The three ways we offer ourselves at Mass

July 15, 2024

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, 

In anticipation of our National Eucharistic Congress that concludes on July 21 in Indianapolis, I attended a workshop last month on the “Biblical and Jewish Roots of the Eucharist,” presented by Jeffrey L. Morrow, Ph.D., sponsored by the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross at Arnold Hall in Pembroke, Mass., just outside of Boston. For the past 15 years. Dr. Morrow taught as Professor of Theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J. He will begin teaching at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, in Fall 2024. He is also a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. Dr. Morrow was raised in the Jewish faith, giving him a strong background in the Hebrew Scriptures, which Christians call the Old Testament. He was baptized a Christian in 1997 and entered the Catholic Church in 1999.

In looking at the Biblical and Jewish roots of the Eucharist, we see that the first time the word “priest” is used in the Bible is in chapter 14 of the Book of Genesis with reference to Melchizedek, the ancient king of Salem (Jerusalem). Like other kings of the time, Melchizedek performed priestly functions. Before God makes his covenant with Abram and changes his name to Abraham, Abram is returning from a victorious battle and stops to give the priest Melchizedek a “tenth of everything” that he had won in victory (Genesis 14:18–20). The practice of tithing, or donating 10 percent of one’s income to the Church and other charities, stems from this example of Abram giving a “tenth of everything” to the priest Melchizedek. 

At our Fourth Diocesan Synod in 2017, we adopted Declaration 11, which calls for the Catholic faithful of our diocese “to live as disciples of Our Lord Jesus Christ by giving of their time and talent and striving to fulfill the Biblical command to tithe by donating the suggested amount of at least 8%  of their income to their parishes and 2% to other charities as an expression of their gratitude to God and of their stewardship of His manifold gifts of creation.”

Just as Abram gave his gift in gratitude for what God had given to him, we, too, are called to be generous in giving to the Church as a way of showing our gratitude to God for all that He has given to us. Indeed, the word “Eucharist” comes from a Greek word which means, “to give thanks.” That is one of the reasons why we take up a collection at Mass. It is not just a convenient time to collect donations, but is connected to the liturgical action of offering our sacrifices to God.  

There are three ways that we offer ourselves at Mass. The offering of bread and wine is the first necessary offering of God’s people for the celebration of the Eucharist. Through the Eucharistic Prayer, the bread and wine will become the Body and Blood of Christ in whom we have our communion. 

Next, each member makes an offering of himself or herself in the quiet of our hearts. We can, as members of the whole Christ, Head and members of one Body, place ourselves spiritually with the bread and wine on the paten and in the chalice, and thus offer ourselves to the Father, as Christ Jesus offers Himself with us to the Father.

There is a third necessary offering of God’s people, but it is traditionally made only at Sunday Mass, as the Church celebrates the Resurrection of the Lord, or on Holy Days of Obligation. In our country, this offering is a monetary contribution that expresses the solidarity we have with each other in Christ. These monetary collections support the earthly communion which in turn is nourished sacramentally by our Eucharistic communion in the Body and Blood of Christ.

For the convenience of the faithful, many parishes offer online giving which is efficient but deprives the parishioner from participating in the solidarity of the physical collection at Mass. For the sake of full, active, and conscious participation in the presentation of the gifts, it seems prudent to recommend a parish supply a pre-printed card that states, “I give online,” perhaps also indicating the amount of the online donation, for the use of those who do. The physical gesture of placing such a card in the collection is one of the many gestures in the liturgy that express solidarity with the Church and anticipates the gesture of receiving Communion in the Body and Blood of Christ.

Though rare in our country, some members are unable to make even a small monetary donation, but everyone can offer prayer support for the Church and its ministries. That is why in some parishes the envelopes for monetary contributions have a space to mark prayer as the offering the member makes.

During the time when extra precautions were being taken due to the COVID pandemic, some parishes put a collection basket at the door of the church for people to drop off their donations upon entering or leaving church, rather than during the preparation of the gifts at the Offertory of the Mass. While this was a practical response to a temporary situation, it also had the detrimental effect liturgically of separating the congregation’s giving of their sacrificial offerings from the Offertory of the Mass, when the priest invites the faithful to pray that “my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” 

With the favorable recommendations of the Presbyteral Council and the Diocesan Pastoral Council, I recently approved a new policy for our diocese requiring that, “when there is a collection of offerings from the faithful at Mass (e.g., Sundays and Holy Days), the collection shall be taken at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist and brought forward at the time of the Preparation of the Gifts as a sign of the faithful offering of their sacrifices to God” (Book IV, §401.5.1). A procedure for that policy adds, “As a way for those who donate online to participate in the symbolic liturgical action of making their sacrifices to God as part of the Sacrifice of the Mass, it is suggested that cards be provided on which they may indicate the amount of their offering for them to place in the collection basket.”

Thus, we pray that the Lord will accept our sacrifice “for the praise and glory of His name, for our good and the good of all His holy Church.”

May God give us this grace. Amen.