The New Testament Greek name for Church, “ekklesia,” means “those called forth, summoned for an assembly.” What’s in a name? In this one, at least, quite a lot!

Our very name “Church” (ekklesia) tells us three things:

•  First of all, the Church is more of a “who” than a “what.”

•  Second, the “who” is a “we.” The “we,” then, is more of a people to be than a place to go.

•  Third, a certain someone is calling us.

Actually, all three of these identifying characteristics of the Church, which are summed up in the word ekklesia, are made real in the Mass in different ways. The Mass tells us who the “we” are and who the someone is who is calling us. It makes us be what we are!

God is clearly the someone who calls us to celebrate Mass. When we gather for Mass, we are responding to Christ’s invitation: “Do this in memory of me.” But the Mass is a call to each and every one of us to come together — to assemble — in order to do something, too.

What is the deeper meaning of what we do at Mass, and what does that have to do with our ­daily Christian life in the world? To what does the Mass call us?

From the Liturgy of the Word at Mass, the assembly moves on to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which consists of the presentation of the gifts (offertory), the eucharistic prayer (consecration) and communion — the priest’s (essentially) and then ours.

On one level, the presentation of the gifts is simply a practical means of getting the bread and wine to the altar, but it also has a deeper meaning. In the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, we read: “Even though the faithful no longer bring from their own possessions the bread and wine intended for the liturgy as in the past, nevertheless the rite of carrying up the offerings still retains its force and its spiritual significance.”

They are not just any gifts or signs, but bread and wine (and nothing else) which will soon become much more than bread and wine.

That spiritual meaning of which the Instruction speaks is clear in the prayers that accompany the presentation of the bread and wine: “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.”    

Bread and wine are identified in these prayers in three ways: gifts of God, gifts of the Earth and the work of human hands — gifts that are destined to become our spiritual food and drink.

Creation is God’s act of gift-giving. It includes not only ­material creation, but also humanity’s ability to develop the world’s potential and present it back to God as a gift — a gift to be shared for the good of all.

In the presentation of bread and wine, the baptized formally declare their willingness to enter into a dialogue on the gift initiated in creation, a dialogue that had lapsed into silence at the fall of man and woman. We forgot who gave us the gift, and that we are called to share it. We forget why the Mass — which reminds us of this gift and empowers us to share it. Bread and wine are ultimately God’s gift, given for all.

Bread and wine are also the work of human hands. Some anthropologists refer to them as “condensed symbols.” What is condensed in them is all the human labor that has gone into their production. That circle of human labor ripples out to include not only farmers and millers and bakers, but also other hands that make their work possible.

In effect, what we place on the altar is all our work — our very lives, and creation itself — as a gift offered back to God. That is the gift we bring with us when we assemble. We are all meant to accompany the gift-bearers in spirit as they walk up the aisle, each carrying that gift in our hands to place it on the altar for the offering that is to follow.

Knowing this now, what a privilege to participate in the presentation of the gifts at the offertory! Whether or not you choose to volunteer or are invited to take part in the presentation, remember that you are always an essential part of it, since these gifts represent you, all of us and God’s gifts to us.

And when they are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ and are consumed by us, they make us — the assembly or ekklesia — what we truly are: Christ’s body, the Church. What a wonderful calling!

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)