(Lat. offertorium, from offero, I offer) is the name given to that portion of the Romish Liturgy with which the eucharistic service, strictly so called, commences. In the Roman Liturgy it consists of one or two verses from some book of Scripture, generally from the Old Testament, but sometimes from the Epistles. In the Ambrosian Liturgy it consists of a prayer, similar in form to the collect or secret of the mass; and in both this recital is followed by the preparatory offering up of the bread and wine, accompanied by certain ceremonies and forms of prayer.
This offering of the bread and wine in the public service became, from a very early period of the Christian Church, the occasion of a voluntary offering on the part of the faithful; originally, it would seem, of the bread and wine designed for the eucharistic celebration and for the communion of the priest and the congregation, sometimes even including the absent members, and also for the agape, or common sacred feast, which accompanied it. That portion of the offerings which remained in excess of what was requisite for these purposes was applied to the relief of the poor and to the support of the clergy. These offerings were ordinarily made by the faithful in person, and were laid upon the altar; and the Ambrosian rite still preserves this usage in a ceremonial which may be witnessed in the cathedral of Milan. By degrees, other gifts were superadded to those of bread and wine — as of corn, oil, wax, honey, eggs, butter, fruits, lambs, fowl, and other animals; and eventually of equivalents in money or other objects of value. The last-named class of offerings, however, was not so commonly made upon the altar and during the public liturgy as in the form of free gifts presented on the occasion of other ministerial services, as of baptism, marriages, funerals, etc.; and from this has arisen the practice in the Roman Catholic Church of the mass-offering, or honorarium, which is given to a priest with the understanding that he shall offer the mass for the intention (whence the honorarium itself is often called an "intention") of the offerent. In some places, however, and among them in some parts of Ireland, offerings "in kind" are still in use, not indeed in the form of the ancient offertory, but in the shape of contributions of corn, hay, etc., at stated seasons, for the use of the parochial clergy. At weddings also, and in some places at funerals, offerings in money are made by the relations and friends of the newly married or of the deceased (Chambers).
The offertory in the mass
(1) commences with the Dominus vobiscum, after the Creed. ending with the Preface. It contains the oblation of the bread and wine by the celebrant, the censing of the oblation, altar, and attendants, the washing of the fingers, the subsequent prayers, the invitation to pray, and the secret prayer. Originally it was usual for the faithful to bring to church the provisions which they contributed to the support of the clergy, and the necessaries for the holy communion and church use. The offering was made at this time. The deacon selected what was required for the altar, and the residue was taken to the bishop's house for distribution to the clergy at his discretion. The candles given at ordinations and the bread and wine at the consecration of a bishop are remnants of the ancient practice. Walifrid Strabo says that it was lawful to offer new wheat-ears, grapes, oil for lamps, and incense at the time of celebration. The name is also given
(2) to the anthem sung after the Gospel or Creed, during which the people formerly offered their alms and oblations. Such was the custom in Africa (c. 400) in St. Augustine's time. Hugo de St. Victor and Honorius of Autin attribute the introduction and arrangement of the offertories to pope Gregory the Great, but it has. also been referred to Eutychius, c. 180; Celestine I, c. 430; or Adrian I. Singing is used in allusion to Ecclesiasticus 1:12-18. Pope Gregory caused oblations to be made as God had directed by Moses (Ex 23:15). In the first four centuries the offering was made in silence. When a bishop celebrates he goes to the altar after the offertory, and, taking off his gloves, makes the ablution of his fingers. It is, besides, customary to give the name offertory to
(3) a silk napkin in which the deacon wraps the chalice when offered to him by the priest. The subdeacon now has a large scarf placed upon his shoulders, and takes the chalice, over which an attendant spreads the end of the scarf. He then carries the offerings to the deacon, presents the water-cruet, and receives the paten from the celebrant, which he holds enveloped in his scarf, standing behind him since the custom of consecrating upon the corporal was introduced.
The word "offertorium" is sometimes used (as in the Sarum Missal) for the anthems sung during the collecting and making of these offerings? and sometimes, improperly, for the offerings themselves. Thus Freeman (Principles of Divine Service, ii 345, note g) writes, "The offertory, it need hardly be said-whether we mean thereby the words used or the contributions of the people is but a department of the oblation." Boner, on the other hand (Rerum Liturg. II, 8:3), shows from Amalarius and others that the offertory was the whole portion of the service, from the end of the creed to the end of the Oratio Secreta, thus making it include the oblation. But the extent of the offertory in one particular liturgy is not a definition; and an, explanation is perhaps given by Tertullian's words, "Nonne et laici sacerdotes sumus?" (De exhort. Castit. p. 668).
In the English liturgy the word "oblations" is reserved for the offering of that which is designed for the eucharistic service, and the more general term "offerings" includes both the alms and oblations, as in the definition given above. The practice of a weekly offertory-collection is now revived in some churches in England (for in Ireland it has always been so), and it is the opinion of many that it is highly desirable it should become universal. Others who are not insensible to some of the advantages which would attend such a practice, yet deem it wrong to make collections for all charitable objects indiscriminately through the medium of the offertory, which (they consider) was originally designed for purposes immediately connected with the parish or congregation from which the alms are collected. They think also that this, with all other practices that have fallen into general disuse, however apparently expedient the readoption of them may seem, should not be revived without a recommendation to that effect from the diocesan; certainly not without a careful consideration of the local effect which is likely to be produced by a return to such practice.
The custom of making oblations at the communion is certainly apostolical, as appears from 1Co 16:2: "On the first day of the week let every one lay by him in store as God hath prospered him." This custom continued down to the following ages, as appears from different passages in Justin Martyr, Tertullian. St. Cyprian, St. Ambrose, and other ancient writers. See Coleman, Ancient Christianity, p. 93, 244; Walcott, Sacred
Archceol s.v.; Hook, Ch. Dict. s.v.; Siegel, Christl. Alterhumer, s.v. Offertorium; Barnum, Romanism, p. 432; Palmer, Orig. Lit. 2:73 sq.