Last week we talked about the transition in the Mass from the “Liturgy of the Word” to the beginning of the “Liturgy of the Eucharist.” We talked about the gifts brought forth including the collection, the wine and the bread (despite a popular belief, water is not a gift ;-). In this day and age it is easy for us to be disconnected from the idea of the gifts offered as being given from and by us. Originally the bread and wine used at Mass were made by hand, by those of the congregation. In other words, we made the gifts offered and we offered not only the bread and wine, but our financial assistance as well.
The offering of the collection is pretty easily understood, yet the bread and wine need a little more explanation. In the beginning of the Church, the development of the Mass started out as a shared meal, where all sorts of food was brought and shared, with much donated to the poor. Gradually the early meal developed into more of a liturgy and a prayer, with the offering becoming more symbolic and spiritual in nature. It is easy to forget that these are our gifts that come from us. This is why the gifts are brought forth from the congregation to remind us that these are our offering for the Mass.
The liturgy began to reflect a recreation or remembrance of the Passover, the Last Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples the day before he died on the cross. Naturally, the gifts brought forth reflected the reenactment of the Last Supper and Passover in the bread and the wine. As time went on, the meaning, theology and symbolism of the gifts of bread and wine developed more toward connecting to Jesus’ passion and death and shared through the Eucharist.
Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit during the time of World War I, offered this reflection of the bread and the wine of Mass in his book, “Hymn of the Universe,” the bread represents all that is good in our lives, all that we are thankful for and grateful for. The wine represents all of our pain and suffering that we experience in our life. As we bring these elements to the altar we ask God to fill them with his presence and as they are transformed into the body and blood of Christ, we become a part of this sacrifice ourselves.
So, anytime you are at Mass, it is important to engage and what better way to do it than offering ourselves in a very specific and personal way in the Eucharist.
Rev. James Kirby