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On Who Should Receive the Offertory Gifts

Date: September 26, 2021
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Who should receive the gifts from the offertory procession? The deacon, if present, or the celebrant? There seems to be a growing trend for the deacon, assisted by altar servers, to receive the gifts at the edge of the sanctuary while the celebrant remains seated at the chair. The deacon prepares the chalice, at which point the celebrant comes to the altar. Is this proper? -- S.M., Evansville, Indiana

A: According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal the steps for receiving the gifts are the following:

“139. When the Universal Prayer is over, all sit, and the Offertory Chant begins (cf. no. 74).

“An acolyte or other lay minister places the corporal, the purificator, the chalice, the pall, and the Missal on the altar.

“140. It is desirable that the participation of the faithful be expressed by an offering, whether of bread and wine for the celebration of the Eucharist or of other gifts to relieve the needs of the Church and of the poor. The offerings of the faithful are received by the Priest, assisted by the acolyte or other minister. The bread and wine for the Eucharist are carried to the Celebrant, who places them on the altar, while other gifts are put in another suitable place (cf. no. 73).”

If a deacon is present, he participates in the following manner:

“178. After the Universal Prayer, while the Priest remains at the chair, the Deacon prepares the altar, assisted by the acolyte, but it is the Deacon’s place to take care of the sacred vessels himself. He also assists the Priest in receiving the people’s gifts. After this, he hands the Priest the paten with the bread to be consecrated, pours wine and a little water into the chalice, saying quietly, By the mystery of this water, etc., and after this presents the chalice to the Priest. He may also carry out the preparation of the chalice at the credence table. If incense is being used, the Deacon assists the Priest during the incensation of the offerings, the cross, and the altar; and after this, the Deacon himself or the acolyte incenses the Priest and the people.”

The rites described above differ in some details from the previous instruction, especially insofar as the indication that all sit while the altar is prepared, either by the deacon or by the acolytes. Only then does the priest receive the gifts, along with the deacon if present. The idea is that the priest should ascend to an altar that is already prepared and immediately begin the presentation of gifts.

It is clearly not correct for the deacon to receive the gifts while the priest remains seated. This would be a misinterpretation of the norms.

It is also good liturgical practice for there to be one or more acolytes close to the priest at the moment of the procession of gifts, to take them from him. It is better, albeit not an absolute rule, that the priest not have to carry the gifts to the altar.

With respect to the moment of the gifts, there have also been some indications of the Holy See to avoid exaggeration that might detract from the principally Eucharistic significance of this moment. Thus the 2004 instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum admonishes: 

“[70.] The offerings that Christ’s faithful are accustomed to present for the Liturgy of the Eucharist in Holy Mass are not necessarily limited to bread and wine for the eucharistic celebration, but may also include gifts given by the faithful in the form of money or other things for the sake of charity toward the poor. Moreover, external gifts must always be a visible expression of that true gift that God expects from us: a contrite heart, the love of God and neighbor by which we are conformed to the sacrifice of Christ, who offered himself for us. For in the Eucharist, there shines forth most brilliantly that mystery of charity that Jesus brought forth at the Last Supper by washing the feet of the disciples. In order to preserve the dignity of the Sacred Liturgy, in any event, the external offerings should be brought forward in an appropriate manner. Money, therefore, just as other contributions for the poor, should be placed in an appropriate place that should be away from the eucharistic table. Except for money and occasionally a minimal symbolic portion of other gifts, it is preferable that such offerings be made outside the celebration of Mass.”

Pope Benedict XVI also underlined this aspect in the 2007 apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis:

“The presentation of the gifts

47. The Synod Fathers also drew attention to the presentation of the gifts. This is not to be viewed simply as a kind of ‘interval’ between the liturgy of the word and the liturgy of the Eucharist. To do so would tend to weaken, at the least, the sense of a single rite made up of two interrelated parts. This humble and simple gesture is actually very significant: in the bread and wine that we bring to the altar, all creation is taken up by Christ the Redeemer to be transformed and presented to the Father. In this way, we also bring to the altar all the pain and suffering of the world, in the certainty that everything has value in God's eyes. The authentic meaning of this gesture can be clearly expressed without the need for undue emphasis or complexity. It enables us to appreciate how God invites man to participate in bringing to fulfillment his handiwork, and in so doing, gives human labor its authentic meaning, since, through the celebration of the Eucharist, it is united to the redemptive sacrifice of Christ.”

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