When the Latin Mass was being revised after Vatican II, a number of the liturgists wanted the Offertory to be reduced to putting the offerings of bread and wine on the altar without eithr prayers or antiphon. This, they said, was what happened originally. In scholastic theology, which had separated the words of institution over bread and wine from the liturgy because theologians thought that in this way they would understand better the Mass, the Offertory had no place. Thank God, Pope Paul VI insisted on a proper offertory; so it was simplified, and they used th Milan Rite as a model. If Pope Paul had not been there or if he had not had his way, the Latin Rite would have had the most impoverished offertory of all the Catholic rites, and I would have had to preach a different sermon on the feast of the Presentation of Our Lord.
I am going to argue that the Presentation of Our Lord in the temple bears the same relationship to the Crucifixion that th Offertory bears to the Consecration in the Mass. Of course, as a one-off recognition that a child belongs to God, even befoe it belongs to its parents, the rite of presentation is nearer to infant baptism than anything else; but this particular presentation, with its close connection to the Cross, can also teach us something about the Offertory. Just as in the Presentation he who is to be crucified is presented to the Father, in the Offertory it is the Church.that presents itself and makes itself ready to be included in Christ's sacrifice.
The Presentation of Our Lord is a feast in which we remember the day when Mary and Joseph presented the baby Jesus for the "redemption of the first born" and for the "Purification" of Our Lady from ritual uncleanness that she incurred by giving birth. According to Jewish Law, all first produce of a Jewish family, ranging from their first born. child to their first born of their flocks and their first sheaves of corn, belonged to God. By offering their first born animals and corn, the Jewish family acknowledges that all their flocks and harvests really belong to God; as did the first born son who represented all subsequent children when he was redeemed by the parents who offeed a burnt sacrifice in the temple. A burnt offering (Hebrew "olah" meaning "ascended") was consumed by fire on the altar of bronze and symbolized the offerer's acknowledgement that this boy is God's property. The animal, representing the child, "ascends" with the smoke An important part of the sacrifice is God's acceptance which is guaranteed by the altar on which it is sacrificed; but in Christ's case, he is that which guarantees acceptance: he is the altar. Another sacrifice is offered as a "sin offering" to cleanse the mother of ritual uncleanness; hence, for the poor, two pidgeons or turtle doves..
The Christian meaning of the Purification lies not in itself but in his future life and death . It reminds his parents that Christ does not belong to them but to God. They must have remembered this when he was found in the temple at the age of twelve, and again when he began his public ministry. Above all, Mary must have remembered it at the foot to the cross. On the cross he would represent the whole human race and he would ascend
to the Father as the first born
of many brethren. Reference was made to the crucifixion by St Symeon, implicitly in the Nunc Dimittis
, and more explicitly in the words he addressed to the Blessed Virgin, " This child is destined for the falling and th rising of many in Israel , and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will b revealed - and a sword will pierce your soul too."
Hence, in the feast of the Presentation of Our Lord, the Victim is presented to the Father to be an instrument of His Will so that the stage is set for the Cross and Easter; while at the Offertory, the individual members of the Church.fulfil their baptismal promises by presenting themselves as an "evelasting gift", as a "living sacrifice of praise" which they can only become when the Holy Spirit transforms them into one body with Christ in the Sacrifice of the Cross in the Eucharist. In the Mass, we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, and we wait for these gifts to become holy and acceptable to God by their union with Christ's body which has already been accepted. We acknowledge that we no longer own ourselves because we have been bought by the blood of him who died for us, and we want this to be a reality in our lives.
We cannot offer ourselves to the Father without being included in the only acceptable sacrifice of Christ to the Father; and we cannot participate in the sacrifice of the Mass without offering ourselves too. Let us ask Our Lord to give us the grace to present ourselves at the Offertory in the same authentic spirit with which He was presented by Mary and Joseph in the temple.
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