The Office of Stewardship
Last week, I wrote: “For more on the benefits of gratitude, listen to this interview by Dr. Gregory Popcak: The Benefits of Gratefulness” However, the link to that interview was not working. Here is the correct link: Dr. Greg Popcak on Gratefulness.
In this Year of the Eucharist, I have been blessed with three books on the Mass. Each of them offer a little different perspective on it and all have helped me in some way to appreciate the power, beauty and depth of this, our greatest treasure. As the definition of Stewardship from the U.S. bishop’s document, A Disciple’s Response makes clear, much of stewardship centers around our receiving from God and our giving back to Him and to those He loves. This giving and receiving is also central to the Mass. As Fr. Jeremy Driscoll writes,
“The broad strokes of what happens at Mass can be traced in two basic movements . . the Father gives Himself through the Son in the Holy Spirit. . . He does so in order that the Church may do something with this gift; namely, offer it as its own back to the Father.”
We see this in many different ways throughout the Mass; in fact, whole books worth of ways! However, one of the most striking is in a part of the Mass that we often overlook, the Presentation of the Gifts. Sometimes, I experience this part of the Mass as almost the intermission, the unimportant part between the Liturgies of the Word and Eucharist. If a child starts tugging on you to take him to the bathroom during the Homily, what is the first thought? Wait until the offertory when we won’t “miss anything”! But as I have read about it this year, I have come to a much deeper appreciation for this moment in the Mass.
We Offer Ourselves
First, there is the fundamental truth that when we make the offering of bread, wine (and often money), we offer ourselves. As St. Augustine says, “By presenting our gifts at the altar, we place ourselves on the altar.” He also reminds us, “Christ wants one he has redeemed with his blood much more than he wants what you have found in your storehouse.” And so, author Christopher Carstens suggests, “So when the collection basket, or plate, comes through the nave, place yourself in (or on) it. Offer up all that is good and bad and ugly–all that you are– so that you can find yourself united with others in Jesus’ own body, transformed by the Spirit, and offered in loving union to the Father. This offering will be a true gift to God, one that He is unable to have without you.”
We Love our Neighbor
Secondly, I thought it was interesting to learn that “until about the ninth century, the faithful brought gifts to church to be distributed to the poor, and from these gifts were taken the bread and wine that were put on the altar for the Eucharist; the offering to God and the offering to the poor from a single act of offering, attributing the same sacrificial value to both offerings.” Author, Goffredo Boselli reminds us that “we simply cannot present our entire life as a gift to God at the altar if we live this life without our neighbor or against our neighbor.” As dedicated disciples of Jesus, we are always striving to love both God and neighbor. For us, the two are inexorably connected. In the Gospel, Jesus asks us to first reconcile with our neighbor and then bring our gift to the altar.
We Allow Ourselves to Be Taught
Lastly, bread and wine are not simply convenient items to be given and received back transformed. Rather, they speak powerfully to us. Most fundamentally, we take them to the altar because Jesus took bread and wine into His hands at the Last Supper. But there is more as well. Note that both bread and wine are the product of the cooperation between the Creator and human beings. Bread is the most fundamental of foods. In general, food is needed to stay alive, but it is also something that we produce, prepare and eat together. It expresses our need for communion with others. So, “food is both a substance needed to stay alive and a symbol needed to stay human.” Wine, on the other hand, is a “drink that is never necessary simply to live, but which still is precious for the consolation, the shared joy, and the friendship it helps foster.” So in both bread and wine, we can see powerful symbols of communion. They are always brought together because together they are the sign of life fully humanized.
We Come Empty to be Filled
At the same time, these gifts are very simple. We might also think that, in putting ourselves on the altar, we are also bringing something quite simple and unimportant. And this is true. What, after all, could we possible give that would be worthy of God Himself? “Nonetheless, it is precisely in this condition of poverty before God that Christ comes to meet us . . . . He will take our gifts into his hands, and he will transform them into his very Body and Blood, transform them into his Paschal Sacrifice that he is continually offering in heaven.” Then we are invited to take His very presence into ourselves and allow Him to transform US as well. And that is AMAZING!
Quotes taken from:
“What Happens at Mass” by Jeremy Driscoll, OSB
“The Spiritual Meaning of the Liturgy” by Goffredo Boselli
“A Devotional Journey into the Mass” by Christopher Carstens
Photo Credit: Kevin Cook @ Philly Catholic.com
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