The Symbolism of the Offertory - Part 2

from the Angelus Press Conference 2014 – The Mass, Heart of the Church (Audio CDs available at bookstore!)

Besides the Angelic Doctor and some classic commentaries on the Mass which I have consulted, I was greatly inspired by a rather unknown treatise on the Mass, called “Les Saints Mystères – The Sacred Mysteries”, by Msgr. Louis Gaston De Ségur, written in 1869, never translated in English, it seems, and which was highly praised in the Roman milieu of the time.

In order to understand the symbolism of the Offertory, we must first explain basic notions on signs and symbols in general, then apply this to the Offertory from a variety of angles.  These are the two parts of this conference.

First Part: The Notion of Sign

Let me begin with two quotes.

And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. (Lk 2:12)

Holy Mother Church instituted certain rites, teaches the Council of Trent; She has likewise employed ceremonies, such as mystic benedictions, lights, incense, vestments, and many other things of this kind, derived from an apostolic discipline and tradition, whereby both the majesty of so great a sacrifice might be recommended, and the minds of the faithful be excited, by those visible signs of religion and piety, to the contemplation of those most sublime things which are hidden in this sacrifice. (chap. 5)

In Sacred Scripture, God makes constant use of signs to reveal His will, His mysteries.  French Benedictine Don Jean de Monléon has written superb books showing the mystical and moral meaning of the stories of the Old Testament. St Albert the Great in his delightful Biblia Mariana tried to discover the Blessed Virgin Mary hidden in the various features, persons, events revealed in all the books of the Word of God, such as the rainbow of Noah, the throne of Solomon, and so on.

A sign is something which leads to the knowledge of something else as if it were taking its place. The smoke tells us that there is a fire nearby, the blow of the whistle, that the train is about to leave.

If we consider the different kinds of signs, we will see that there are

•      Natural signs: when the sign has a natural foundation, when it represents something by its very nature, ex. a footprint in the sand.

•      Conventional or man-made signs, when the sign is founded on a human convention, by the will of its inventor, by a custom, such as the words of our language or even by a historical circumstance.

Take for example, the Roman crucifixion, considered the most dishonorable death unimaginable… until our blessed Lord hanged on His Holy Cross, which from that moment became adorable! And, there is no doubt when Muslims are crucifying Christians at this very moment in Irak, they are doing this, not to imitate the Romans before Christ, but obviously, to mock those who still believe in the Divine Crucified.

So, in many signs, history can play an important role.  This is so true with the rites of the Mass, and of the offertory, especially.

•      The sign can also be a mixt between the natural and the conventional sign, we will then call this a mixed sign.  Our Lord used mixed signs for the sacraments, the things will mean something in themselves, like water is used to clean, bread to feed, oil to heal, but to this natural meaning, another meaning, supernatural in this case, was added: water used as a sign of grace purifying sins, in baptism, but also, at a lesser level, in the holy water we use in entering the church and in the Lavabo, just before the start of the Canon of the Mass. [to be continued]