...turned around and not followed the star, our Lord would not have received the gifts! Today throughout our parishes a similar act of those three magi takes place in the form of gift bearers.
I am a lector in our local parish and the duty of being a lector, prior to Mass, is to select three gift bearers to present the wine, hosts and offerings to the presiding priest for consecration. That 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.
In my parish, lectors 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, making sure the prayers of the faithful are in place, both at the ambo and along side the presiding priest’s chair in addition to informing the cantor of who the presiding priest is and also if there is a deacon for the service. There are times when schedules are rearranged of who might be presiding at the Mass for that particular service or perhaps the lectionary or Gospel has been misplaced. Though minor in detail, it takes several minutes for the lector to adjust and make sure these items or functions are current.
When this happens, it takes time away from the lector in seeking three parishioners to perform the honor of being gift bearers. At times, when I am positioned in our parish’s gathering space, which is the best place to view the people entering the church, I feel like I am some sort of sales pitch person. As I approach a person or family and ask “would you be gift bearers for the Mass” I receive blank stares as though I’m asking for money or receive answers 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 a conclusion that some people might be uncomfortable walking down the aisle toward the priest and having several hundred people staring at them. But I feel that one of the main reasons that people say “no” to participating as a bearer of the gifts is they simply do not know what the term means. I have approached people using different phrases to volunteer 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 I still receive blank stares as though I’m asking for them to get out of their standard comfort zone by doing something out of the ordinary.
I don’t 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 not been successful in obtaining the three people needed. I noticed a young family enter the church, a young lad 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 if he and his family would be gift bearers for today I received the 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 look toward the husband.
I made a note to watch the 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 perhaps he never noticed that it occurs at each Mass! He might have thought or took for granted that it perhaps is a designated responsibility assigned to other parishioners, not realizing, that in most cases, it is a moment when all lay people of the 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 means of choosing people to present the gifts and have no difficulties in doing so. Then maybe there are other churches that encounter similar problems I have presented. In either case, whether you are one that is designated to ask parishioners to bear the gifts or you are a parishioner that is being asked to do this honor, perhaps one might stop and think for a moment: If the three wisemen had said “no” and decided not to follow that star, would our Lord have received those gifts?
Perhaps even a more meaningful thought might be about the King of Salem, Melchizedek, a Priest of God Most High when he presented the bread and wine to Abram (Gen. 14:18-20) along with a blessing, should we, as the faithful of the Church, consider any other answer but ‘yes’ when asked to bring the gifts? 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. After all, Jesus unselfishly paid the full price for us, through his death, and made the promise that he would be among us forever and that is accomplished through the consecration of those gifts, of which we partake, that become the true precious body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ !
Michael L. Eck of Flagler Beach, FL
January 19, 2006