Wednesday, 25 June 2008

International Eucharistic Congress: offertory processions

Please don't get me wrong - I found the Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City a hugely rewarding experience, with many very positive and encouraging points about it. I hope this is apparent, and will become more so, as I post about the Congress over the next few days.

One thing, though, did cause me to ask myself some questions, and that was the use of the offertory procession to express something of the culture of the continent which was the "feature continent" of the day. Now, if you look at the texts of the catecheses/talks during the week, and look at them as a whole you will see a debate taking place between different contributors. The Archbishop of Ranchi, in India, was a proponent of the need for inculturation of the Liturgy in the local place and praised the way in which the introduction of the vernacular had enabled participation by the faithful. I think it was Archbishop Ranchi who also observed that Vatican II had encouraged us to realise that the Liturgy was an action of the community. Cardinal Barbarin, of Lyon, however, observed that "the true celebrant is Jesus himself"; and Cardinal Riccard of Bourdeaux, referring to participation, spoke of a need to allow the Lord to be active in us, a need for an interior, spiritual participation in prayer.

Offertory processions during the Congress included on one day the bringing up of a kite (originally kites were made in China, and, according to the commentary, their rising in the sky was a sign of our hope as we come to God); on another day, coconuts and fruits; and at the final Mass Statio Orbis a model sailing boat (this was a gift from a diocese in France to the diocese of Quebec, in memory of a pilgrimage made from Quebec to the shrine of Our Lady of Rocamadour soon after the founding of the City).

Now, let me contrast this with the following, extracted from Fr Boyle's account of the First Communion Mass in his parish:

Just a few words of explanation: at the offertory, a tradition that I inherited when I came here 7+ years ago was that each child brings up a host in a beautifully prepared (by one of our parishioners) folded tissue 'basket' and the hosts are placed in the paten for the Offertory and Consecration, symbolising the offering of each one being made into one offering, as the grains of wheat are ground to become one loaf.

The answer to my questions about the offertory procession?

1. I do not think it is the place to insert the presentation of "presents" (essentially something without Liturgical significance, and, as in the case of the kite, sometimes without anything except a rather contrived religious significance). These types of presentations could take place outside of the Liturgy, if necessary, just before Mass begins.
2. Neither do I think it is appropriate to use the offertory to include cultural expressions of the local community. Such cultural expressions can be shown in the styles of artwork used in the Church or in the decoration of the Church (different flowers from the different continents could have been chosen to decorate the sanctuary each day, for example). An appropriate example of this use of artistic decoration to express the culture relevant to a particular celebration was, in my view, the design of the sanctuary for the Statio Orbis - the use of wood (a material widely used in Quebec) and its design as a boat (to represent the arrival of the first settlers and missionaries at the foundation of Quebec City 400 years ago).
3. I think I would want to make a case that the only gifts to be presented at the offertory are the bread and wine that will be consecrated to become the Body and Blood of Christ. As a specifically lay moment in the Liturgy, it represents the gathering together of all things in Christ and the making new of the whole of creation in Christ - the bread and wine (anticipation of the Eucharistic presence) are sufficient in themselves to fully represent this. The tradition in Fr John's parish seems to rather beautifully express this for children making their First Communion. The host that they bring up represents their bringing together in Christ the whole of their lives up to that moment, and their lives then being made new in Christ. (It is, of course, the completion of their being made new in Christ that began at baptism.)


Fr John Boyle said...

Thanks for the link! And I totally agree with you. Will post a link to your Eucharistic Congress posts! (PS: I also taught Physics - but only during my PGCE before going to Rome - but did love it! Science and Religion no problem. Do you know about Faith?)

Joe said...

Dear Fr John

Physics is the best subject in the world! It has ensured I do not ever worry about being out of work as a teacher.

I know FAITH very well, though it is some time since I attended any of their events (rather out of the age range now ...)

Fr Julian Green said...

I agree that the offertory was tortuously long on each day of the Congress, and that some of the gifts were inappropriate or at best a distraction. The rather lengthy offertory rite, however, did give me the opportunity on at least a couple of days for a quick snooze before the Eucharistic Prayer. Apart from the offertory, I think in general the liturgy of the Congress was pretty good - far better than I would have imagined, taking into account the awful liturgical innovations at last year's Delegates' meeting.