25 June 2013

The Offerorty and the Kiosk

A recent (satirical) post over at Stuff Christian Culture Likes got me thinking about how wrong-headed we are about the Offertory. This post started off as a series of Facebook posts and, eventually, I realized it should be re-edited into something a bit more coherent. I owe a great deal of thanks to my liturgy professor, L. Edward Phillips, my Eucharistic theology professor, Ted Hackett, and to James K.A. Smith and Simon Chan for helping clarify my thoughts in this area over the past year.
Ok, I get that these things might be practical (just like online giving, I guess). Sure, the clergy does need health insurance and a living wage (and yes, seminary loans are expensive, but don't get me started on the education system...). If it helps, it helps. I question, though, the wisdom (specifically, lack there of) in separating the Offertory from the Holy Eucharist. The money (et al) that we give accompanies the bread and wine, God's own gifts which we return in thanksgiving, as our participation in the Kingdom of God (over and against the earthly city-state). The Offering is an act of participation in the Holy Meal (which is why, historically, Christians sent forth food, not cash), not the divine banking system.

Let me rephrase. It's less the separation of the Offertory from the Blessed Sacrament and more the substitution of the former for the latter. The sustenance, sanctification, and continuing salvation of the Church is in the Body of Christ (especially in as much as it makes us into the Body of Christ), not the image of our various Caesars.

Especially in as much as the Table of our Risen Lord is a place where all are welcome, be they Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free, white or blue collar, banker or janitor, wealthy or impoverished. The Offertory isn't about squeezing every available dime through holy ATMs and consecrated iPhone apps. It is about redistributing the gifts of Christ's Church to those in need. Our blessed Church fathers and mothers weren't concerned with building campaigns, worship expenditures, or the bishop's salary. They were looking after the widow, the virgin, and the orphan. The gifts returned in the Offertory were consecrated for the service of those in need.

The Eucharist is, even today, an act of rebellion against an economy of consumption. The ecclesia (assembly) sends forth its gifts (the Offering, including the bread and wine to be consecrated) that they might be given to the Church for the support of all. Communion is, by default, communal. To remove the Offertory from the Feast is to deny its original role in service to those in need. Worse still, to so completely divorce the Offertory from the Eucharist is to marry it to the very consumerist society to which it is inherently subversive.
For more, see James KA Smith's Cultural Liturgies series (especially Part II of Imagining the Kingdom) and Ed Phillip's forth-coming work on God and Wealth, an examination of the ritualization of monetary offerings in place of the Eucharist.

Grace + Peace