Back to Christmas, and the carols we weren’t allowed to sing! One of the favourites is from a poem written by Christina Rossetti called In the bleak mid-winter. The last verse goes: “What can I give him poor as I am if I were a shepherd I would give a lamb. If I were a wise man I would do my part, yet what I can I give him, give my heart”
An ancient custom of the Eucharist is the provision by the people of the bread and wine. This is expressed today in the Church in Wales in a rubric that states that the Churchwardens provide the bread and wine.
The people also brought other foodstuffs to be blessed for their own use and for the poor, and also monetary offerings for the whole mission and ministry of the church. The rite of carrying up the gifts from and through the people continues the spiritual value and meaning of this ancient custom. At St Mary’s, along with the bread and wine, we offer food donated for Cardiff Foodbank, and other items we collect fort those in need.
The Presentation of the Gifts is an important expression of the people’s participation in the Mass and the social mission of the church. When the procession passes through the congregation, each can see a part of themselves presented at the altar.
At the end of a meeting between Archbishop Michael Ramsey and Pope Paul VI, as they stood on the steps of the Basilica, the Pope removed the episcopal ring that he was given when he became bishop of Milan and gave it to Ramsey. Those who watched saw that Ramsey was visibly moved. Afterwards, he said “I felt as though he was giving me a piece of himself.”
St Teresa of Calcutta wondered if, at the Eucharist, it’s we who receive Jesus or Jesus who receives us. She answered that it is both. In baptism, we were claimed for Christ, we belong to him, we are his. And so in that yearning need to give our heart to him, we offer gifts simple gifts, something of who we are. We give to God what is already his.
In giving and exchanging gifts, we give something of ourselves. In the Eucharist, we exchange gifts with God, and in this holy exchange, Christ give himself to us, and we give ourselves to him.