wrinkled and clean. While an imperfect analogy, it still holds I believe. During the offertory, we take something of common use, and prepare it for sacred purposes.

In the terms of a sacrifice, the offering is first presented to God before it is offered. The bread and wine are dedicated to God’s service. The priest prays that this offering may atone for his “countless sins and offenses”, that this also be done for every Christian present, and indeed the entire faithful “living and dead.” The ultimate ends of this offering will be that a “means of salvation” is afforded to humanity.

Here the true mystery of Christ’s atonement is outlined. While it is certainly true that Christ died for each and every human being throughout the ages, not every human being receives the fruit of Christ’s sacrifice. This prayer gives the understanding that the application of Christ’s sacrifice is limited, even if it is offered for all. If one wants salvation, one must accept Christ’s sacrifice. One must implore that the mercy we receive because of Christ’s sacrifice be applied to them. Here the priest asks that precisely this happen. The priest (and by representation all the faithful) make this request.

Even if we do not verbally speak these words, we must associate ourselves with them. One of the ways this is done is indeed through our monetary offerings during this time. In addition to our prayers, we offer the fruits of our own labor. We do not do this under the illusion that our offering of a few dollars is somehow equivalent to Christ’s sacrifice. We don’t even do it expecting a reward. Like Christ’s sacrifice, it is ultimately a sacrifice of love. Christ did not sacrifice Himself because He was compelled to by any outside force. He offered Himself because He loved us. We sinful humans can never hope to match that level of offering. Yet we can offer what little we have at this point. That physical offering of the fruits of our labors represents our own selfless giving to the Church. Most importantly, it is our own little way of uniting ourselves to Christ’s sacrifice. Whether we are rich or poor, that is our ultimate intention here.

Far from wasting time, this introductory prayer in the Offertory sets the essential stage for what is about to transpire.

1 comment:

  1. Thankyou, I used to just think that the offertory was just the bit where we gave the priest the bread and wine to give out to us, now I understand its true meaning


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