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Liturgy: Preparation of the Gifts

8/25/2004 - 6:00 AM PST

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ROME, AUG. 25, 2004 (Zenit) - Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: For daily Mass my parish priest prepares the chalice before the celebration with the wine and water in the sacristy. So when it is time for the Liturgy of the Eucharist he just takes the chalice with wine and water and continues on with the prayers. Does the Church allow this? -- D.O., Toronto. Is there any reason why the bread and wine are offered with separate prayers at the presentation of gifts at Mass? Is it acceptable for the priest to say one prayer over the bread and wine, combining the two prayers? -- D.C., Carenage, Trinidad and Tobago

A: The practice described of preparing wine and water beforehand is not quite correct, although unfortunately not uncommon in some quarters.

There is no good reason to do so since the time "saved" is minimal. And, of course, saving time is not an overly important criterion in liturgy.

There are certainly times when rites must necessarily be abbreviated, but abbreviation does not imply hastiness.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), No. 73, permits the chalice to be prepared at the credence table rather than at the altar, but always during the preparation of the gifts.

It is usually preferable, however, to prepare the chalice at the altar so that the faithful may observe the meaningful rite of adding the water to the wine. An earlier column dealt with this rite.

It is possible to prepare additional chalices before large concelebrations. But the preparation of the principal chalice should still preferably be carried out at the altar by the deacon and offered by the main celebrant.

A priest may not take it upon himself to change the liturgical text by offering a single prayer over the gifts just as he may not change other liturgical texts.

The practice of a separate offering of the bread and wine is a long-standing liturgical tradition which is found in one form or another in all the ancient manuscripts of the Roman rite, even though this rite has undergone many changes over time.

Some other rites, such as the Armenian and the ancient Hispanic (or Mozarabic) of Spain, do have a single prayer over both gifts. But, unlike the Roman rite, some of these rites have minute and painstaking ceremonies for preparing the gifts just before Mass begins.

In both ancient documents and in recent commentaries the separate offering of the gifts seems to be taken for granted. There is little reflection as to possible theological or spiritual motivations for this practice.

GIRM 72 however seem to suggest that the reason for this rite is to somehow parallel the separate consecration of the two species and to reflect the gestures of Christ at the Last Supper:

"At the Last Supper Christ instituted the Paschal Sacrifice and banquet by which the Sacrifice of the Cross is continuously made present in the Church whenever the priest, representing Christ the Lord, carries out what the Lord himself did and handed over to his disciples to be done in his memory.

"For Christ took the bread and the chalice and gave thanks; he broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying, 'Take, eat, and drink: this is my Body; this is the cup of my Blood. Do this in memory of me.' Accordingly, the Church has arranged the entire celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist in parts corresponding to precisely these words and actions of Christ:

"1. At the Preparation of the Gifts, the bread and the wine with water are brought to the altar, the same elements that Christ took into his hands."

From a historical perspective, the separate offerings in the Roman rite would appear to stem from the ancient practice of each member of the faithful, or at least those intending to receive Communion, approaching the sanctuary after the Liturgy of the Word to offer bread and sometimes wine from their homes for the sacrifice.

In most Eastern rites the people left their gifts before Mass in a place designated for this purpose.

The Roman custom led to the development of an elaborate procession of the gifts and to the celebrant and other ministers receiving the gifts separately before placing them on the altar. During this period, however, the gifts were merely received and there were as yet no elevations or offertory prayers.

Once the gifts were paced upon the altar, the celebrant said the prayer over the gifts and then commenced the canon.

As the number of those receiving Communion dropped after the 10th century, the procession gradually disappeared from the liturgy. It has been restored, albeit symbolically, in the present Roman rite.

At the same ...

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