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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Ronald Knox on the Offertory

It's all very well for you to point out that the Offertory is only concerned with unconsecrated bread and wine, and that isn't much to get excited about. [...] They may have no great importance of their own at the moment, but they are going to be terrifically important. [...]

Imagine yourself walking through a field of wheat; out in the park, say, by the deer-cote. All those ears of wheat are full of promise; they are going to be something. That particular ear of wheat which is sticking out on the left of the path will be threshed, ground in the mill, baked in the oven, made into a sandwich, and be eaten by someone on a railway journey; that is the destiny which is shaping itself inside that particular set of little husks. Now look at the ear of wheat which is sticking out on the right of the path. That one will be threshed, ground in the mill - the same mill, baked in the oven - no, not in the same oven, or at any rate, not in the same batch; there will be no baking powder this time. Then it will be pressed by a Carmelite nun in a press which will give it the imprint of the crucifix; it will be sent off in a tin to the sacristan of some church; it will lie on the altar, some Latin words will be said over it, and after that it will be lifted up in a gold monstrance and everybody who passes in front of it will go down on both knees... It's the same with the chalice, only, of course, we aren't so familiar with the process of making wine. That cluster over there will find its way into a bottle of ordinary wine; somebody will drink it over his dinner; get drunk on it, perhaps, and come to blows, and be sent to prison. That other cluster will find its way into a bottle of altar wine, will be consecrated, will be drunk by a priest, and bring him just he grace he needed to resist that temptation, to rise to that height of sanctity. And yet the two clusters grew side by side in the same vineyard, long ago.

So what the priest is doing at the altar [in reading the Offertory] is to separate, to earmark, this particular lump of wheat, this particular dose of grape-juice, for a supernatural destiny. And that, of course, is just what is happening to you and me all the time. Sooner or later we shall die, and that moment of death will be, please God, our Consecration; we shall be changed into something different, be given a spiritual body in place of our natural body, and live praising God among the Saints to all eternity. What we are doing now, all the time, is to make of our lives an Offertory to Almighty God; to separate them, set them apart for him, so that when death comes it may be our Consecration. And that is why the pious books will tell you, at the Offertory, to put yourself in imagination on the paten, between the priest's hands. You at the moment, your body at the moment, is something ridiculously cheap and unimportant; open one artery of it, choke up the air-passage for a few minutes, and it is done for; it will be buried away in the ground and rot there. That's what it is; but the point is not what it is but what it's going to be. Please God, when it has been consecrated as he means it to be consecrated - and he has all that planned out for you and me already - it is going to be a glowing focus of his praise, a mirror which will reflect his uncreated loveliness, for all eternity.

The Mass in Slow Motion cap. vi