New 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.