Trinity IX 2019
The Reverend Beau McLaurin Davis, Sr.
Saint Paul references the Exodus from Egypt in our reading today from the 10th chapter of his 1st Letter to the Corinthians. While the original people who Moses demanded the Pharaoh to release were the captive descendants of Abraham, they were not the only people who left after the First Passover. Some of the poor and downtrodden, along with many who were amazed by the power of Jehovah, were a portion of the people who became the Hebrews following Moses. It was mere opportunity, not devotion or adoration of our God, which was the reason that the majority decided to run into the unknown with a stuttering prophet and his brother. Likewise, there are (unfortunately) many reasons that people come to the altar of our Lord. For some, it is the expectation of those around them (family, society, or other parishioners). For others, there are more nefarious motivations (to make business contacts, to find a spouse, or to seek church charity). In any case, if it is for any intention other than to surrender yourself to the will of God and reconcile yourself to him through the Body and Blood of Christ, then you too are following for the wrong reasons. We as a whole, in offering up the gifts and intentions of the people, are declaring pure motivations to God; and re-devoting our intentions to God’s work in us and the world.
The Liturgy of the Catechumens ends with the end of the Sermon. At this point in the Ancient Church, the porters (the lowest of minor orders) would escort out those who had not yet been baptized; because the Liturgy of the Faithful which begins with the Offertory was only for those who had committed themselves to Christ, and the Faithful were not to pray with non-Christians. The Offertory is the point at which the faithful present their gifts to God at the altar. The initial intentions of our service are announced with the Offertory sentence (either a biblical verse on charity from the Prayer Book, or one which follows the theme of the Mass from the Minor Propers in the Missal). You may notice that the priest invites the people to prayer, and says the Offertory, but never says, “Amen.” This is because the prayer continues in Secret Prayers through his presentation of the elements of communion (and you continue in silent prayer in a Low Mass or with an appropriate Offertory Hymn in a sung one). The word “secret” in the term Secret Prayers alludes to the voice which the priest uses (which is a whisper to himself, versus a loud voice for the people to hear or a low voice which only those near him can hear). They are not against the rules for the people to hear, but they are usually said at a point which the people are doing something else (around 95% are supposed to be said while you are singing). These secret offertory prayers include presenting each element individually for the salvation of the faithful.
How the gifts come from the people varies by church. In the Eastern Church, the bread and wine are quietly taken in via a side door at the altar; in the Roman Church, it is not unusual to see some of the laity bringing the elements down the center aisle in their own procession; and in our parishes, the bread and wine have been placed in a convenient place for the priest near the altar (the English have always been a not-so-showy people). The monetary offerings (tithes and otherwise) are blessed by the priest as they are handed to him, then the priest presents them at the altar as part of the people’s sacrifice (singing of the the Old 100th [or Doxology] or the last verse of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” is used to give more sanctity to the act of giving alms).
After the presentation of alms, the priest announces the intentions for the Mass. These always consist of thanksgiving for our salvation and any commemoration of the Saints, but also the individual prayers of petition and thanksgiving for those things or people whom the congregation want to remember (be it sickness, growth and prosperity of the church, or continued blessings). All of these presentations and intentions are optionally sealed by the request from the priest, “Pray, brethren: that this my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Father almighty;” to which the people respond with the prayer, “May the Lord receive this sacrifice at thy hands, to the praise and glory of his Name; both to our benefit and to that of all His holy Church. Amen.” (The sacrifice being what we have given to God of ourselves)
We then begin the Prayers for the Church, which are a series of collects which announce the unchanging intentions of all the Church. The first is a petition that God accept all which we offer him at the altar (our material sacrifices and prayers), and also that through them the Church may be united and free from error. Secondly, we ask God to guide the hearts of all those Christians which have been chosen to institute order on earth through civil governance, so that they might perform God’s will. Thirdly, we pray that all clergymen might be filled with truth and the ability to teach and sacramentalize the faithful. Fourthly, we pray for the faithful to remain as such, and that they might do that which God commands them to do (and not what they feel that they can do). Next, we pray for all those who are in pain and need. In the final collect (missing in the 1552 & 1559 Prayer Books), we pray for the faithful dead: that they might continue the process of sanctification (that’s right, you aren’t perfect just because you died), and that we might learn from their good examples and benefit from their prayers.
Through these unchanging prayers and actions, we are intended to be guided to a right understanding of what is happening to us here at the altar. By announcing together what we hope to receive through the most Holy Sacrament, we are intended to dispel all those personal (and wrong) reasons which we might have to be in the presence of the Lord and participate in the adoration of him. These are not vain repetitions of an ancient and heartless faith: they are well thought out and succinct guides to our worship in order to have us focus on the importance of this event. As our Exhortations teach us, if you are not in the proper mindset to approach the altar (if you have followed us to that point for improper reasons), then it is better for you to abstain from receiving the Body and Blood of Christ than to take it to your damnation.