One of the great controversies of our time is whether or not liturgy is necessary for true worship. We Anglicans, of course, answer the question with a devout yes. But even our most ardent opponents retain certain elements of liturgy, most especially the offertory.
All across the world today, in almost every church, offering bags, bowls, baskets, and plates will be passed through the aisles as people lay in their money. Why is this the element of liturgy that survives across the denominational lines?
You might answer the question with a crass response such as. “money make the world go around- even for the church.” Or, “Someone has got to pay the preacher.” But these kinds of answers have no connection with the intent of the offertory.
The offertory is an essential sacrifice to God. Let us examine the liturgical action of the offertory. Yes, we do collect alms- which are monies offered to the Lord. We also collect oblations, which are offerings to God. The most significant of the oblations we collect is wine and bread for the Eucharist. On occasions we might also receive candlesticks for the altar, or canned food for distribution to the poor, or a new rosary for prayer. These are also offerings given to God.
And they really are essential because they really are the bits and pieces of ourselves; and therefore, are a gifting of ourselves to God. Our money is a material form of our time and that is a most basic measurement of our life. Our oblations are the things we could use for ourselves, to decorate or elaborate our lives, but instead we offer these things to God for his glory and his use.
Understanding the offertory as our sacrifice to God of “our life and labor” brings both guilt and joy. We begin to feel the guilt of knowing how often we withhold what is precious from God. But we also know the joy of the goodness of giving freely to the God who “is worthy.”
So when the plates head down your aisle today, do not think to yourself the unworthy and crass thoughts. But search your heart to wonder, what offering shall I bring? What sacrifice shall I make to the God who saves me?