From the beginning of our Church, bread and wine have been brought forward by the people for the celebration of the Eucharist. In apostolic times, these gatherings took place in homes and privately-owned meeting rooms, and this presentation of gifts was a simple gesture of placing the bread and wine that would be blessed and shared at the altar. By the 3rd century, deacons assisted by collecting these gifts from the assembly who came forward bringing home-baked bread and flasks of wine. The deacons took some of the bread and wine to the altar. The rest they distributed to the poor who often lingered in the gathering areas of the church throughout the week. As this rite developed, other gifts for the poor and for the work of the church, such as candles, wheat, and grapes, were presented by the assembly.
As the number of people who participated in Communion declined and as the church changed to using unleavened bread, this procession of gifts gradually disappeared. By the 11th century, this presentation of bread and wine by the assembly was replaced by the collection of money. Vatican II restored this simple procession of bread and wine. Today, representative members of the assembly carry forward bread, wine, and gifts for the poor.
Music in Catholic Worship, 46, reminds us that this rite is meant to be very simple and secondary to the Eucharistic Prayer that will follow it.
The purpose of the rite is to prepare bread and wine for the sacrifice. The secondary character of the rite determines the manner of the celebration. It consists very simply of bringing the gifts to the altar, possibly accompanied by song, prayers to be said by the celebrant as he prepares the gifts and the prayer over the gifts. Of these elements the bringing of the gifts, the placing of the gifts on the altar, and the prayer over the gifts are primary. All else is secondary.
Bearing this in mind, we need to be careful that we do not add additional symbols or texts to this rite that would detract from the primary symbols of bread, wine, gifts for the poor, and prayer. It is not always appropriate to present other symbols, nor does a verbal explanation of the symbols contribute to the simple power of this rite. When preparing this ritual, pay attention to the following:
- Music must serve the ritual action and never dominate. Although a solo or choral piece can be appropriate here, it cannot stall the flow of the liturgy by being too long in length for the ritual action. Unlike the gathering song, a song during the preparation of the gifts should end once the ritual action is completed.
- Consider using an instrumental piece or even silence during this procession.
- If a song is sung by the entire assembly at this time, consider inviting the assembly to stand for the last refrain or stanza of the song. This prepares the assembly for the posture of the prayer over the gifts and it subtly changes the energy of the liturgy from the more passive action of preparing the gifts to a more active stance of prayer over those gifts.
- Instruct those who carry the gifts forward to hold them high and to walk slowly with purpose to the altar.
- Consider having the gifts carried all the way to the altar and there, handed to the presider. The common practice of having the presider and acolytes wait at the foot of the altar to receive the gifts is possibly an unconscious remnant from the times when altar rails separated the faithful from the sanctuary. Of course, be conscious of those who may not be able to walk up steps if you have them around the altar.
- Some parishes have revived the ancient practice of inviting the assembly to come forward to place their monetary gifts in baskets near the altar. This helps the assembly be less passive during this rite, it gives children the opportunity to actively participate in caring for the poor and supporting the ministry of the church, it makes our active participation in the work of the church more visible, and it gets people moving who may have been sitting in their pews for some time. Of course, the layout of your church and makeup of your assembly will determine if and how this could be a feasible action for your liturgies.
- If you use baskets on poles to collect money from the assembly, consider using instead baskets without the poles. The ushers hand the basket to a person at the end of a pew, and this basket is passed from person to person. This enables the assembly to engage with one another rather than passively sitting and avoiding contact with their neighbor.
As simple as this action is, it can convey a deeper meaning of sacrifice, offering, participation, and discipleship. The “work of our hands” that we present is really us, ourselves. In that bread and wine and in the gifts we give, we place our very lives upon that altar, and we commit to give ourselves to each other, especially the poor. Our participation in presenting the gifts is a sign of our commitment to become what we will soon share—the Body and Blood of Christ.