This post is a follow up to “Bearing Gifts” as it is the completion of this first part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. As noted the gifts are brought forward and the priest along with his assistants will bring them to the altar which has been prepared earlier during the collection. So lets look at this first.
The altar itself is an idea; a symbol. To most the very word brings to mind things like worship or sacrifice. And so it is in the Mass. The altar is very much the centerpiece of the church and the centerpiece of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. During the first part of the Mass the main focus is on the Lectern or “pulpit” because the Liturgy of the Word is primarily about the revelation of God in the Sacred Scriptures and Tradition. We read the Scriptures and hear a Homily. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist we are exploring the revelation of God through the Incarnation, the event where God became flesh for the purpose of the Sacrifice we know as the Crucifixion. So the Altar is now before us to remind us of the cost of our salvation. To also remind us that this sacrifice is unlimited by time and space, but will be present in these gifts just as it will be present to the believer today, like it will be a hundred years from now or as it was to the very apostles who sat in wonder at the institution of the Eucharist during the Last Supper.
In preparation for the gifts several items were placed on the altar. The Corporal, the Purificator, the Chalice and a Missal. The Corporal is a large square cloth where the Body and Blood will be placed. Corporal comes from the Latin for “body” and its purpose very much like a “place mat” to catch crumbs and drips from the Body and Blood. In a similar way the Purificator is similarly like a “napkin” which will be used for cleaning the Chalice and Paten (a gold dish used to hold the Eucharistic bread). Keeping in mind that in the catholic faith the Eucharist is the Real Presence of our Lord, these items are meant to keep the Body and Blood from being treated like mere crumbs or spilled wine. As such even the cleaning of these must be done with certain care.
The Chalice is pretty obvious. When the bread and wine are brought forward the wine is brought also with another container of water. In the chalice the wine will be poured and a few drops of water will be added. Water and wine, divine and human, or the water that poured from the side of at the crucifixion is tied into this. On top of the chalice is another cloth called the pall which is used simply to keep dust or insects from falling into the chalice.
The last item is a Missal which is where the prayers will be read for the liturgy, and several of them will be read during this first process which will conclude the “Preparation of the Gifts”
The Preparation, if you haven’t noticed is very much like the setting of a dinner table. The altar has a table cloth, dinner matt, a cup and napkins and even candles to provide light and in this case to also increase illumination to draw attention to the altar. And the prayers are also very much like dinner prayers. This is the other side of our altar idea. The altar is a symbol of sacrifice and worship but it is also very much like that heart of the home where people gather in the domestic communion of dinner. As a matter of fact it is very easy to see the church’s' roots in Jewish tradition here where there are similar blessings for the bread and wine used before dinner.
Here are some of the prayers and responses you will hear as the gifts are prepared:
The Priest holds the paten, a dish which contains the bread, above the altar.
Priest: Blessed are you, Lord God of all
creation, for through your
goodness we have received the
bread we offer you: fruit of the
earth and work of human
hands, it will become for us the
bread of life.
People: Blessed be God forever.
The priest pours the water into the wine and says: Priest: By the mystery of this water and wine
my we come to share in the divinity of Christ
who humbled himself to share in our humanity
And then he will raise the chalice:
Blessed are you, Lord God of all
creation, for through your
goodness we have received
the wine we offer you: fruit of
the vine and work of human
hands it will become our
The priest bows and says: With humble spirit and contrite
heart may we be accepted by
you, O Lord, and may our
sacrifice in your sight this day
be pleasing to you, Lord God.
The priest stands and washes his hands at the side of the altar. Wash me, O Lord, from my
iniquity and cleanse me from my
The Priest moves to the center of the altar and extends his hands to the congregation and says:
Priest: Pray, brethren (brothers and
sisters), that my sacrifice and
yours may be acceptable to
God, the almighty Father.
People: May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands
for the praise and glory of his name,
for our good, and the good of all his holy Church.
The sacrifice here is our offering of the bread and wine as well as ourselves. Our words are meant to identify us as a body, in communion, for a purpose which will be the very Eucharist, but also our spiritual sacrifices which we all offer together with the priest.