After listing the linens, vessels, and vestments used at Mass, we now turn to what is happening during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. You may remember that prior to the quarantine and lockdown, we passed a collection basket around after the General Intercessions and then brought forward bread and wine along with the collection; now we simply place a basket somewhere in the church and bring the bread and wine over from the credence table. Either way, the gifts of bread and wine are brought to the altar, and there is a symbolism here. Many grains of wheat are harvested, threshed, and baked to form one loaf of bread; many grapes are harvested, crushed, and fermented to produce one cup, glass, or bottle of wine. Similarly, our many prayers, joys, sufferings, praises, and thanksgivings are brought forward to the altar at this time to form one sacrifice, one offering of thanksgiving and praise to God. Just as wheat and grapes must die in order to produce bread and wine, similarly, we must die to ourselves in order to be become more like Jesus Christ, be formed into the mystical Body of Christ, and produce the fruits of the Spirit (see Galatians 5).
Having prepared the altar and upon receiving the bread and wine, the priest offers berakah, or blessing, prayers. If there is music during Offertory, the priest will pray these prayers quietly, and if there isn’t music, he is permitted to pray these aloud. These berakah prayers bless God for providing us with what is needed for bread and wine, for providing us with what is needed for our sacrifice. Here is the berakah prayer: “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/fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life/our spiritual drink.” The response is “Blessed be God forever.”
What should be noted here is also the reference to the work of human hands: these prayers reveal the interplay of God’s grace and our response. God gives what is needed for wheat and grapes to grow, but human work is also needed. Without the work of human hands, wheat and grapes remain just that and never become bread and wine. Likewise, God gives us grace, His gifts, in order to live the Christian life, to live lives of holiness and virtue; God gives us what is needed, but we must cooperate with God’s initiative. God initiates, and we must respond; God gives us grace, and we must cooperate, work with God.
After this, the priest bows and prays quietly, “With humble spirit and contrite heart, may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God.” At some Masses, the priest may incense the altar and the people after this prayer. What is the purpose of incense, especially at this moment? There are primarily two purposes for it. Firstly, the smoke of incense signifies our prayers rising up to God, and the sweet smell of the incense should reflect the sweet fragrance of our holy lives. Secondly, the smoke of incense—if there is a copious amount—can create a cloud that hangs over the altar; in a sense, it creates a barrier or a wall, as though the priest has entered into the Holy of Holies and we are all entering into an especially sacred part of the Mass.
The priest then washes his hands, praying, “Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” This isn’t meant to be a sanitizing wash, but is symbolic: a priest should be purified and clean to offer this holy sacrifice. The priest invites everyone to enter into the sacrifice: “Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” The priest isn’t the only one working, with the congregation as idle spectators, but everyone is offering their sacrifices, with the priest standing in the place of Christ. Everyone responds, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of His name, for our good and the good of all His holy Church.”
We are saints under construction, seeking Christian perfection and holiness through cooperation with God’s grace. Have a great week!
Dear Parishioners of Resurrection Parish,
As I prepare to make my way back to seminary for my final year, I wanted to extend a brief but sincere “Thank you!” As summers typically do, this one has gone by too fast. It was a blessing to serve you here, and to be invited into your lives. I’m very thankful for your kind words, prayerful support, and generosity! I hope to visit whenever I get the chance. Please keep me in your prayers as I prepare for my ordination to the priesthood next May.
In Jesus through Mary,