Michael from Florida, May, 2007
If the three wise men had said "no" in their desire to follow the star, our Lord would not have received the gifts they brought. Two thousand years later, within our parishes, the gifts are still being presented to Him---but is the understanding, desire and respect still the same as it was in ancient time?
I am a lector in our local parish and one of the tasks of being a lector, prior to Mass, is to select three gift bearers to present the wine, hosts and offerings to the priest for consecration.
The honor of being a gift bearer requires no special skill or permanent ministerial duty, yet, is a beautiful and significant part of the Mass performed by lay people.
Our parish is rather large with approximately ten thousand members and we have one Saturday service and three on Sunday. With that many parishioners attending services it would seem that the responsibility of the lector would be quick and easy in getting three volunteers to be gift bearers. In my five years of being a proclaimer of the word I find that is not the case.
Most lectors in our parish arrive at least a half hour before the beginning of the service to check over details such as: making sure the lectionary is at the ambo and opened to the readings of the day, being sure the prayers of the faithful are placed properly at the altar and completing the informational sheet used by the cantor for announcements.
There are times when a deacon or priest have to re-arrange their schedule at a particular service which assigns additional functions to be performed by the lectors. Though minor in detail, it takes several minutes for the lector to adjust to these changes and takes time away from one of their duties of seeking three parishioners to perform the honor of presenting the gifts.
Lectors position themselves in the gathering space of our parish, allowing them the best view of people entering the church.. When I am assigned to be a lector for a particular Mass and begin to ask parishioners if they would "present the gifts today" there are moments when I have the feeling of giving a "sales pitch" by the blank stares I receive in addition to responses such as:
"No thank you."
"Oh, not today."
"I’m not dressed properly."
But I guess the most astounding reply that had me looking back in confusion was:
"Not today, I m leaving Mass early!"
I must admit that at times I become frustrated and disappointed at the response from individuals but over the years I have come to some conclusions as to why certain people do not wish to participate. There might be health issues or some individuals don t feel comfortable walking down the aisle in a large gathering drawing attention to themselves. However, I feel one of the main reasons people decline is they simply do not understand what they are being asked to do. In trying to have people commit to saying yes I ve tried several ways of asking such as:
"Would you honor the Lord today by being a gift bearer?"
"Would you be a gift bearer so the body and blood can be consecrated for Eucharist?"
"I need to select gift bearers so Mass can be conducted. Would you assist?"
Even when I try different terminology, I still get a share of parishioners that either shake their head "no" or perhaps are thinking I’m asking them to donate to some “gift” fund of the church.
I do not mean to give the impression that this happens all the time because there are individuals that have stated, "I’ve never been asked and I would love to do it." Those are the people that make life a little easier for the lector especially if time is running short and the beginning of Mass is only a few minutes away. I ve been in that situation several times and remember one occasion where it was about five minutes before the priest and alter servers were to line up for the procession and I had been unsuccessful in obtaining the three people needed. It was at that moment I noticed a young family enter the church, a young lad about eight years old, along with his father and mother. I approached them in desperation with very little time remaining before the beginning of Mass. As I asked the father " would you and your family be gift bearers" I received a blank stare and a polite: "not today." However, the mother came to my rescue and said "of course we’ll do it" as she gave a scolding glance toward the husband.
I made a mental note to watch this family as it came time to bring the gifts to the priest and noticed that the father, while carrying the precious blood, had a proud look on his face as he came down the aisle along side his wife and young son. Perhaps he didn’t understand the significance of being a gift bearer until that moment or maybe he never noticed that it occurs at each Mass. Prior to his active participation he might have thought or took for granted that “gift bearing” is a designated responsibility assigned to other parishioners and not realizing before this that it is a moment when all lay people of a parish have the opportunity to participate in the Mass instead of just attending! I couldn’t help but think, as I watched them, that perhaps the father was thinking for the first time of what a unique way to honor the Lord as a family unit.
Now perhaps different parishes throughout our nation have other methods of choosing people to present the gifts and are quite successful with participation. Then maybe there are other churches that encounter similar difficulties I have presented in getting people to volunteer. In either case, whether you are one that is designated to ask parishioners to present the gifts or you are a parishioner that is asked to do this honor perhaps a pause and reflection before speaking might be:
We are all "one body" whether we are involved in some type of full time parish activity or ministry or maybe none at all. However, there is one time during the Mass that an individual, when asked, can actively take part in a beautiful and special moment of honoring our Lord and that is to become like one of the three magi by bearing gifts.
Jesus promised that he would be with us "always" and He is---through the gifts we bring for consecration that become His very presence among us when we receive His true "body" and "blood!".
