Reflections on the Liturgy of Life and Liturgy of Sunday (Part II)
October 07, 2007
A poet has said very beautifully that a procession is “journey distilled, journey at its heart." We have already reflected on the symbols used in the entrance procession: cross, candles, book. Each in its own way tells the story of the one sent by God to lead us on the way we follow. In the entrance procession, the poet says, “a representative few tread a representative distance.” This they do in the name of us all. What then of the other processions in the Sunday liturgy?
The procession with the gifts. The actions are simple. Representatives carry bread and wine to the altar. Is this just a practical way to get them there for the liturgy of the eucharist? Although, as the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says, people no longer bring bread and wine from home for the celebration, as they did earlier in history, nevertheless the spiritual significance remains the same of the procession. So what might that be?
The prayers that accompany the presentation of the gifts say it succinctly. They are gifts of God, gifts of the earth, and the work of human hands. What is at stake here is what Eugene Miller has called “a dialogue of the gift.” God has given us the earth for our habitat and sustenance. We in turn have given our labor to fashion food and drink from the earth. In fact, they are the work of many hands. As anthropologists tell us, they are condensed symbols. They embody all the human effort that has gone into their production. As such they stand in as symbols of all human endeavor and life, all we do in service of others. They are our life journey distilled.
We pray that the bread and wine will become our spiritual food and drink. We should pause to note that, as with all liturgical symbols, there is also a shadow side here. We also withhold food, claim more than our fair portion, refuse to share it, even use it as a weapon. And so our sinful ways need to be brought under the sign of Christ’s cross. Our lives need to be transformed, just as the bread and wine will be.
The gathering up and bringing in of our lives begun in the entrance procession has reached a new moment. A representative few carry up the gifts, but they do so in our stead We are all invited to walk in spirit with them, carrying our lives in our hands and placing them on the altar with the bread and wine. How then can we show our solidarity with those who represent us? Song can help. There might also be another way. At a local parish people progressively rise, pew by pew, as the gifts are brought up the aisle. The sense of ownership and solidarity is hard to miss. People are presenting their lives with the gifts.
The offering of self will reach its climax in the eucharistic prayer. Remember the words that follow the account of the institution? The presider prays, “we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice.” In the New Testament, “living sacrifice” is biblical shorthand for Christian life. Notice how the eucharistic prayers ask God to accept us along with Christ as a gift. The liturgy of life we brought into the celebration has now been now been completely taken up into the liturgy we celebrate with Christ.
The communion procession.
In presenting bread and wine, we have brought what God has given us and how we have lived our lives in response. In the eucharistic prayer we have offered our lives to be transformed as our gift to God.
The communion procession is one in which all, not just a representative few, are invited to come forward. In that procession, however, we come not to bring gifts, but to receive the gift God now offers us. The communion procession is also journey distilled, life on the way to God, hungering for the gift God gives. But it is journey distilled not only in the past tense. In saying “Amen” to “The body of Christ,” we say amen to being the Body of Christ, to living in the world as the Body of Christ. So the procession distills not only our past journey, but the journey that awaits us. It is that journey on which the dismissal will send us.
Rev. Gil Ostdiek, OFM is Professor of Liturgy and Director of the Institute for Liturgical Consultants at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois and is the author of Catechesis for Liturgy: A Program for Parish Involvement (Washington, DC: Pastoral Press, 1986). ISBN-10: 0912405236; ISBN-13: 978-0912405230.
READ OTHER ARTICLES BY GIL OSTDIEK:
Photo credit: Mike Jensen
Notes for a Mystagogy of Eucharist
Reflections on the Liturgy of Life and Liturgy of Sunday (Part I and Part III)
Questions for Shaping Mystagogy-Minded Celebrations