The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: The Offertory—Part Three

By Fr. Christopher Danel

In this article we examine the Oblation or Offering of the Chalice, presenting the work of Msgr. Nicholas Gihr in his fundamental liturgical commentary The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: Dogmatically, Liturgically, and Ascetically Explained. Msgr. Gihr was a priest of Freiburg in Breisgau whose work of liturgical research took place during the time frame spanning the pontificates of Popes Pius IX to Pius XI, including that of Pope Saint Pius X. The early years of his work were contemporaneous with the last years in the work of Dom Prosper Guéranger. (The English translation of his study appeared in 1902; the original is: Gihr, Nikolaus. Messopfer dogmatisch, liturgisch und aszetisch erklärt. Herder: Freiburg im Breisgau, 1877.)

Preparation of the Chalice

In a manner similar to the Host, the chalice also is dedicated and offered to the Heavenly Father; and the offering is preceded by the preparation. This comprises the pouring of the wine into the chalice, as well as the mixing of it with a little water which was previously blessed by the Sign of the Cross. In the early history of the Roman Rite, the cross was made by pouring the water into the chalice in the form of a cross (Ordo Romanus I). The symbol of mixing the wine and water is here to be considered, in order to arrive at the reason and the meaning of the use of the Sign of the Cross, which is omitted only in Requiem Masses. It is asked why the Sign of the Cross is made over the water only and not over the wine, and why in Requiem Masses the blessing of the water also is omitted.

The most reliable explanation rests on the symbolic meaning to be found in the mingling of the wine and water. The wine symbolizes Christ, who has no need of a blessing and to whom no advantage accrues from His union with the people; hence the wine is not blessed. The water symbolizes the faithful, who greatly need divine grace and to whom accrues, from their union with Christ, the greatest gain. This is expressed by the use of the Sign of the Cross that is made over the water before it is mingled with the wine. The Sign of the Cross, therefore, does not apply so much to the water itself, as to the people signified by the water. This, consequently, explains why the Sign of the Cross is omitted in Requiem Masses. The whole Requiem Mass rite aims at giving to the departed souls the greatest possible assistance, hence much is omitted which refers to that fruit which those present, namely, the living, generally derive from the Mass. Thus, for example, the celebrant at the Introit makes the Sign of the Cross not over himself, but over the book, which here in a certain way represents the suffering souls, and at the conclusion of the Mass he does not bestow the blessing on those present. For the same reason, at the Offertory he omits to bless the water, that is, the people symbolized by the water.

The prayer recited at the mixing of the water with the wine is as follows:

O God, who in creating human nature, hast wonderfully dignified it and still more wonderfully reformed it: grant that by the mystery of this water and wine, we may be made partakers of the divine nature of Him, who vouchsafed to become partaker of our human nature, Jesus Christ, our Lord Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

The foregoing prayer, which occurs in the ancient Sacramentaries as a Christmas Collect, contains in part the mystical meaning of the mingling of the water and wine. In it we beg for that participation in the divine nature, which is an exceedingly consoling and elevating mystery. It consists in this: poor, frail human nature, by the communication of heavenly gifts and graces, is elevated to a supernatural state, endowed with inestimable riches and clothed with incomparable beauty. Hence the holy Fathers speak of a deification of man (deificatio), whereby they understand a supernatural, mystical, blissful union with and resemblance to God. “They in whom the Holy Ghost dwells become deified” (St. Athanasius). To participate in the divine life, in the divine glory of Jesus Christ, we, therefore, pray, saying: per hujus aquae et vini mysterium, that is, by the mystery which is represented by the present mingling of water and wine. This mystery is manifold: at one time it represents the Incarnation and the Redemption (the issue of water and blood from Christ’s pierced Heart.

These two mysteries are the original source of all grace for us: only because the Son of God assumed human nature and sacrificed His life in death for us, have we been made the children of God, co-heirs and associates in the glory of Jesus Christ. Another mystery signified in the mixing of wine and water is the mystical union of the faithful with Christ principally as accomplished in the reception of the Eucharist. By this union with the Head, divine life diffuses itself throughout the members, as from the stock of the vine the vivifying and fructifying sap flows on to the branches. The more intimately we become incorporated with Christ by means of the holy Sacrament, the nearer we draw to the fountain of all graces, and the more plentifully are they diffused in our soul.

That we may be the more readily heard, we gratefully acknowledge, in support and confirmation of the above petition, the exceedingly great mercy the Lord has shown us in the boon both of our creation and of our redemption. Therefore, we implore that the work which God has wonderfully begun, He may mercifully complete in us by imparting to us the divine life of grace here below and of glory hereafter.

