Consecrating Our Lives to God

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman

For those of us prone to daydream, the Offertory seems to be the slowest part of the Mass. After the proclamation of the Gospel and the homily, but before the Eucharistic Prayer, there’s a pause in the action, in which the priest stops to receive the bread and wine, and the collection basket is passed around for the tithe. It can take a lot of spiritual discipline to stay focused here, but if you know what’s going on, you see the Church quietly answering a rampant heresy.

You see, one of the persistent errors existing prior to the Second Vatican Council (and existing under a slightly different form today) was a sort of clericalism that treated religion as the sole province of priests and “religious,” while the laity were, at best, part-time Catholics. The view is best epitomized by a remark by Msgr. George Talbot, criticizing Blessed John Henry Newman for over-involving the laity:

What is the province of the laity? To hunt, to shoot, to entertain? These matters they understand, but to meddle with ecclesiastical matters they have no right at all, and this affair of Newman is a matter purely ecclesiastical…. Dr. Newman is the most dangerous man in England, and you will see that he will make use of the laity against your Grace.

In this view, “the Church” consisted of priests, male and female religious, and no ordinary laypeople.  As a result, worship was too often conceived of as what’s done on the altar (and perhaps in the choir), not in the pews.

I. The Saints Against Clergy-Only Ecclesiology 

The Saints fought against this bad ecclesiology for centuries.  Besides Newman, there’s St. Francis De Sales, whose Introduction to the Devout Life was written to a laywoman who struggled to live out a life of sanctity, while remaining in the world.  In the third chapter of the book, Francis reminds her that “Devotion is suitable to every Vocation and Profession.”  At the end of the nineteenth century, St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s “Little Way” inspired scores of Catholic laypeople to live out the faith in small, daily acts. Five years after her death, St. Josemaria Escrivá was born. In 1928, he founded Opus Dei, in order “to announce the universal call to holiness and to point out that daily life and ordinary activities are a path to holiness.

The universal call to holiness is a simple, radical notion: all of us are called to be Saints, whether or not we’re called to the priesthood. Religion isn’t just done in the convent, or on the altar. It’s done in the pews, and even more radically, it’s done in the supermarket, and in the home, and in the office.  In 1947, Ven. Pope Pius XII approved and endorsed secular institutes in Provida Mater Ecclesia.  These “secular institutes” are institutes “of consecrated life in which the Christian faithful living in the world strive for the perfection of charity and work for the sanctification of the world especially from within.

II. Vatican II on the Role of the Laity

The Second Vatican Council continued this focus on the universal call to holiness. Lumen Gentium declares that the universal call to holiness is not dependent upon ordination, since “in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness.”  The Council made two important points:

  1. The Church, and the economy of salvation, includes an important role for the laity.  In other words, the laity are not just the recipients of the Catholic faith, but are called to share it and participate in it themselves.
  2. Metropolitan Community Church communion service
  3. The mission of the laity is distinct from the mission of the clergy.  In His plan for the salvation of the world, Christ established different roles, and the role of the laity is necessarily different from that of the priests. While the hierarchy are tasked in a special way with caring for the lay faithful, the laity are equipped (by virtue of their secular state of life) to evangelize the world through their daily lives.
A year earlier, Sacrosanctum Concilium made the same point in the context of the liturgy: the laity are called to “full and active participation,” meaning participation “by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes.”  But the form of that participation differs, based on an individual’s vocation:
Liturgical services are not private functions, but are celebrations of the Church, which is the “sacrament of unity,” namely, the holy people united and ordered under their bishops [33]

