The first part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist is generally referred to as the Offertory. There are several things that take place during this relatively short part of the Mass, but they are significant.
Let us start by considering the Preparation of the Gifts. First and foremost, the gifts that are prepared are the bread and wine which will be transformed into Christ’s Body and Blood. At many Sunday masses, it is the custom to have some of the faithful bring these gifts forward to the priest or deacon who will be preparing the altar. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal describes this action in the following way:
The offerings are then brought forward. It is a praiseworthy practice for the bread and wine to be presented by the faithful. They are then accepted at an appropriate place by the Priest or the Deacon to be carried to the altar. Even though the faithful no longer bring from their own possessions the bread and wine intended for the liturgy as was once the case, nevertheless the rite of carrying up the offerings still keeps its spiritual efficacy and significance.(GIRM, 73)
Note that there was a time when the faithful would bring their own bread and wine to be used for the celebration of the Mass. No doubt that helped foster a sense that they were actively contributing to what was about to take place on the altar. And even though this is no longer the case, we should see the presentation of these gifts as something we join in offering. The action is not insignificant.
To help deepen our understanding of our participating actively in the offering of the gifts, it is also a common practice, especially on Sundays, to take up a collection of money, which gives the people in attendance an opportunity to offer something physical. Though they are not directly at the service of bringing about the Body and Blood of Christ in the liturgy, they are at the service of providing for the Body of Christ, which is the Church. With those offerings made from the abundance of God’s generosity to us, the Church makes use of these funds to continue the mission of the church on a parish level, on the diocesan level, and on a universal level. Even if you are making your contribution by electronic means, why not also consider placing something in the basket as the collection is taken? The physical offering, while important for the mission of the Church, is also important for our understanding of our identity at Mass. We are all asked to offer ourselves at Mass. To be sure, we can and should offer our hearts to the Lord, asking the Lord to accept them and transform them, but our offering is not spiritual alone. We are human beings, made up of body and soul, so if all we are offering is just a spiritual sacrifice, are we not in some way only offering a partial sacrifice?
Let me pause there, lest you think I am trying to guilt you in to offering more money at the collection! That is not my goal…and least not in this article! I just want to invite us to consider our role in participating in the offering. As Jesus offered Himself in sacrifice, He offered His entire self, body and soul. He is asking nothing less from us. And so we can prayerful examine whether, at this point in the Mass, we are willing to offer our entire selves to Him, body and soul? Can this be do without putting money in the basket, absolutely! But does it help us to better understand our offering when we offer something tangible and physical at this point, to go along with the offering of our spiritual selves? Absolutely!