Already in the early Church the simple and functional actions of taking bread and wine were expanded and formalized. Eventually the faithful brought not only these elements, but also such items as oil, wax, flowers, and gifts for the poor. The gifts were brought forward in procession to the presiding bishop who received what was necessary for the celebration of the Eucharist with the remainder being set aside for later distribution to the needy.
In time a number of significant changes occurred; various private prayers and ceremonies were introduced; the procession gradually disappeared as the number of communicants declined; the content of the newly introduced prayers tended to anticipate the Eucharistic prayer. Eventually the whole rite was understood as one of "offering" to God and generally came to be called the "offertory." In some places it was even known as the "little canon". The post-Vatican II reform of the Mass attempted not only to simplify the rite but also to clarify its perspective. No longer called the offertory, the rite is now known as the preparation of the altar and the gifts. Most liturgical authors hesitate to apply the word "offertory" here, not only because of the problem with explaining what type of offering might be involved but also to avoid anticipating the true offering of sacrifice accomplished through the Eucharistic prayer. What takes place is a preparation involving a ritual "setting apart" of gifts that are expressive of ourselves. It is an action which prepares the elements, the altar, and the people for what is to come.
The collection along with the gifts of bread and wine are brought forward to the altar by individual parish members as well as families. Every effort should be made to represent all segments of the community, e.g. the separated and divorced, widows and widowers, single persons, members of the various ethnic groups, the handicapped, etc. In obtaining volunteers, advance planning is so important here to avoid plucking persons from the pews at the last moment.
The primary symbols in the procession are the bread and wine. Water, being an accessory, is not presented, not is the chalice. The procession is a symbolic action and, as such, should be more than a visually impoverished walk of a few steps from a table placed near the front of the sanctuary. Its participants, to avoid needless delay, should be in position before the ushers finish the collection. The monetary gifts should not be carried off to th e sacristy since they, like the bread and wine, are expressive of our lives. They are placed in a fitting location near the altar.
[Source: Supplement, St. Paul Roman Catholic Cathedral, Saskatoon, SK, Canada; May 9, 2010]