Therefore liturgical services pertain to the whole body of the Church; they manifest it and have effects upon it; but they concern the individual members of the Church in different ways, according to their differing rank, office, and actual participation.
In the intervening fifty years, several people have claimed to represent the “spirit of Vatican II” by encouraging the blurring of the differing ranks and offices within the Church, or by pushing for the ordination of women priests, or by cramming as many laypeople as possible into the sanctuary. In fact, these people are perpetuating the exact mindset that Vatican II was trying to eliminate: the notion that only the priest (or at least, someone mulling about the sanctuary) fully participates in the Mass.  Put simply, Vatican II was calling the laity to be more Catholic as laity, not to be ordained priests.
III. One Way for the Lay Faithful to Participate in the Mass
So if that’s not what Vatican II meant by “full and active participation” or the universal call to holiness, what did they mean?  It’s important to emphasize that the laity aren’t called to be ordained priests, because they are called to participate in the priestly office of Jesus Christ, but in a unique way. The Second Vatican Council explained all of this in Lumen Gentium:
The Widow’s Mite, Ottobeuren Abbey
The supreme and eternal Priest, Christ Jesus, since he wills to continue his witness and service also through the laity, vivifies them in this Spirit and increasingly urges them on to every good and perfect work. 
For besides intimately linking them to His life and His mission, He also gives them a sharing in His priestly function of offering spiritual worship for the glory of God and the salvation of men. For this reason the laity, dedicated to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and wonderfully prepared so that ever more abundant fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them. For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne—all these become “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”. (1 Peter 2:5) Together with the offering of the Lord’s body, they are most fittingly offered in the celebration of the Eucharist. Thus, as those everywhere who adore in holy activity, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.

We see the same two themes: the laity have a role in the economy of salvation, but it’s different role from the one played by ordained priests.

We see the unique sacrifice of the laity in a few places in the Mass, but the central place is during the Offertory.  As the General Instruction on the Roman Missal explains:

The offerings are then brought forward. It is a praiseworthy practice for the bread and wine to be presented by the faithful. They are then accepted at an appropriate place by the Priest or the Deacon to be carried to the altar. Even though the faithful no longer bring from their own possessions the bread and wine intended for the liturgy as was once the case, nevertheless the rite of carrying up the offerings still keeps its spiritual efficacy and significance. 
Even money or other gifts for the poor or for the Church, brought by the faithful or collected in the church, are acceptable; given their purpose, they are to be put in a suitable place away from the Eucharistic table.
If they’ve been following the instructions of Lumen Gentium, the Catholic lay faithful have been offering up their daily work, and carrying out their daily tasks in the Spirit.  Now, it is time to turn the fruits of that work over to God, in two forms: by tithing (giving God’s money back to Him), and by symbolically bringing forward the bread and wine (to represent the fruits of their labors). The priest then acknowledges this, by praying:

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life. 

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands it will become our spiritual drink.

This is a two-fold acknowledgement: it recognizes the bread and wine as coming from the laity, but it also recognizes that their ultimate origin is from God Himself.  So we are giving back to God what He has given us, through the lay faithful.

So instead of viewing the Offertory as a break in the liturgical action, understand it for what it is: the first of the two Sacrifices offered in the Mass. The laity consecrates the work of their lives to God, symbolized in the bread and wine. The priest then consecrates the bread and wine, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, it becomes Jesus Christ. Christ, along with our “sacrifice of praise” (Heb. 13:15; EP 1).


  1. Joe,
    Your best posts build up the reason for the Roman faith tradition. This post does just that because it answers a lingering concern among Protestants. “What does it matter if lay members attend Mass at all if all of the worship is done by and for the priest?” You show another dimension to the service that outsiders cannot easily see.

    By the way, the baby is doing well. Life is a true gift, and I am so thankful for the prayers that you and others offered up to our heavenly Father. Grace and Peace to you!

    Your brother in Christ,

    1. Thanks, Rev. Hans! By the way, I should be back in the KC area in a couple weeks, if you want to grab tea or lunch sometime. And of course, congrats on the new baby: boy or girl?



  2. I am proud to say that I have a baby boy. He was baptized on November 4th. I have a question for you, Joe. How do you feel about Rev. Raymond Brown, S.S.? I have heard that some Catholics do not respect him as much as Protestants do.

    1. Fr. Brown is by no means the most radical of the historical-critical scholars of the mid-twentieth century. He distanced himself from Fr. Hans Küng’s rejection of the infallibility of the Church, defends the historicity of the physical Resurrection of Christ, and ultimately accepts the Virgin Conception of Christ (albeit lukewarmly).

      But he’s still unreliable as a scholar, and his reputation on that front has rightly waned over the past few decades. I have previously criticized the methodology in Brown and Meier’s Antioch and Rome, criticisms which are generally true of his other work, including the Jerome Biblical Commentary.

