Project Canterbury

Discerning the Lord's Body
The Rationale of a Catholic Democracy

By Frederic Hastings Smyth, Ph.D.
Superior of the Society of the Catholic Commonwealth

Louisville, Kentucky: The Cloister Press, 1946.

Appendix III. Practical Suggestions for a Liturgical Offertory

In Orthodox Churches of today the Prothesis is usually placed in one of the threefold apses of the Sanctuary. There together with the Altar it is behind the Screen of the Iconastasis. This tends to obscure the part the laity have in the provision of the bread and wine. If the Anglican Communion were to revive this vital Liturgical emphasis upon the Offertory, it ought to place its Prothesis at a more appropriate position, near the Church's principal entrance.

It is easily open to any individual congregation or parish to reestablish for itself this custom, a custom which was the common practice of our ancestors in the Faith. In the ancient Church, those who came to church brought with them loaves of bread and flasks of wine for their Memorial. These had often been produced by their own labors, from their own farms and vineyards, from their household bakeries and wine presses. Our present economic and industrial processes are far too extended and ramified for bread and wine to be manufactured personally by those who come to church. Our bread and wine now have to be brought within the ambit of the Divine Community by purchase within the environmental world. However, once so purchased, they come at once to represent that Community at the Offertory. For the purchasing process is itself a redeeming act, it is a ransoming act, applying Our Lord's Atonement; whereby under present conditions the Community of Our Lord's social humanity assumes possession of these material things, whereby its own actions and relationships are projected into them, just as if there had been a direct participation in their manufacture.

It is suggested that a box of appropriate wafer breads be placed on a table at the immediate entrance of the parish church. This table should be attended by some appointed lay member of the congregation. As each member enters, let him take one of the breads, giving in return for it any amount of money which he would normally put in the collection plate, which in our present usage is passed around during the period of the Offertory.

This payment for a piece of bread could be made with as little as a single cent. Those who have sealed pledge envelopes should exchange these for their breads. The money and envelopes could be dropped, unseen by others, into a properly placed box on the same table. This should be as far as the money offering gets within the church building at the time of the service. Money offerings as such are not available for the celebration of that Memorial which Our Lord has instituted.

It must be made clear that this procedure does not in any sense involve a payment of an entrance fee into the Church. Those who are unbaptized or those who are strangers, non-members of the [200/201] Incarnational group, and who cannot therefore participate with the Community in the Offertory of its own redeeming accomplishment, under today's conditions may be admitted into the church (anciently they would have been excluded from the celebration of the Memorial), but they should not take or purchase a piece of bread. Religious, monks and nuns under vows of poverty, should take their breads without payment.

After obtaining an individual bread and leaving his money contribution behind him, let each member of the congregation now go to another table, also prepared conveniently near at hand and at the rear of the church. This is the Table of the Prothesis. A receptacle of adequate and dignified kind should be ready here. Into this all individual hosts should be dropped, as into a communal social Offering. The people can then take their customary seats in church.

At the time of the Offertory within the Liturgy, let this receptacle containing the people's breads be brought forward to be received at the Altar by the waiting Priest. This presentation may be surrounded by a certain solemnity, a procession with cross, lights and incense, (the incense to be given subsequently to the Priest for censing the offered breads after they have been placed on the Altar), or it may be done very simply, a single lay man or woman bringing them up. In any case, however, the presentation should be made by delegated lay people. It is they who are about to place their corporate accomplishments within Our Lord's social humanity upon the Altar.

Note that the Priest--in his capacity as another member of the congregation among all the rest, but not at this moment in his function as a Priest--brings in his own piece of bread already previously prepared with the Chalice and Paten. But this is merely for convenience, since it would be awkward for the Celebrant to go to the rear of the church before the service. Also, note that the people's Offering of the bread alone is sufficient to bring into high relief that which is taking place at the Offertory. To carry the same action through for the wine--as in the Eastern Rite--would be as awkward for the Western Rite as it is unnecessary. The wine for the Memorial can be placed in advance of the service within the sanctuary, quite according to our present custom.

The only member of the whole family of Anglican Liturgies which has made any move toward the restoration of the ceremonies of the Prothesis seems to be the Alternative Indian Liturgy of 1933. But even this is much too abbreviated and a clear teaching that the offered bread and wine embody the structure of the corporate life of the Community is here lacking.

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