in Ordinary Time
Most unusual, but this weekend (Sept. 1-2, 2012) I didn't have an "outside" Mass assignment; thus no homily to prepare. Here's an oldie.
Aug. 31, 2003
Prayer over the Gifts
Good Shepherd, Tampa
“Lord, may this holy offering bring us your blessing and accomplish within us its promise of salvation” (Prayer over the Gifts).
At Mass we listen to the word of God in the sacred scriptures. But God also speaks to us thru the other texts of the liturgy. There’s an ancient theological principle, lex orandi, lex credendi: literally, “the law of prayer is the law of belief.” In other words, how we the Church pray publicly is an authentic expression of our faith, a rule of faith, a statement of faith. Hence Holy Mother Church, after the 2d Vatican Council most strongly encouraging a return to vigorous preaching of the word of God, doesn’t restrict that only to the readings at Mass but also allow homilies on other texts of the sacred liturgy. Hence also the Church strictly regulates the wording and the ritual of our public prayer; she is jealous to preserve what we hear, because, as St. Paul teaches, “faith comes from what is heard” (Rom 10:17).
In about 15 minutes we’ll make this prayer to God the Father: “Lord, may this holy offering bring us your blessing and accomplish within us its promise of salvation. Grant this thru Christ our Lord. Amen.” That prayer comes at the end of the rites by which we prepare the altar and our gifts for the Eucharistic sacrifice, and it’s called simply the Prayer over the Gifts.
The prayer is addressed to the Lord. In most of our liturgical prayers, that means God the Father. Jesus defined his mission on earth as showing us the way to the Father—read, e.g., his words to the Apostles at the Last Supper in John 14-17. When Jesus taught us to pray, it was to his Father, our Father. And so thruout the Mass we speak confidently to the lord of our lives, the creator of the universe, with words of adoration, of thanksgiving, of petition, of contrition.
This particular prayer, which is characteristic of all the prayers over the gifts, is a petition, a request: “May this holy offering bring us your blessing and accomplish within us its promise of salvation.”
This offering is holy. Why so? Three reasons. 1st, because of who offers it; 2d, because of the One to whom it’s offered; 3d, because of what the offering will become.
Our offering is holy because it comes from God’s holy people. God has consecrated us for his service. He has made us his own. He has given us a sacred rebirth as his children. In the words of St. Peter and of one of the prefaces of the Eucharistic Prayer, he has made us “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own” (1 Pet 2:9). St. Peter also calls us “a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God” (1 Pet 2:5). What I might offer to you—as alms, as hospitality, as gratitude, and so on—is holy if my motive is good. What I might offer to Chico, or you might offer to your family pet, is holy in the degree that you honor God for the loveliness of his creation. A farmer’s or a gardener’s care for growing things, an astronomer’s study of Mars, is holy to the same degree. So whatever we do for God, whatever we do in his name, is holy.
Our offering is twice holy because it’s offered to God, to the All Holy One, rather than to one of his creatures. It’s sanctified by being set aside for his worship, for his glory, for his use; by being made his own in a way that you or Chico or your daffodils or Mars is not, just as we regard churches and shrines as holy places in ways that our homes and places of business are not.
What is it that we offer? The prayer is described as “over the gifts.” We offer bread and wine. These are gifts in themselves, food (and the money that purchased them) that we might have kept for ourselves. They’re also symbols because they are our nourishment. Bread and wine are basic foods; they sustain our lives; and so they symbolize our lives. We offer God not merely this little bit of bread—very sorry looking bread, to be sure—and wine, but even our whole selves. (You’ve heard the quip that it takes more faith to believe that host is really bread than to believe that it becomes the body of Christ?)
We also offer God, thru the bread and wine, our thanks. We imitate what Jesus did when he fed the hungry crowds and when he celebrated Pass-over with his disciples. We thank God for all his saving activity in our lives and the life of the human race, especially for the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ and our participation in Jesus’ death and life—the very participation that makes us and offering holy.
Our offering is thrice holy, finally, because of what it will become: by the power of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine will become the body and blood of Jesus himself. Thus what we offer to our Father in heaven is truly his own Son, who died on the cross, who rose on the 3d day, who now reigns with the Father in heaven. We unite our offering with Jesus’ self-offering, the offering that worked our redemption. We can offer the Father nothing holier than his own Son, nothing more pleasing to him than his beloved Son.
“May this holy offering bring us your blessing,” we plead. We ask, “Grant this.” We have no power to bless ourselves, to redeem ourselves. We rely upon the graciousness of the Lord: May he bless us thru this offering, i.e., thru his Son’s sacrifice, thru his Son’s body and blood that will be given to us in the Eucharist. May our participation in the Eucharist effect the pardon of our sins, the greatest blessing God can give us, and open our hearts to further blessings from the Lord. In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas’s prayer of thanksgiving after Mass, “May this holy communion be for me…the source of an increase in charity and patience, humility and obedience, and of every virtue; a strong defense against the snares of my enemies, visible as well as invisible; a perfect calming of my passions, carnal as well as spiritual.” Don’t we all desire such blessings? We pray that our offering of the Eucharist—and our sharing in it—will produce such blessings in us because God is so gracious to us.
“May this holy offering accomplish within us its promise of salvation.” I’ve already suggested in part what that means. If the Eucharist is the living body and blood of Christ; if whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood has eternal life—the scriptural theme that became familiar to us thru our gospel readings from John 6 the last 5 Sundays—then that is the promise of salvation: eternal life, eternal union with God in Christ, eternal happiness. We begin that by a corporeal union with Christ, his body and blood being our food, and that corporeal union leads to spiritual union. Christ promises that this union will be perfected when he raises our bodies from the grave, as the Father raised his, never to suffer or die again, always to be at peace, in harmony, filled with joy in the presence of God and all God’s servants.
Our prayer is always made “thru Christ our Lord.” We recognize that Jesus Christ is Lord, the same term of divinity we use to address the Father. He is also our lord in the sense of teacher and master (cf. John 13:14). He teaches us the ways of God; he commands us to walk in those ways if we would go with him to his Father’s home (cf. John 15:11-17). We pray to the Father thru him as our intercessor, as the One who is always pleasing to his Father, the One who knows the Father’s heart best of all, the One whom the Father can’t refuse, the One who became a man like us and brings to the Father not just his humanity but our humanity as he intercedes for our pardon and our welcome into the Father’s family.
Our prayer concludes with your “Amen.” The priest voices the prayer; your “Amen” ratifies it, makes it yours. Amen means “so be it” or “yes!” and is easily the most important word you say at Mass, as many times as you say it. May God indeed do all the marvelous works that will assure our salvation, thru Christ our Lord.