Monday, May 14, 2007

To elevate or not to elevate

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I realize that this post may only interest priests, sacristy rats, and other liturgy geeks, but so be it. One of the things that has been awkward in the most recent Prayer Book (and even in the previous editions) is exactly how to handle the alms, or monetary offerings. If you are looking for ceremonial directions in those old books that deal with Catholic liturgical minutia, forget it.

The other day I heard someone say (tongue-in-cheek) that downtown at St Andrew's (our traditional low-church parish) they won't elevate the host, but they sure will elevate the cash. Of course, we see it handled slightly differently everywhere. In some places, very simply. In others, it is like a solemn blessing of the cash (perhaps to exorcise it's attraction as the source of all evil). So that got me thinking. Exactly how do you handle the cash?

As far as the liturgy is concerned, there is much detail about the offerings and the offertory. But in that case, the offerings ("oblations" as distinct from "alms" and "offerings" in the 1928 BCP) are the bread and wine. The directions from the 1928 Prayer Book on this matter are as follows:

The Deacons, Church-wardens, or other fit persons appointed for that purpose, shall receive the Alms for the Poor, and other Offerings of the People, in a decent Basin to be provided by the Parish; and reverently bring it to the Priest, who shall humbly present and place it upon the Holy Table.

And the Priest shall then offer, and shall place upon the Holy Table, the Bread and the Wine.

And when the Alms and Oblations are being received and presented, there may be sung a Hymn, or an Offertory Anthem in the words of Holy Scripture or of the Book of Common Prayer, under the direction of the Priest.

Some things I notice in these rubrics: The money is received in a basin by someone assisting in the liturgy--be that a deacon, warden, subdeacon, or acolyte. The basin is given to the priest. No ceremony seems to be implied; it is not held up for him to bless. The celebrant in turn "shall humbly present and place it upon the Holy Table."

In these directions, the basin of alms is to be left on the altar. That the priest "humbly presents" it, implies some ceremony. That could mean that he should hold it up in the gesture of offering, or make the sign of the cross over it, or both. The sign of the cross will likely be made over alms in the "Prayer for the whole state of Christ's Church" at the words, "We humbly beseech thee most mercifully to accept our [alms and] oblations, and to receive these our prayers, which we offer unto thy Divine Majesty". Then comes the offering of bread and wine, which may have been sitting off the corporal, waiting for the alms to be collected and placed on the altar.

Here a note should be made about the two different gestures known by the word "elevation." The more familiar gesture is what is called the "major elevation," which first appeared in the Western liturgy in the thirteenth century. In this case, after the applicable words of consecration, the priest raises the element up higher than his head to show it to the people for their adoration.

The older "minor elevation" comes later at the doxology to the eucharistic prayer. In this case, it is a gesture of offering ("Thine own, from thine own, we offer unto thee"). The priest raises the Host and Chalice together up to about chest (or at most, eye level). This was also the type of gesture used at the offering of bread and wine before the eucharistic prayer began. It seems to me that this is the gesture that should be used by the priest, if any, for the presenting and placing of alms on the altar.

What is sometimes seen is that the alms basin is raised up over the head (as pictured above). Although there is a subtle difference between the two gestures of elevation, the main problem in this case is that the elevation over the head is a gesture of adoration. There only other place it appears is in the adoration of the consecrated Host and Precious Blood. Needless to say, it is not appropriate for the cash. Especially when accompanied by the singing of "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow," the gesture gives the impression that we are praising Mammon.

In contrast to the 1928 edition, the 1979 Prayer Book does not give much guidance for how to go about handling the offertory. The main direction seems to be that the people must stand, at least when gifts are first put on the altar.

Representatives of the congregation bring the people's offerings of bread and wine, and money or other gifts, to the deacon or celebrant. The people stand while the offerings are presented and placed on the Altar.

It seems to me that in absence of more explicit direction (which should be given in the next revision) or contrary instruction, the older pattern should adhered to with the dignity and decorum fitting the offering of alms.


LutherPunk said...

In our parish (Lutheran), I elevate the plates slightly, but never above the head. I also do not place the offering on the altar, but opt for putting in on a shelf built into the chancel. I think it is important to "offer" the plates to God for a blessing, but not in a way that overshadows the Holy Eucharist.

Fr Timothy Matkin said...

I have seen the practice of putting the alms on a shelf or other place than the altar in Episcopal parishes also, even though the BCP specifically directs it to be placed on the altar. In some cases, there is not much room on the mensa to spare.

I notice the the LBW offers less direction, simply stating that the gifts are presented and a hymn may be sung. What is nice is that there is a prayer for offering the alms.

Is there any further direction in the clergy or "Altar Missal" version of the LBW? I believe there is some additional materials that is not in the pew version.

LutherPunk said...

The altar edition and corresponding desk edition say nothing, but the Manual on the Liturgy for the LBW gives no clear direction in the context of Eucharist services. In the context of discussing the Service of the Word, the manual says, "If, nonetheless, a presentation of the gifts at the altar is made, it is done simply and unostentatiously, without special music, or gestures, or prayers."

The new ELW doesn't really say anything other than that the offering is brought forward. Of course, there is not yet a manual on this new book yet, so it may give further direction, but I doubt it.

I did find the section in the GIRM interesting on this front:

It is well also that money or other gifts for the poor or for the Church, brought by the faithful or collected in the church, should be received. These are to be put in a suitable place but away from the eucharistic table. GIRM III.C.74