Sunday, January 17, 2010

Act Two

We're getting ready to jump into the deep end with the eucharistic prayer. But first, a few more little pieces on the preparation of the gifts.

There's that funny moment right after the petitions where suddenly it doesn't really seem like much of anything is going on -- everybody's sitting down, including the presider and the servers; the sanctuary is pretty much empty of activity; and for a second there's not even music, just papers rustling and guys in the back fumbling with wicker baskets. If it were your first time you might even think oops, somebody's missed a cue. And if it goes too long, well, yes, somebody has. (When I'm presiding, usually that person is me.)

It's also for many a moment (along with directly after communion) when we're tempted to pull out the bulletin and glance through it. And I think what we're sensing (in both cases, actually) is that we're in a transition. We're moving from the liturgy of the word to the liturgy of the Eucharist. In musical theater/opera terms, the presentation is sort of like the "entr'acte", the musical interlude that the orchestra plays before Act Two formally begins, a time to readjust ourselves, settle back in, unwrap the candy. It's also like the moment in a submersible bubble right before we're going to go plunge down to see the giant squid.

On second thought, maybe it's really not.

In some Christian denominations this really is presented as a sort of intermission, too; they do the announcements, or the sign of peace (something Catholic liturgists have batted around, as well). At an African American parish I know, the entire congregation comes up row by row at this point to drop off their donations to an usher in the front, while everybody sings. It sounds intimidating -- my first time there I thought, oh God, everybody is going to see what I'm giving (or not giving.) But the tenor of the moment is more like the first hour of a potluck; everybody's arriving, come as they are, with their casseroles and jello molds, tending to their children and spouses and singing out with praise. The practice is unusual, but it yields a very concrete sense of us all being one community, and of our celebration being one that we're all contributing to, one that is all of ours.

All of these innovations are responses to that sense of the moment as a transition. They try to shake out any cobwebs that might have formed and to help people settle into the prayer that is to follow.

The procession forward with the gifts means to do much the same thing. It's a little activity, but nothing too dramatic; if you're into the song you might not even notice that it's happened. The priest takes the gifts, quietly prepares and presents them. And time passes. By the time it's over, there's a clear feeling, we've moved on into something else.

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