Zoe’s eyes were beaming in anticipation and hands shaking with excitement as she handed me the gift box my wife helped her wrap. I carefully opened her Father’s Day present to reveal what she’d been working on in class for the past several days—even though I already knew.
I slowly lifted it out of the box and held it high—my mouth agape in admiration. I rotated my wrist to look at it from different angles and asked if she had made it all by herself. She nodded proudly. To this day, Zoe’s macaroni necklace hangs nobly by my desk.
It’s been years since my daughter presented me with that Father’s Day present. And the more I reflect on it, the more parallels I draw between her gift and the ones we present our Father at each and every Mass.
Bringing up the Gifts
The liturgy of the Eucharist begins with an ancient practice that sometimes goes by unnoticed. While we search our purses and wallets for collection money and flip through the hymnal to find the offertory chant, we may miss the envoys who travel from the back of the church, through the assembly, towards the altar to meet the priest, deacon and servers. The practical purpose of the procession is to present the gifts of bread and wine to the celebrant—but it’s so much more than that!
So, what does a golden ciborium full of hosts and glass cruets of wine and water have to do with a kindergarten art project? Plenty.
God and Man
I knew Zoe was making me a macaroni necklace. How did I know? I bought the macaroni! And this is the first parallel between her gift and the Eucharistic ones. Zoe did not simply gift-wrap the box of Ronzoni elbows and hand it back. She took what I provided, transformed it, then presented it to me.
And so it is with the gifts at Mass. Notice that we do not bring up wheat and grapes, we bring up bread and wine. God gives us the natural elements. But it’s through man’s effort that wheat becomes bread and grapes become wine.
The ancient Israelites saw in each step of bread making a collaboration between God and man:
God provides the soil, man does the tilling. God provides the seed, man does the sowing. God provides the sun and rain, man tends to the weeds and insects. God grows the grain, man does the reaping. God provides the wind, man does the winnowing. God provides the stone, man does the milling. God provides the water, man makes the dough. God provides fire, man bakes the bread.
To describe the co-operation of God and man, Jesus himself used an agricultural analogy for God’s kingdom:
“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”Mark 4:26-29
Because of this, the Eucharistic elements at Mass perfectly represent the collaboration between God and man in the work of redemption:
“God is the sovereign master of his plan. But to carry it out he also makes use of his creatures’ co-operation. This use is not a sign of weakness, but rather a token of almighty God’s greatness and goodness.”Catechism of the Catholic Church #306
In fact, the very first prayer the priest will recite after receiving the gifts will explicitly reference man’s participation in our heavenly Father’s divine plan of salvation.
“Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.”Order of Mass #23
The prayer, which takes the form of a benediction, first exalts God as the maker of everything that has been created and acknowledges him as the source of the very bread being offered. But bread is not something that occurs spontaneously in nature. It does not spring up from the ground—wheat does. This is why the prayer describes the bread as being both fruit of the earth and work of human hands. What’s offered is not simply what God has given man, but what man has done with that gift.
A similar benediction recognizing man’s co-operation is said over the wine:
“Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink.”
Later in Eucharistic Prayer I, the priest will say:
“Therefore, O Lord, as we celebrate the memorial of the blessed Passion, the Resurrection from the dead, and the glorious Ascension into heaven of Christ, your Son, our Lord, we, your servants and your holy people, offer to your glorious majesty from the gifts that you have given us, this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim, the holy Bread of eternal life and the Chalice of everlasting salvation.”Eucharistic Prayer I
And so it is with Zoe’s macaroni necklace. With paint, glue, glitter and string, she transformed what her father gave her and has offered it back to him.
A Vehicle of Gratitude
At 4-years old, Zoe couldn’t fully articulate the love she has for her father through a letter or poem, but she could definitely wield a paintbrush and throw glitter! Zoe’s eagerness in showing me the necklace was not for me to praise her artistry, but to demonstrate how much she loves me. My admiration and acceptance of her present acknowledged and reciprocated her affection. The necklace embodied filial love that was gifted, received and returned.
In a similar manner, we cannot adequately express thanksgiving to God for everything he has given us. I am 50 years old and not only are both my parents alive, they are quite active! My teenage children are healthy and doing well in school and I have a job that I enjoy that has endured the pandemic. My wife and I are so blessed that if I didn’t have the Mass as an outlet for my thanksgiving, I would burst.
St. Paul says we are to:
“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”1 Thessalonians 5:18
The Eucharistic celebration is the vehicle-par excellence-given to man to convey his gratefulness. In fact, not only is the word Eucharist derived from the Greek “eucharistia” which means “thanksgiving,” but the Mass itself is saturated with expressions of gratitude.
In the Gloria, we proclaim to our Creator that “We praise you; we bless you; we adore you; we glorify you; we give you thanks for your great glory.”
At the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer, the celebrant declares “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father.”
Even the very last words spoken at Mass after the final dismissal—“Thanks be to God”—proclaim our gratitude.
Just like Zoe used the necklace as an expression of her love to her father, so too is the Mass man’s ultimate expression of love towards his Heavenly Father.
I Don’t Want It
I don’t think a macaroni necklace has ever graced the cover of GQ Magazine nor has it ever trended on Twitter or gone viral on TikTok as the latest fashion trend. To put it bluntly, I don’t need or want a macaroni necklace. However, it’s one of the most treasured gifts I’ve ever received. Let me explain.
Zoe’s gift could just as easily have been a necktie created with pipe cleaners, a heart made of toothpicks or an ashtray made of Play-Doh (even though I don’t smoke). The actual gift is not important. What is paramount is that Zoe put her heart and soul into making it. It’s her love for her daddy that was the driving force. In short, the gift IS Zoe. What she presented me on father’s day was not painted pasta on a string, but her very self.
That’s precisely what happens at Mass. God doesn’t want our offerings, he wants us!
“For I desire faithful love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”Hosea 6:6
The Church is very clear that we are to bind our works, joys and sufferings to the bread and wine delivered to the priest. This way when they are transformed into the body and blood of our Lord, our sacrifice is united with Christ’s when presented to the Father.
“They should give thanks to God. Offering the immaculate victim, not only through the hands of the priest but also together with him, they should learn to offer themselves.”Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 48
“In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of his Body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ’s sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering.”Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1368
Eight years ago, Zoe gave me a very special Father’s Day gift and every Sunday we present gifts to our Heavenly Father. In both cases, the offerings represent so much more than what they appear. And in both cases, the recipient does not want the gift, he wants the giver.
Have you ever given or received a very special Father’s Day (or Mother’s Day) gift? What was it? Why was it so special? Do you think most parishioners have this understanding of the gifts presented at Mass? Historically, the faithful processed with goods they produced such as honey, wool and produce. Aside from money, what object would you carry to the altar that represents your work and sacrifice, and symbolizes the offering of your very self? Have you ever been asked to carry up the gifts? If so, was it on a special day? How did you feel? If you haven’t, would you want to? On what occasion? Share and let’s learn together!