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That act in the Mass when gifts of bread and wine are brought forward to the altar resembles in a way the Magi offering their gifts in adoration of the Christ Child.
Bringing gifts to a baby in a stable can seem absurd — even foolish. St. Bernard reflects on this:
What are you doing, magi, what are you doing? You adore a nursing infant wrapped in rags in a wretched hovel! Is this really God?
Maybe we’ve asked ourselves the same question. In order to follow the Mystery who is Jesus Christ we are called upon to come out of ourselves and to go beyond our limited modes of perception. St. Bernard proceeds to answer his own question:
Immediately the One who brought the magi there to Jesus instructs them, and he who had led them outwardly by a star now teaches them secretly in their hearts.
All this can happen only if the magi take a risk, trust in Something greater than themselves, and dare to see beyond “wretched” appearances. The Eucharist beckons us to do the same.
“Meaning is a connection that you establish when you step out of yourself, move out from the instant, and place yourself in a relationship” (L. Giussani). The Eucharist is an invitation to the meaning we seek. It’s the reason why, at Mass, we get up from our pew, “step out” of ourselves, and present ourselves to the relationship of love offered us in Holy Communion.
The “donation” of the gifts to Jesus is at heart an act of self-donation, of self-emptying on the part of the magi. For both the magi and ourselves at Mass, the focus of our act of offering is on what Jesus will do with our gifts. Although our gifts appear paltry in comparison with the magi’s sumptuous ones, their significance is the same: We are asking Jesus to take all we have to offer, our nothingness, and to transform it into the everything of himself. Life makes no sense unless he does.
The inwardly taught magi go home “by another way” … the way of faith, hope, and love … of wisdom, certainty, confidence, joy, and belonging. Let’s go back to our pews like them!
Installments in this series can be found each week here: Real Presence