10 Years in Youth Ministry and the Significance of the Offertory

By Guest Blogger Brad Bursa

“For the person in the pews, one of the most significant moments in the Mass takes place during the offertory.” 

Suddenly, my attention jolted back from the doldrums. The priest’s words struck me. Usually, during the offertory (when the basket is being passed, and the bread and wine are brought to the foot of the altar), I’m either in la-la land or I’m chasing one of my kids who bolted because he decided that things outside of the church were more interesting. 

The priest continued, “This sounds like a shocking statement, but this moment is very important. At this moment in the Mass, we are all invited to bring everything to the altar because God wants the whole of our lives. So, as we gather all of the fragments of our lives and offer them, the priest collects all of these prayers and unites them to Christ’s sacrifice–His complete giving-over to the Father.” 

I suppose I’m always struck by the Father’s mercy when I allow this truth to sink in: He is willing to–no!–He wants everything. And He wants to make me whole and make the whole of my offering into something beautiful. 

Still, the prospect of offering everything is admittedly embarrassing. My motives, desires, attentiveness, etc., are all over the place at virtually every Mass I attend. I have left daily Mass before wondering if I even went to Mass (like when you ask if you said meal grace seconds after you said it) because of how distracted I was. I spend a lot of energy just trying to make it through without my children destroying each other or a hymnal. I often have mixed motives, like a fear of punishment, vainglory, or reducing the spiritual life to some sort of checklist in order to earn grace or consolation. Sure, there are legitimately holy desires and acts of piety, too, but the admixture is apparent, and there are plenty of things I would rather not offer. And the Father still wants me to offer all of it. He takes the amalgamation, and, in His mysterious mercy, He transforms it. 

I recently celebrated my 10th youth ministry anniversary. That’s a lot of years compared to some and very few compared to others. In many ways, I can relate to the sentiment behind St. Francis’ words to his brother friars shortly before his death: “Let us begin again, brothers, for up until now, we have done little or nothing.” But, in addition to this sentiment, I have been struck by a profound sense of gratitude. 

Just like the admixture I cobble together at the offertory during Mass, the ministry I’ve offered over the years is quite soupy too. I can see a genuine love of the Lord present in my ministry and motivating much of it. I see a generous giving of self and the good of the sacrifices my family has made. But I also see a lot of half-hearted or hesitant “yeses,” selfish desires to make something happen in order to boost my ego, various fishing trips for affirmation, along with fear, pride, and the constant temptation to take control. Yet the Father has taken this combination of motives and, in an expression of mercy, He has brought about so much surprising fruit that I cannot help but stand in awe and gratitude. It is amazing to see the lives of teens (and sometimes whole families) change as they encounter Christ and realize I had some part to play, but this is ultimately not of me. At the same time, youth ministry has proven to be risky, as there is plenty of heartbreak and confusion as I watch former teens struggle and, in some cases, drift away, despite hours of building relationships and lots of intercessory prayer. 

Here, we come full-circle, as I find in the offertory of the Mass an opportunity to give the Lord the fruits of ministry–which is quite the admixture. He takes all of it and will continue to do so. And I trust that, in His time and in His way, He is drawing all of them, and all of me, to Himself (cf. Jn. 12:32).

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