Pondering the Collection Basket in an Age of Electronic Giving

Tithe PlateNew financial realities and mechanisms raise questions for the traditional collection and offertory procedures at Mass. For as far back as most of us can remember, the “collection” has always taken place after the Creed and Intercessory prayers. A basket is passed and people drop in cash or a check, often inside an envelope. It is often brought up along with the bread and wine as an actual offering to the Lord and His Church.

But the problem is that cash, and even checks, are going away. Increasing numbers of people use electronic giving. Most younger people rarely carry cash and they seldom if ever write checks. I have to say that even I seldom carry cash, and these days I typically write fewer than five checks a month. I contribute to the parish through the “Faith Direct,” program which automatically withdraws my offering from my bank account each month.

A woman told me that she recently corrected her daughter for never putting anything in the collection basket. The daughter, a young woman in her late twenties, wondered what she was supposed to do since she didn’t carry cash or write checks. She paid all her bills online using her phone. “What am I supposed to do? I can’t put my phone in the basket!”

The question I raise here is more a liturgical than a financial one. More and more parishes are offering their parishioners other ways to contribute. We need to get better at it and to continue to offer more solutions, but the adjustment to new financial mechanisms is underway.

Liturgically, however, we are still “passing the basket” to a congregation that increasingly has no capacity to participate with this ritual. Some parishes provide cards that online givers can drop into the basket saying that they gave electronically, but most forget to bring the card to Mass. An essential point of electronic giving is to be freed from the hassle of carrying cash or checks, so needing to remember another piece of paper seems counter to that goal.

But then what to do with a practice that still makes sense liturgically? Passing the basket makes sense because we are called as a people of God to make sacrificial offerings to the Lord and to assist in the support of His Church. The offertory procession is about more than presenting bread and wine. It is also about offerings for the Church and the poor; it is about offering the gift of our very self. So the money we put (or used to put) into the basket is a symbol of something more than the monetary gift itself. The offering of actual valuables at the offertory is ancient and serves as a visible sign of our participation in the sacrifice of the Mass. In ancient barter economies, people brought tangible items such as foods and other valuables. Gradually money replaced such items and our long practice of collecting money began. And now paper money and checks are going away.

But again, there is still some value in placing offerings in a basket and bringing the basket forward at the offertory.

Perhaps we can adjust as follows:

Provide offering cards in the pews so that those who contribute electronically can quickly fill one out and place it in the basket. They could supply their name (or not) and simply indicate that they have given electronically. They could indicate the amount of the offering (or not). There should also be boxes to check that go beyond money (for the offertory should be about more than just money). People could check boxes indicating the sacrificial gifts of time and talent along with treasure. For example, one could indicate by checking boxes that he visited the sick that week, served as a lector, sang in the choir, offered tutoring, prayed for the needs of others, and so forth.

The card would need to be simple and quick to fill out. Catechesis would also be necessary to explain the purpose of taking part in the offertory in a visible and tangible manner, even if one gives electronically. Worship without sacrifice is ill-conceived. The “collection” is more than a practical gathering of money; it is a summons to link our own sacrifices of time, talent, and treasure with the Lord’s perfect sacrifice in the Eucharist.

I am interested in your thoughts on this matter, both practical and liturgical. The fact is, paper-based monetary transactions are going away. How do we adjust the offertory of the Mass in response to that?

Here is one of the more interesting things to end up in a parish collection.

8 Replies to “Pondering the Collection Basket in an Age of Electronic Giving”

  1. Many thoughts on this topic.

    First, I believe offering electronic giving is done to benefit the parish more than the parishioner. With electronic giving the parish has a constant and predictable stream of income. No more “missed months” when parishioners are on vacation or forget. It also forces parishioners to budget instead of willy-nilly writing a check for what is available at that time. Since donating electronically my monthly/annual giving is more substantial.

    I don’t mind not having anything to place in the basket. At first I felt embarrassed because “what would other people think if they never see me placing money in the basket.” Since then it has been a lesson in humility and driving out pride.

    The one problem I see with electronic giving is that I can’t be a physical example to my children who are 8, 5, and 1. At times when it has come up I have reminded them that we give to the church through our bank but I’m not sure they get it. However I have been able to strongly emphasis giving whenever we are practicing a corporal act of mercy when we drop off clothes at the Salvation Army.

    Speaking of corporal acts of mercy, our parish has a food barrel to collect canned goods and other non-perishables. Maybe in addition to monetary collections a parish can also incorporate a food collection at the same time (our former parish did this).

  2. Electronic giving might be an excuse for not giving at all. Who knows. But physically putting something into the collection basket makes the offering more present and personal.

  3. Our parish offer online giving and I love it, but always felt I was giving a bad example by not putting anything in the collection basket when it is passed around. I thought of dropping in a dollar or two, but decided that was a bad example too. I use my envelopes, which have a space to check “I’ve given on line.” Getting ready for mass should not be a hassle. I keep my envelopes next to my cell phone so I don’t forget them. I don’t like the idea of filling out cards in the pews. Come on. Put some effort into getting ready for mass!!

  4. This is slightly tangential to your topic. I agree with your suggestions, BTW. But, aside from method of contribution, the larger issue looms about good stewardship of personal financial resources. If a young person is $100,000+ in debt with student loans, earning an income under $40,000 (an all to prevalent condition these days) are they even properly disposed to give sacrificially? You can’t give what you don’t have. Many of them are delaying marriage and kids because they’re upside-down in their net worth. More than anything else, this perilous trend will have serious consequences for the Church’s mission. Perhaps,some honest “Dave Ramsey style” preaching is necessary from the clergy these days. Just a thought. T

  5. How about instead of the collection or offering cards, there is a food and clothing collection? I’m sure the hungry and the naked would want those more than money. Plus, this type of offering would help in a small parish – where everyone has everything in common – and would help in times of crisis – flooding, earthquake, persecution, etc., when people need food and clothing the most.

  6. Of course, it takes only a few minutes to visit an ATM, and acquiring checks from one’s bank is not exactly flying to the moon and back. Folks could easily find ways to be able to contribute something by means of the collection basket should that be their desire.

    Regarding food and clothing collections, as recommended by Nick: well, I appreciate the thought, and parishes should probably be doing at least one of this things anyway. But a parish also needs money, and we parishioners perhaps need to take that more seriously than we sometimes do.

  7. Hi Mons. Another great article. In our parish about 7 yrs ago we gave printed cards, the same size and shape and colour as the normal giving envelopes. On it we wrote: ‘sacrificial giving via electronic funds transfer’, and ‘placing this card in the second collection witnesses to your commitment to the Parish and likewise encourages fellow parishioners’
    There is always the push-back element that says’ , ‘let your giving be in private,’ as Christ said, And don’t use the cards. However, we used to above comment to address that.
    Nevertheless, there is a real danger the collection could fall into desuetude (pls correct if incorrect use of term).

  8. Our envelopes have a checkbox for ‘I give electronically’. I use the special offering envelopes for giving cash or a check (depending on the amount). I could do it online, but forgot the website and log in info.

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