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Preparation of the Gifts

The practice described of preparing wine and water beforehand is not quite correct, although unfortunately not uncommon in some quarters.
by Father Edward McNamara | Source:
Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: For daily Mass my parish priest prepares the chalice before the celebration with the wine and water in the sacristy. So when it is time for the Liturgy of the Eucharist he just takes the chalice with wine and water and continues on with the prayers. Does the Church allow this? D.O., Toronto. Is there any reason why the bread and wine are offered with separate prayers at the presentation of gifts at Mass? Is it acceptable for the priest to say one prayer over the bread and wine, combining the two prayers? D.C., Carenage, Trinidad and Tobago

A: The practice described of preparing wine and water beforehand is not quite correct, although unfortunately not uncommon in some quarters.

There is no good reason to do so since the time "saved" is minimal. And, of course, saving time is not an overly important criterion in liturgy.

There are certainly times when rites must necessarily be abbreviated, but abbreviation does not imply hastiness.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), No. 73, permits the chalice to be prepared at the credence table rather than at the altar, but always during the preparation of the gifts.

It is usually preferable, however, to prepare the chalice at the altar so that the faithful may observe the meaningful rite of adding the water to the wine. An earlier column dealt with this rite.

It is possible to prepare additional chalices before large concelebrations. But the preparation of the principal chalice should still preferably be carried out at the altar by the deacon and offered by the main celebrant.

A priest may not take it upon himself to change the liturgical text by offering a single prayer over the gifts just as he may not change other liturgical texts.

The practice of a separate offering of the bread and wine is a long-standing liturgical tradition which is found in one form or another in all the ancient manuscripts of the Roman rite, even though this rite has undergone many changes over time.

Some other rites, such as the Armenian and the ancient Hispanic (or Mozarabic) of Spain, do have a single prayer over both gifts. But, unlike the Roman rite, some of these rites have minute and painstaking ceremonies for preparing the gifts just before Mass begins.

In both ancient documents and in recent commentaries the separate offering of the gifts seems to be taken for granted. There is little reflection as to possible theological or spiritual motivations for this practice.

GIRM 72 however seem to suggest that the reason for this rite is to somehow parallel the separate consecration of the two species and to reflect the gestures of Christ at the Last Supper:

"At the Last Supper Christ instituted the Paschal Sacrifice and banquet by which the Sacrifice of the Cross is continuously made present in the Church whenever the priest, representing Christ the Lord, carries out what the Lord himself did and handed over to his disciples to be done in his memory.

"For Christ took the bread and the chalice and gave thanks; he broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying, 'Take, eat, and drink: this is my Body; this is the cup of my Blood. Do this in memory of me.' Accordingly, the Church has arranged the entire celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist in parts corresponding to precisely these words and actions of Christ:

"1. At the Preparation of the Gifts, the bread and the wine with water are brought to the altar, the same elements that Christ took into his hands."

From a historical perspective, the separate offerings in the Roman rite would appear to stem from the ancient practice of each member of the faithful, or at least those intending to receive Communion, approaching the sanctuary after the Liturgy of the Word to offer bread and sometimes wine from their homes for the sacrifice.

In most Eastern rites the people left their gifts before Mass in a place designated for this purpose.

The Roman custom led to the development of an elaborate procession of the gifts and to the celebrant and other ministers receiving the gifts separately before placing them on the altar. During this period, however, the gifts were merely received and there were as yet no elevations or offertory prayers.

Once the gifts were paced upon the altar, the celebrant said the prayer over the gifts and then commenced the canon.

As the number of those receiving Communion dropped after the 10th century, the procession gradually disappeared from the liturgy. It has been restored, albeit symbolically, in the present Roman rite.

At the same time, a series of offertory rites, prayers and priestly "apologias" (prayers in which the priest admits his indignity before the celebration of the mystery and still found in the present rite) were added to the rite between the 10th to 13th centuries.

From this time, the rites of preparing the paten and chalice were taken up by the priest and deacon. Always retained were the separate offerings of both species.


Follow-up: Gospel Reflection by a Layperson?

In the wake of the July 27 column on the abuse of lay people giving homilies at Mass, I will take the opportunity to answer a couple of related questions.

A reader from Prague in the Czech Republic asks if the homily is obligatory on weekdays.

The homily is obligatory on Sundays and holy days of obligation at all Masses that are celebrated with the participation of a congregation. On these days it may only be omitted for grave reasons.

Regarding other days, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 66, states: "It is recommended on other days, especially on the weekdays of Advent, Lent, and the Easter Season, as well as on other festive days and occasions when the people come to church in greater numbers."

Therefore a homily is recommended every day although on weekdays it may consist of a brief reflection or even be omitted if, for example, those attending are commuters with limited time.

A priest from New Zealand asked if it legitimate for a priest to deliver a prepared sermon from a liturgical Internet site instead of preparing his own homily.

The instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, No. 67, dwells on the quality of the homily:

"Particular care is to be taken so that the homily is firmly based upon the mysteries of salvation, expounding the mysteries of the Faith and the norms of Christian life from the biblical readings and liturgical texts throughout the course of the liturgical year and providing commentary on the texts of the Ordinary or the Proper of the Mass, or of some other rite of the Church.

"It is clear that all interpretations of Sacred Scripture are to be referred back to Christ himself as the one upon whom the entire economy of salvation hinges, though this should be done in light of the specific context of the liturgical celebration.

"In the homily to be given, care is to be taken so that the light of Christ may shine upon life's events. Even so, this is to be done so as not to obscure the true and unadulterated word of God: for instance, treating only of politics or profane subjects, or drawing upon notions derived from contemporary pseudo-religious currents as a source."

Certainly there are many valuable resources found on the Internet as well as in specialized reviews and books of reflections on the liturgical year.

These may all be profitably used in order to draw insights and inspiration from the sacred texts. But such reflections are usually designed to be read and not delivered orally. They usually read like a scriptural commentary and they are not tailored to the spiritual needs of the specific congregation.

All the same, there is no explicit prohibition of using pre-prepared homilies and in times when the shortage of clergy makes such huge demands on a priest's time they may considerably shorten the time required to prepare a personal homily.

This personalization requires the prayerful mediation of the priest as he tries to weave the insights garnered from others into a cogent whole and applies it to the needs of his faithful.

I personally believe that the priest should start preparing Sunday's homily on the previous Monday morning, preferably by meditating on the texts so that he delivers to others the fruits of his contemplation.

Even when a priest decides to closely follow a prepared text he should strive to assimilate it so that it is delivered from the heart and not consist of mere reading which is rarely efficacious and often fails to move the congregation.

Recourse to prepared texts should never spring from laziness on the part of a priest as this would also indicate a lack of due care for the spiritual welfare of those entrusted to his pastoral care.

Still, the grace of God is greater than man's weakness. If God was able to deliver a spiritual message through the mouth of Balaam's donkey (Numbers 22:28) then Christ can give spiritual inspiration through an unprepared homily.

As the poet George Herbert said about preachers:

"God calleth preaching folly: do not grudge
To pick out treasures from an earthen pot
The worst speaks something good; if all want sense
God takes a text and preacheth patience"


If you would like to read the previous commentaries please click here.

Readers may send questions to Please put the word "Liturgy" in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country.

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