      The methodological flaw that continually appears in his work is that his logic is circular. In Antioch and Rome, it’s about presbyter-bishops. After reviewing the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the authors treat every mention of a three-tiered ecclesial structure as evidence that such a structure didn’t previous exist (which is why Ignatius has to “defend” the idea), while concluding that since Ignatius didn’t mention a three-tiered ecclesial structure in his letter to the Romans, it is therefore “likely that the single-bishop structure did not come to Rome till ca. 140-150.”

      So if Ignatius mentions a three-tiered ecclesial structure, this proves that the structure of the Church wasn’t originally three-tiered. And if he doesn’t, this proves that the structure of the Church wasn’t originally three-tiered. Neat trick; bad scholarship.

    2. Similarly, in the Jerome Biblical Commentary, the authors apparently assume that:
      (1) Christ couldn’t have known about the Fall of Jerusalem prior to it happening in 70 A.D., and therefore, He couldn’t have predicted it (as Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 21 claim);
      (2) Since Matthew and Mark’s Gospels include this prediction, they must have been written after 70 A.D.;
      (3) Since Matthew and Mark’s Gospels are written after 70 A.D., they aren’t accurate historical guides;
      (4) Since Matthew and Mark’s Gospels aren’t accurate historical guides, we can’t trust that Christ predicted the Fall of Jerusalem prior to 70 A.D.

      Of course, (4) is just a circle bringing you back to (1). And this circle runs into serious scholarly problems. For example, in step (2), there is the problem of Patristic attestation: we know from the writings of the early Church Fathers that Matthew wrote prior to 68. The JBC just waves this inconvenient fact away:

      “Irenaeus alone of the early writers suggests a date; he makes the authorship of [Matthew] contemporaneous with the preaching of Peter and Paul in Rome – i.e., before AD 68. This detail cannot be tested. Internal evidence suggests (but does not demonstrate) a date later than the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. But the familiarity of the author with Palestinian Jewish customs does not allow us to remove the Gospel – in space or in time – too far from Palestinian Judaism before the Jewish rebellion.” (JBC, II, 65)

      Having provided no evidence supporting a later date (“internal evidence suggests” is all we are told), having acknowledged that the earliest (and in fact, all) Patristic evidence supports an early date, and having claimed (without apparent warrant) that this unpresented internal evidence “suggests (but does not demonstrate)” a later date … the later date is now to be taken for granted:

      “This sermon [Matthew 24:1-25:46] must also be read with the awareness that its composition was affected by the fact that the catastrophe of Jerusalem had already occurred; the narratives describe an event that was remembered. This is not to say that Jesus did not predict it; but his exact words are not remembered any more precisely for this than for other sayings, and the historical impact of the event could hardly have been conducive to a more accurate preservation of them.” (JBC, II, 104)

      So, having presumptively rejected the historicity of Christ’s prophesies, they used this presumption to reject the historicity of Christ’s prophesies. Another neat circle. Msgr. George A. Kelly, President Emeritus of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, relays a more colorful term for this same phenomenon: “Dennis McCarthy, S.J., a professor at the Biblicum in Rome, suggested (1979) that Brown operated out of a ‘squirrel cage,’ i.e. he ran round and round in circles, always returning to the same place — doubt.” By the way, Msgr. Kelly’s criticisms are well worth the read. From what I can tell, orthodox Catholics line up very much on Msgr. Kelly and Fr. McCarthy’s side of the debate on the question of Fr. Brown’s scholarly reputation.

    3. The biggest problem I have is that Brown and the Jerome Biblical Commentary get treated as if they represent an (or the) authentic Catholic voice. In other words, they’re quoted as if they were Magisterial teachings that we Catholics needed to hold as infallible, and that all of their heterodox conclusions therefore disprove the Catholic Church.

      But even the JBC acknowledges that it’s just warmed-over liberal Protestant scholarship that aims to undermine the traditional faith of Catholics. Okay, they wouldn’t put it like that. They would put it like this:

      “Over-all, modern Catholic NT scholarship has consisted in a judicious selecting and combining of acceptable elements in Protestant scholarship; it is not yet following its own new paths. It has succeeded in convincing more intelligent Catholics that the ultraconservative biblical positions of the past are no longer tenable; but now it faces the much more difficult task of discussing with scientific objectivity and in detail the sensitive problems of NT exegesis that have vital dogmatic implication, e.g., the limitations of Jesus’ knowledge regarding himself, the future, and the Church; the reliability of Acts as a guide to how the Church historically emerged; the extent of creativity exercised in the formation of the Gospel tradition; the historicity of the infancy narratives. One can be certain that such discussion, no matter what results are reached, will provoke heated opposition; for some contend that scientific discussion should not be allowed, since inevitable it will filter into the popular press and disturb the faithful. Nevertheless, the freedom and objectivity of this discussion and the sense of responsibility with which it is conducted will be the real test of the maturity of modern Catholic biblical scholarship in a post-Vatican II Church.” (JBC, II, 19).

