Last week I told you that this homily – as we go through the Mass –
would pick up after the Creed. That is, the offertory.
In the first reading, we heard some of the saddest words in the Bible: “there was no remedy.”
But then in the Gospel, we have the great good news
that there is, indeed, a remedy: Jesus Christ,
who came into the world not to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.
With the offertory of the Holy Mass, we are summoned
to prepare for this “coming,” this lifting up the Son of Man.
Realizing what we are doing – and, more than that, what God is doing –
in the Mass, there is a great drama in this transition of the Mass.
Let me just describe several things that happen altogether.
After the Creed, what do we do? We offer our prayers and petitions.
Then what? The ushers pass down the aisle for your material offerings.
Then what you offer is brought forward,
the money, and the bread and the wine.
Now, in the pews, you’ll see some white papers. In a moment or two,
I will be referring to this, so pass them out if you want.
The chalice is brought to the altar at this point, and note:
it is covered with a veil.
This isn’t required, but it is encouraged. The reason?
Covering something with a veil signifies its importance.
It also signals a transition. We are entering into something special.
So, if you have a new work of art, you “unveil” it.
And when you go to a show, they “raise the curtain.”
You will notice that sometimes there is a plate
– called a “paten” – with a larger host.
For show-and-tell purposes, here is such a paten, and such a host.
I won’t actually use these in today’s Mass.
This larger host is meant to represent the unity of the Body of Christ.
Now, if you have those papers in your hands,
you can see the prayers that the priest and deacon say at this point.
On the left side is the older version, from the Traditional Latin Mass;
on the right side are the prayers we use in the current form of Mass.
There are two reasons I included the older version.
There is some depth that, unfortunately,
was lost in the transition to the new prayers.
Even so, I want you also to see the continuity.
Yes, there are differences between the old and new Mass,
but it is still the same Mass, the same Sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
So the priest takes the plate with bread –
and the older prayer makes clear, this is an offering;
a mere human gift, which Christ will turn into himself.
The wine is mixed with a little water.
The key idea of the prayer is that we are the drop of water,
becoming part of the wine;
And similarly, “we come to share in the divinity of Christ
who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”
The new prayer over the wine emphasizes that this is first God’s gift;
and yet it is also “the work of human hands.”
At this point, the priest can use incense.
Because some have issues with incense we don’t use it at every Mass.
But we do use it at one Mass, because it is an ancient part of worship;
it was offered constantly before the Lord in the Temple in Jerusalem,
And in the Book of Revelation, it appears several times.
It signifies that we are coming into God’s presence.
Notice what happens with the incense:
The offerings are incensed; then the altar; then the priest; then you.
Again, you are not an observer. You are part of this action.
The priest stands at this altar for you.
This is why Pope Benedict – among many others –
have made the point that it makes more sense for the priest and the people
to be together, facing the same way at this point.
As you know, we’ve been doing that at some daily Masses,
and at one Mass on holy days.
And I would like to do it, this year,
at Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday.
Now, I realize some prefer the priest turned toward them.
I do not want to treat that point of view with disregard.
One reason is that people like to see what he’s doing.
But I would point out that either way,
you still see most of what the priest is doing.
What you see less of, above all, is the priest himself.
That is, you don’t see his face.
But I know some are not persuaded; I understand.
To those who don’t like me offering Mass
facing the same way as the people, let me say this.
One reason I’ve done it is so you can simply experience it.
Many times, people will say, “Oh, that’s not what I expected.”
But also, you should know I have heard from a lot of parishioners
who find Mass offered this way to be very meaningful.
The response has been very strong.
If people find it fruitful, isn’t that a good thing?
So, can we live with a compromise? Sometimes one way,
and sometimes the other way?
At this point in the offertory, the scene, as it were, is “set.”
And so the priest turns to the people, and says,
“Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours
may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.”
That prayer has many layers. It’s talking about what you and I bring:
The bread, wine, the collection; but far more than that: ourselves.
It’s you and me that God is so intently interested in.
Our transformation is the “why” of the Eucharist, and our sharing in it.
There is a sacrifice that the priest offers, with and for us.
There is a sacrifice each one brings, that is ourselves,
Our prayers, works, joys and sufferings – all of it.
However unworthy it may seem, bring it. Place it here.
And all this – and all the world, full of needs,
is taken up in Christ’s sacrifice.
He is the true priest; his is the true Mass.