Homily for the
23d Sunday of Ordinary Time
Sept. 6, 2015
Prayer over the Offerings
Ursulines, Willow Drive, New Rochelle
“O God, … graciously grant that, through this offering, we may do fitting homage to your divine majesty” (Prayer over the Offerings).
Thus we’ll pray in a few minutes after our gifts of bread and wine have been prepared for the Eucharistic offering.
That particular prayer the revised Missal calls “over the offerings,” translating super oblata. The old Sacramentary called it “over the gifts,” similar but not precisely the same. All of us are old enuf to remember that the pre-Vatican II Missale Romanum called the prayer secreta, and our English hand missals rendered that as “secret.” (Shhhh!) It was so called, supposedly, because it was whispered quietly by the priest; but so were most of the other prayers.
Getting to the substance of the prayer: what we offer to God in “this offering” is, 1st, the bread and wine that we as a congregation have prepared and presented. Once upon a time, many congregations would have made their own wine and baked their own bread, which made that preparation and presentation more personal—a true gift, I suppose—more so than our buying hosts and altar wine and setting them out on the credence table. Still, these “fruits of the earth” are a gift out of our financial resources, if not precisely of our labor (except for whoever has to monitor the supplies and make sure we don’t imitate the wedding host at Cana). And we can, consciously or not, include in our offering of these gifts the bakers and vintners who really did manufacture them, especially the nuns who customarily supply the hosts.
As the blessing prayers say, the ones the priest says over the bread and wine as he sets them on the altar, either silently or aloud (the preference indicated by the rubric is silently), these fruits of the earth are God’s gifts to us. What we now offer back to God is a representative sample—a tithe, if you like—of all that he has given us for our nourishment.
But with the bread and wine we offer more. They’re symbols. As bread and wine nourish our bodies, and so our lives, they represent our complete self-offering to God. We present to him not only our bread and wine but ourselves in the Eucharistic sacrifice that this bread and this wine are about to enable.
We offer more than bread and wine. Those alone would hardly be “fitting homage to your divine majesty,” as the prayer puts it. The bread and wine are about to be transformed in mystery, sacramentally, so that what we really offer to the Divine Majesty is not the fruit of the earth or the fruit of the vine but the fruit of the Virgin’s womb, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus.
Can there be a more “fitting homage” to the heavenly Father than to offer him his own Son? to say to the Father that this Son whom he gave to us in love, we return to him in love and gratitude, but with ourselves attached mystically?
Our offering of the Son will be “fitting” only if, thru our “partaking of the sacred mystery, we [are] faithfully united in mind and heart,” the prayer says. We must be mystically united in mind and heart with Jesus, in the 1st place. That is, as he offered himself completely to his Father, in this Eucharist we must make the same self-offering—complete, entire, unreserved, unconditional—in union with him. We eat his body and drink his blood as part of this sacrifice, that we might become his body and blood—the Mystical Body of Christ—which he offered and we offer to the Father. Only that can be a “fitting homage to the divine majesty.” If we hold anything back, we act more like Cain than Abel in what we seem to offer.
We pray that “we may be faithfully united in mind and heart.” That prayer echoes the description of the Church at Jerusalem in the Acts of the Apostles: “the community of believers was of one heart and mind” (4:32). Thus it’s a prayer that we may be united faithfully and mindfully not only with Christ, the head of the Body, in his self-sacrifice, but also with the entire Body, with the Church on earth, in heaven, and in purgatory, the Church of the apostles and Fathers, the Church of Aquinas and Catherine, the Church of Ignatius and Teresa, the Church of Edith Stein and John Paul II, the Church of every age in a union of faith, worship, and practice—all of which make up our “fitting homage” represented by these humble offerings.
A faithful union entails loyalty or fidelity—to Jesus our Savior and to our sisters and brothers, in charity, in sisterly love for our immediate family in the community (of the convent, of the province, of the entire Union); and also a union of faith or belief. The rite of Baptism always reminds us that we profess what the Church professes: “This is our faith. We are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Thomas More—once he’d been condemned for treason—pointed out that the faith of the Church has to be universal; no one country, no king, no parliament can define it, e.g., the sacrament of matrimony or the extent of apostolic authority. We profess the faith of the Church and don’t individually or as a parish or some other congregation determine its content.
Our faithful union in mind and heart includes the union of charity. The “fitting homage” that we offer to the Divine Majesty has to include how we live, how we care for our sisters and brothers. Even as the Acts of the Apostles speaks of the disciples’ unity of mind and heart, it describes their sharing all things in common so that everyone should be provided for. So Catholic teaching includes not only dogmatic theology but also moral theology and social justice—of which St. James speaks eloquently this week (2:1-5) and will do so even more eloquently next week (2:14-18). In Laudato Si’, Francis takes pains to lead us from a doctrine of creation to a spirituality, to a way of thinking and living that cares for creation.
So we’ll pray in a few moments that our “partaking of the sacred mystery” of this Eucharist will enable us to make an authentic offering of ourselves with Jesus, an offering that is “fitting homage” because we’re completely united with our Lord in our minds and hearts, in our belief and in our daily living.