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Date: Thu May 17 2007 3:14:08 PM EST
Subject: Gift Bearing
It could be, as in my own personal case, that a person's, meaning my, attendance to mass is one of a very private nature. You touched upon that in your commentary, but I think you sort of misjudge the significance of the information.
Not to be confused with cowardice or selfishness. It is just a moment in which a person, attending/participating in the ceremony, perhaps in a church congregation with which they are unfamiliar, simply wishes to attend to the matter, and then, just as quietly, leave. You have indicated you are from a parish of about 10,000, that is, to many people, an absolutely huge parish!
Look at the average public speaking class, most folks are petrified of the first time in which they must make their presentation! In church, of all places, literally in front of God,in his house and everybody, the first time, how would you feel? Think about some man or woman, who pictures them-self, tripping on the carpet and spilling the gifts all over the floor!
I would have to find another town to live in! Or at the least a different church in the parish. To be honest about it, I am still not comfortable with the "shaking of the hands" at the conclusion of the mass.
It is one of the modifications made in the process, over the years, like the gift giving, which attempts to, in my opinion, force contact in a manner which is not comfortable.
I would not shake hands with most of them on the street. I don't know the people. To do so, in the matter of the conduct of the mass, and then to move on, is a sort of "false communion" to me. It's not that I am unfriendly, it is just that they are strangers to me. We are unacquainted and, in reality, I sort of like keeping it like that. I am sort of like Mel Gibson, I miss the "old" Mass in Latin, now that was a mass! It offered the appropriate distance between the parishoners, the priest and HIM.
I totally respect both their right to attend and worship. That is what we are all there for, but all that touchy-feely stuff, round robin hand shaking, and "go with god" "improvements" leaves me feeling like a liar. I wonder if I lack good will. I hope not, but I do wonder.
Perhaps your potential prospects for "gift bearing" feel the same way, they simply want to attend, to do what is expected, by HIM, in their own personal relationship with the Lord Almighty, and be on their way. Is that a bad thing? I think not. I think that is what the very nature of the weekly service is about. They may not see the "piker" aspect.
Yes, I do understand your point of ministerial participation, I hope you understand mine of avoiding the draft to an uncomfortable and unexpected increased level of involvement by surprise.
Perhaps, a simple statement, of encouragement close to the conclusion of service, as in done in other parishes, might help. I suggest something like... "We are always looking for people who would like to be the gift bearers at mass. For those of you unfamiliar with the term they ...... Please, any one interested contact Lector just before services, we would very much welcome your participation and assistance. Please stand up Lector Michael." then after that "Ok, you now know what he looks like, now people, if you want to be sure that your communion wafer is up here, waiting for you, at the front, all nice and convenient, when we do mass, why don't you consider helping out a little?" Something part joke, part informative, part light chastisement.
I don't mean to be sacrilegious, but a little bit of kind levity goes a long way to "break the ice". A gentle chastisement designed to draw them in without making them feel bad.
Most importantly, if it is done enough, as you make "your move" on them, they, having attended before, will realize what you are up to, before you ever have to say anything. You will be surprised at the affirmative and negative nods you get, before you even ask them.
Even when they "run" it will not be uncomfortable for you. It will be humorous. Is that not what it is supposed to be? A joyous occasion of celebration?
Being a constant traveler, I find that there is still a "pecking order" with which I have always been uncomfortable.I mean the deacons, the ushers, lectors, altar boys, member of the choir, organ player, etcetera. When I was a child it was who was going to be the altar boy and who (for the females) was going to be a nun. You learn sort of fast, what "your place" is.
In mine, it was the easiest thing, and then, the most comfortable thing, to simply be an attendee during service. There are other ways, abundant ways, to serve HIM, in a manner which does not, even in the least, appear to be "grandstanding".
I always felt, and still do feel, and perhaps I am not alone, that some of the people who assist in the mass sort of had a "look at me" attitude in the matters of the church. It is sort of obvious you are not "one of those".
God knows who serves from the heart, HE sees everything, and in the truest sense of the word, if the spirit moves a person, to be, or not to be, a gift giver, it is up to them.
I guess I am simply too parochial. I am just as happy, in fact happier, if I am the only person in the church at the time I "do my thing". Other people with whom I have spoken, over the years, concerning the ceremony of the mass, tend to feel the same way. A public gathering which is quite quite private in some ways.
Today's conduct and interpretation of the service and communion is just a little too social for me. But I am not the council either, Hence I try to follow the protocol where I can.
I must also admit, I regret that most churches must be and are locked during the off-hours of the day and week. I miss the option of simply ducking in saying a few words, in private, and then ducking out again. It is a sad commentary that the churches must be locked during off days or you would probably come back and find everything, including the pews, gone.
That is what I mean, you really do not know who is next to you, even in church.
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