      That’s from an essay in the JBC by John S. Kselman, S.S.



      P.S. Congrats on your son: what’s his name?

    4. Joe,

      I am by no means a fan of Fr. Brown’s exegetical methodology. But I am not aware that Fr. Brown’s teachings have been criticized by the Church. In fact, I believe they all have imprimaturs.

      It seems to me, that it does the Church no service, for us to criticize some of our Priests or even other Catholic Brethren, simply because they get to Catholic Doctrine using a different type of Scriptural exegesis than do we. I mean, you did admit that he holds to all Catholic Doctrine, did you not?


      De Maria

    5. De Maria,

      Certainly, I think it’s important to avoid needlessly causing divisions in the Body. There’s much too much infighting within the Church already. But having said that, when Catholics undermine core teachings of the faith, these attacks need to be resisted. If anything, the fact that Brown was a Catholic priest only makes his assault on the faith all the worse: he’s still quoted against us. After laying out a case for the papacy, it’s not uncommon to see that case get dismissed by someone saying: “Yeah, well a Catholic priest said the papacy isn’t historically true.”

      And that’s true, Fr. Brown co-wrote an entire book basically attacking the historicity of the papacy (Antioch and Rome), as well as the monoepiscopacy, the tradition that the Apostles ordained successors, etc.

      Even on issues like the Virgin Birth and the physical Resurrection of Christ, Brown managed to make the orthodox position seem like “the Church says we have to believe it, so it must be true.” Whether he intended this or not is a question I can’t answer. But anyone reading his work should ask: if all of this is so, why be Catholic?

      So I think it would be suicidal to stay quiet in the face of these attacks on the Church, just because the attacker is a coreligionist. What he taught was dangerously wrong, and helped to shipwreck the faith of innumerable Catholics (including priests).



      P.S. Msgr. George Kelly has a critical (but relatively balanced) piece on Fr. Brown that I would suggest.

  3. It would seem that if the gifts of bread and wine are signs (symbols) of the daily life/work of the faithful (lay, religious, and ordained; for the religious and ordained are taken from the laity and are, therefore, lay faithful before they are religious or ordained), and if our Lord Jesus Christ is truly present – body, blood, soul, and divinity – in these signs after the consecration then it is not only the bread and wine which are consecrated but the consecration and the Real Presence extend to the life/work of the faithful.

  4. The introduction of The Berakh in the new rite is a jarring novelty but, nevertheless, apt for a Memorial Meal.

    Of course, the Mass is the action of Jesus, as both Priest and Victim, offering Himself to God as an act of propitiation and, thus, it is the Pluperfect form of worship even when the Priest offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with no other human present.

    As a man the same age as Israel, I was learnt the Mass had four ends/parts (PART Petition, Adoration, Reparation, Thanksgiving) and that at Mass I was to offer-up that which was apt for me and my offering would be made acceptable to God because they were swept-up and joined to the Pluperfect Sacrifice of Jesus.

    Rev Hans is incorrect when he writes that Mass is celebrated by and for the Priest. That has never been the case – ever – and it is not the case now.

  5. Only in the Novus Ordo do they collect money during the Offertory, which IMHO is a disgusting practice. In the TLM the altar boys stand at the entrances of the church with baskets, if you wish to donate, thus not breaking the meditation and prayer usually taking place during the Holy Mass hopefully in each and every one of us.

    1. Petrus,

      This does not happen at my FSSP parish, nor at one of the ICRSS parishes that I attended. We collect money during the Offertory (for good or for ill). What you say is the first I’ve heard of it being a “NOM-only” sort of thing.

  6. Dear Petrus. Collecting money INSIDE a Church and disturbing those who are preparing for Mass? You should station the altar boys OUTSIDE the Sacred Space, in the Parking Lot, preferably NOT on Church property – that is, if you really are as thoughtful as you boast you are.

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