The Holy Eucharist – Part Seven

The Presentation of the gifts of bread and wine for Consecration.

The Presentation of the Gifts is bringing the bread and wine to the Altar so they may be prepared for Consecration. The presentation of the gifts has been a part of the eucharistic liturgy since the earliest of times.

There have been various prayers to be used by both people and the clergy at the “Presentation” some simple and some elaborate.  From the New Testament era to the 11th century AD there was a procession of the baptized that would form and go up to the Altar bearing gifts of bread and wine.  This procession held deep meaning for the baptized and prayers and petitions developed that would be recited as they made their way to the Altar.  One such prayer that was in place by the 9th century AD and said by each person softly was “Receive, O holy Father, almighty and eternal God, this spotless host, which I, thy unworthy servant, offer unto Thee, my living and true God, for my own countless sins, offenses and negligences, and for all here present; as also for all faithful Christians, living or dead, that it may avail for my own and for their salvation unto life everlasting.”  Around the 11th century the offertory procession of the laity bringing the bread and wine up to the Altar ceased and “offertory prayers” like the one above would now be said by the priest on behalf of the people and the Church.

In addition to the bread and wine some would also bring other gifts like spun wool, oil, fruit, wax, silver or gold.  These additional items would be used for ministry to the poor.  During this solemn procession the choir would often intone a psalm.  These gifts of bread and wine and the other gifts were received and placed on the Altar.

Today, the priest now uses a simpler prayer (quietly) when he offers the host:  “Blessed are You, Lord, God of all creation, for through Your goodness we have received this bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.” The same words are used when he offers the wine: “Blessed are You, Lord, God of all creation, for through Your goodness we have received this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands it will become our spiritual drink.”

Some priests prefer to use their own prayer composed from their heart.  Both are acceptable today.  But initially each person or a family member would process wheaten bread and a small container of wine to be placed on the Altar as their contribution to the sacrifice to be offered.

By this procession of the baptized their offering had become something holy, an oblation already offered to God, without any special words being used for the purpose. God receives.  Nothing else was necessary. So the bread and wine, offered by procession and being placed on the Altar, became something holy and dedicated to God. This offering also understood that the baptized are offering and dedicating their life and labor to the Lord. It is worth noting that the gifts presented for Consecration are not “wheat and grapes” but bread and wine which are products not only of nature but also of the human labor which prepared them, and therefore symbols of both nature and man’s dependence upon God.

So we offer and totally surrender to God.  We pray “And here we offer and present unto Thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto Thee; humbly beseeching Thee that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of Thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with Thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with Him, that He may dwell in us, and we in Him.”  (BCP 336)  We pledge our complete availability for whatever God wants of us.  We give Him our sight and hearing and all our senses, our mind and will, our health, and our sickness too, because that can be a sharing in Christ’s passion and so have redemptive value. We put everything before God.

The presentation of the gifts and the preparation of the Altar is an important moment for each of us.  We often bring many concerns to our worship.  We pray seeking the goodness of God to hear us and respond to our petitions. As these gifts of bread and wine are blessed and consecrated so we can be assured, as the Church has always known, that God will bless and consecrate our lives and help us to manage our affairs and live the gospel life.

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