The first thing which the priest does after being brought the bread during the Preparation of the Gifts of the Mass is place this on the altar. And this is done rather solemnly, while a special prayer known as a “Blessing” prayer is said. Then, the same kind of prayer accompanies the placing of the chalice of wine on the altar, too.
This special prayer is modeled after a traditional Jewish mealtime prayer. This kind of prayer is easily recognized, for it begins “Blessed are You, Lord God, …” and goes on to express gratitude for the gift of the foodstuffs from the hand of our Creator. The specific prayers we use at Mass also hint at what will become of these ordinary things: they will become something extraordinary, “spiritual food and drink.”
These “Blessing” prayers may be said aloud by the priest, but don’t have to be. Up until now the Mass has generally been very wordy, and a bit of silence doesn’t hurt. In fact, I think silence can help emphasize the gesture of “placing” the gifts on the altar, if the movement is done purposefully, and with dignity. I remember being impressed almost 30 years ago with the way the monks over at St. Joseph Abbey in St. Benedict, Louisiana, took special care with that action. I try to be just as careful with that moment when the vessels of bread and wine first touch the altar. When you stop to think about it, it’s a very significant moment!