In the mid-1960s, there was some concern among liturgists that the offertory portion of the newly revised Mass might detract from the Eucharistic prayer and the words of consecration.
When the priest took the paten with the bread on it and prayed, offering the bread to God, and when he then took the wine mixed with water in the chalice and again offered it to God, some saw in these offertory gestures a mini-consecration so to speak. The slight raising of the bread and the slight raising of the wine seemed to some to duplicate a bit too closely the gestures during the consecration rite of the Eucharistic prayer. In an effort to stress the uniqueness and centrality of the Eucharistic prayer, any words of offering and any gestures implying offering apart from the Eucharistic prayer were seriously called into question.
It was actually Pope Paul VI who personally maintained the validity of an offertory ritual preceding the Eucharistic prayer. The priest takes the bread and wine from the people, and the priest steps to the altar after others have prepared the gifts to offer them solemnly to God. In the mind of this pope, soon happily to be beatified, the offertory was a priestly action of offering. This pre-Eucharistic rite was not simply a practical, preliminary gesture of preparation to be carried out by an acolyte or a deacon. An offertory rite is a priestly action integral to a true sacrifice. It was under this pontiff’s guidance that the current offertory prayers (…through your goodness we have received this bread to offer you…through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you…) with raising gestures were included. The verbatim text (Pray brethren that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable…) from the Mass of Pius V with its more explicit offertory rite was also maintained at Paul’s insistence.
The New Testament enshrines four steps in its accounts of the Last Supper and in its accounts of the multiplication of the loaves. Jesus traditionally takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives the bread to eat. Taking, blessing, breaking and giving. These four steps are not original or unique to Jesus. These were the four steps that the Temple priests enacted when they offered the sacrifices of the Old Law. These four steps framed the ancient ritual of sacrifice.
The ancient priests first took the wheat or the lamb or the first fruits from the presenting people. This was a sign that the sacrifice about to be offered included not only the offering priest and the offered victim, but also the faithful by whom the sacrificed item was tendered. This link among the priest, the victim and the donors was vital to an authentic Old Testament sacrifice. Once taken, the victim was blessed by the priest. Then the victim was broken, that is, slaughtered or partially destroyed by the priest. And finally, the victim was given, that is, shared among the priests, the donors and the poor. Take, bless, break and give. Our Catholic Mass vividly continues this ancient tradition.
At Mass, the assembled faithful formally present gifts of bread and wine along with their offerings. These gifts are symbolically presented from the pews, from the midst of the lay community. These gifts are then received, or “taken,” by the priest celebrant personally, not by the server or even by the deacon. Then, the other sacrificial steps are carried out: the gifts are blessed, that is, consecrated; they are broken, that is, the consecrated bread is divided up and the consecrated wine is poured out; then the sacred elements are consumed by eating and drinking. Take, bless, break and give – the ancient sacrificial rituals are incorporated into every Mass. Surely this is no accident.
Certainly, every time Mass is celebrated, the full, sacrificial elements of the Mass deserve full consideration. The inclusion of the baptized laity, the holy people of God, as presenters from whom the gifts are “taken” is integral to the sacrificial action of the liturgy. That the priest celebrant should formally and personally take the offerings, the “work of human hands,” from the family of mankind that produced them is vital for the sacrificial nature of the Mass to be complete. The faithful have a fundamental role to play in offering the elements to be “taken” by the priest and then blessed, broken and shared. The priestly people of God are entitled to their rightful liturgical role during this initial step toward an authentic sacrifice.