The Oblation of the Chalice

The priest raises the chalice, as though he would present it to God; but here the celebrant does not cast down his eyes, as at the offering of the Host, but he keeps them fixed on the Crucifix all the while that he is offering the chalice. The reason lies in the accompanying offering prayer, with which this raising of the eyes harmonizes, since the prayer contains the petition that the sacrificial offering “may ascend as an agreeable odor” to the throne of the Most High, and since, moreover, the offering prayer does not peculiarly and expressly remind the celebrant of his unworthiness. Before the priest puts down the chalice, he makes the Sign of the Cross with it over the altar, to signify that in the chalice and upon the altar that same Precious Blood is offered which was shed on the wood of the holy Cross.

The Offering Prayer

We offer unto Thee, O Lord, the Chalice of salvation, beseeching Thy clemency, that it may ascend before Thy divine Majesty, as a sweet odor for our salvation, and for that of the whole world. Amen.

What Is Offered?

As the above prayer shows, “the Chalice of salvation” is here offered. Although the Chalice now contains merely the wine mixed with water, it is yet called the chalice of salvation, that is, a chalice bringing salvation, for the reason that the sacrificial wine will soon be changed into the sacrificial Blood of Christ. In the offering of the chalice there is, at the same time, contained the petition that the Lord would change the wine into Christ’s Blood, and graciously and agreeably accept this Blood from our hands. These two ideas are comprised in the words that “the Chalice may ascend as a sweet odor” to Heaven. Only the consecrated chalice is truly a “chalice of salvation,” as it contains that divine Blood which was shed on the Cross as a sacrifice and a ransom.

The chalice becomes the sacrificial cup in which the Precious Blood of Christ, this source of salvation and life, gushes forth new and fresh every day. In the chalice we offer that sacred Blood which once flowed through the members of the Savior’s body, and which gave Him strength to love, to labor and to suffer for us, that divine Blood which throughout eternity flows in and out of the Heart of Jesus. In the chalice is offered that Blood which has brought eternal salvation to all the elect; for in heaven the blessed stand around the throne of the Lamb of God, singing unto Him: “Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God in Thy Blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and hast made us to our God a kingdom and priests, and we shall reign on the earth” (Apoc. 5:10).


Who Offers the Chalice of Salvation?

The priest says here offerimus “we offer,” while at the offering of the Host he said offero “I offer.” The priest stands at the altar as the representative and authorized agent of the Church; therefore, he offers the Host, as well as the Chalice, in the name of all the faithful, and they, especially those who are present, offer in conjunction with the priest. This participation of the faithful in the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is now made expressly prominent, when it is said in the plural (offerimus), and this is frequently the case in the Canon. But why just at the offering of the Chalice is the cooperation of the faithful expressed? The reason for it we find usually in the incident where by the mingling of the water with the wine in the Chalice, the union of the faithful with Christ in the Communion of Sacrifice has just been symbolically represented, and this union is, therefore, now suitably expressed in the offering of the Chalice. It is also affirmed, that the plural offerimus refers to the priest and deacon, who in Solemn High Masses offers the Chalice with the celebrant and recites the prayer with him.

For What Purpose Is it Offered?

We offer the Chalice “for our salvation and for that of the whole world.” The Holy Mass is, in the first place, a means of grace and salvation for the children of the Church, who most of all receive in bountiful measure of the fruit of the Sacrifice. But the Church prays and offers that all may be saved, and may attain unto the knowledge of the truth. In the Mass, as on the Cross, Christ is, “the propitiation for our sins, and not for our sins only, but for those also of the whole world” (I John 2:2).

The Lord God “scents the sweet savor of the Sacrifice” (Gen. 8:21), that is offered daily on thousands and thousands of altars “for the salvation of the world.” Unceasingly does the Church offer Christ’s Sacrifice from the rising to the setting of the sun, every day and at every hour, without interruption and without end. As the sun advances in its course, shedding light and life, so also in the same round with it daily travels the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, diffusing around the earth spiritual life in the Church and in its members as it is offered up. At the morning’s dawn, priests ascend the altar to offer the Holy Sacrifice, then hour after hour other priests succeed them and to these others still in every country wherein the Church has followers, the offering of Sacrifice goes on until the daily cycle is completed and to the last link is joined the first in the sacrificial chain and the perpetual Sacrifice continues anew. This is the true eternal fire that is never extinguished, the sacrificial fire which burns day and night in the sanctuary in honor of the Almighty.

This is the eternal High Priesthood, the perpetually offered Sacrifice of the High Priest. Without ceasing does it go up to Heaven, and without ceasing does God come down to the altar to become present in the Sacrament for our sakes, that we all and each one in particular may be partakers of this Sacrifice, and with it and in it of the whole plenitude of grace. Unceasingly does the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass fasten an eternally new bond between heaven and earth, between God and man. Truly the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a worship of God, such as He is deserving of a divinely ordained, true and perfect divine service of adoration and subjection to God, of contrition and reconciliation, of praise and thanksgiving, and of the glorification of the Savior invisibly and yet visibly enthroned among us on the altar; a divine service ever renewed and continued to the end of the world, when He shall come again in judgment amid the clouds of heaven with power and majesty.