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January 17, 2008 Edition

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Word to Life
• Understanding the Mass -- Preparation of the gifts for the Mass
This week's readings
Pope's Prayer Intentions
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God's call and our responses

Word to Life 

Sharon Perkins 

A few years ago I had the pleasure - and the challenge - of teaching three-year-olds. Their inquisitive, energetic nature sometimes made it difficult to get their attention or maintain their focus.

For instance, one particularly active little boy simply did not respond when I called him from across the room.

What I had to learn early on is that the best way to communicate with people half my size was to get down on their level. For one thing, crouching or sitting down while talking to a toddler makes it easier for both parties to hear.

January 20, 2008
Second Sunday
in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 49:3, 5-6
Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-10
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
John 1:29-34

But more importantly, establishing eye contact at the child's level helps him or her to feel respected and important. I found that with my rambunctious toddler boys, specific instructions were best given after I had taken the time to truly listen, face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball.

In this Sunday's readings there are several examples of God's special call to different people and their responses to that call.

But before the call can be issued, before a response can be returned, there is the assurance that God has surely listened to our cries.

Indeed, we are able to have "ears open to obedience" because God models what it means to be a good listener. In much the same way that I crouch to a toddler's level in order to converse more effectively, God meets us halfway by "stooping toward us," not merely with eyes and ears, but in the person of his son, Jesus, who makes possible our communication with God at its most profound level.

For reflection:

• How has the Lord heard your cry lately?

• In what way can you predispose yourself to hear what God's call is to you?

The waiting of Advent is at an end and the feast of Christmas has passed. But the ongoing exchange between God and humanity depends in part upon our disposition - our willingness to place ourselves in a posture of obedient listening.

This column is offered in cooperation with the North Texas Catholic of Fort Worth, Texas.

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Preparation of the gifts for the Mass

The following is the fourth part in a seven-part series on the Mass. (Read parts one, two and three.)

photo of Fr. Tom Margevicius

the Mass 

Fr. Tom Margevicius 

Before moving forward let's review. One week ago, we saw that the Church considers the Liturgy of the Word power-packed. What the liturgy's actions say, the Word of God enacts, or as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: "The liturgical word and action are inseparable both insofar as they are signs and instruction and insofar as they accomplish what they signify."

Two weeks ago, we observed how the entrance rites developed in the Church's history. At the time of St. Justin Martyr in A.D. 155, they were very rudimentary (see CCC, 1345), but other parts of Mass, including the procession of gifts, were already being done.

Three weeks ago, we examined some liturgical concepts that are helpful in understanding the Mass, especially how the liturgy makes use of signs and symbols to communicate God's grace to us.

All three of these - symbols, gifts, and word plus action - are important for the part of the Mass we look at today: preparation of the gifts.

Sometimes this is also called this the "offertory," but since the bread and wine will be supremely "offered" in the eucharistic prayer, we'll use the term preferred by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.

Early Church

Presentation of the gifts assumed great importance in the early Church. St. Cyprian, martyred in Africa in 258, chided those who came to Mass and received the Eucharist but made no offering of their own: "You are wealthy and rich, and do you think that you celebrate the Lord's Supper, not at all considering the offering? Who comes to the Lord's Supper without a sacrifice, and yet take part of the sacrifice which the poor man has offered? Consider in the Gospel the widow . . ."

St. Augustine was impressed by a fifth-century procession of gifts in Rome in which the faithful brought from their own homes things from their kitchen tables.

Augustine called this an "admirable exchange" - for their gifts God gave back Jesus. Our present prayer over the gifts from the sixth day in the octave of Christmas uses Augustine's language: "Lord, receive our gifts in this wonderful exchange: from all you have given us we bring you these gifts, and in return, you give us yourself."

Valid matter

The Church uses unleavened bread made only of pure wheat flour and water, and wine only from grapes. Why?

Because that's what Jesus used. He told us to "do this" in his memory, and if "this" changes too much, we're no longer following his command.

Even in places of the world where wheat or grapes are scarce, the Church still insists that these foodstuffs be imported instead of substituted with local products such as corn flour or rice wine. For persons with celiac disease or alcohol intolerance, the Church permits virtually gluten-free hosts and mustum, wine whose fermentation has been arrested.

Collection of money

Yep, it's in the Bible. "From the very beginning, Christians have brought, along with the bread and wine for the Eucharist, gifts to share with those in need" (CCC, 1351). Tithing and almsgiving are acts of worship (2 Corinthians 9:10-15) and express not only our desire to help those in need but also our generosity to God.

A $20 bill and a $1 bill are next to each other in a man's wallet. The $20 bill says, "Isn't life great! I get to go to the best places: to movies and nice restaurants and the mall." The $1 bill replies, "Well, I go to church." (Right about now lots of people are upset with me, while pastors are secretly sighing, "Thank you, Father Tom!")

'Work of human hands'

The ordinary form of Mass uses adapted Jewish "berakah" (blessing) prayers whose words are packed with meaning, even if they're done silently during the music.

Bread and wine symbolize a wonderful cooperation between God and humans. We lay upon the altar not only creation's goods but ours, too. The gifts are not mere wheat and grapes, but "the work of human hands."

Symbolically, that's us on the altar, offering ourselves to God. In the eucharistic prayer, we will ask God to send the Spirit to change the gifts and change us as well - but, again, I'm getting ahead of myself.

The gift of ourselves is never easy, and the Church, knowing that, treats our offerings with great care. The priest places them in a dignified place on the altar, incenses them reverently, and asks God to receive them to himself.

"Pray, sisters and brothers, that our sacrifice" - not only bread and wine, but what they symbolize: our work, struggles, joys, money, our very lives - "may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father."

In the next part of Mass, the great eucharistic prayer, it happens: the Holy Spirit comes down, and as the words of Christ are repeated over the bread and wine . . . Stay tuned!

Fr. Tom Margevicius is instructor of liturgical theology at St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul.

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This week's readings

Week of January 20 - 26, 2008

Sunday, January 20, 2008
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I: Is 49:3, 5-6
Reading II: 1 Cor 1:1-3
Gospel: Jn 1:29-34

Monday, January 21, 2008
Memorial of Saint Agnes, virgin and martyr
Reading I: 1 Sm 15:16-23
Gospel: Mk 2:18-22

Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Reading I: 1 Sm 16:1-13
Gospel: Mk 2:23-28

Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Reading I: 1 Sm 17:32-33, 37, 40-51
Gospel: Mk 3:1-6

Thursday, January 24, 2008
Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales, bishop and doctor of the Church
Reading I: 1 Sm 18:6-9; 19:1-7
Gospel: Mk 3:7-12

Friday, January 25, 2008
Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle
Reading I: Acts 22:3-16 or Acts 9:1-22
Gospel: Mk 16:15-18

Saturday, January 26, 2008
Memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus, bishops
Reading I: 2 Tm 1:1-8 or Ti 1:1-5
Gospel: Mk 3:20-21

Pope's Prayer Intentions

January General Intention

Christian Unity. That the Church work for full visible unity that better manifests a community of love which reflects the Blessed Trinity.

January Mission Intention

Church in Africa. That the Church in Africa, preparing for a special Synod, may be an instrument of reconciliation and justice.

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