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In the early years of Christianity, the faithful brought bread and wine with them to church to be used in the celebration of the Eucharist. These gifts were collected by the deacons during the liturgy and what was not used at the Mass was given to the poor and needy. Later, people started bringing other gifts of food or money which were offered for the work of the Church.
The 2000 General Instruction of the Roman Missal states that the Preparation of the Gifts is the time when ‘money or other gifts for the poor or for the church, brought by the faithful or collected at the church, should be received’ (#73). In most parishes a collection of money is taken up at this part of the Mass and brought forward with the gifts of bread and wine.
Sometimes the offering seems to be gathered in an apologetic, perfunctory manner, rather than with the dignity appropriate for an action which is an integral part of the liturgy. The assembly needs to be reminded occasionally that their sacrificial offering links them to the sacrifice of Christ and that the money will be used to assist the poor as well as for the mission of the Church.
The General Instruction says that the collection is ‘to be put in a suitable place but away from the Eucharistic table’. This does not mean that it should be swiftly spirited out of sight as if it were something shameful. I like the Anglican practice of the celebrant saying a prayer of thanksgiving over the monetary gifts when they are brought forward.
Visitors to a Catholic Church are often surprised (and sometimes embarrassed!) when the collection plate comes around a second time at Mass. The custom of having two collections on Sundays, considered normal by many Catholics, is unknown in other churches. It came into being as a way of separating donations for the support of the clergy from contributions to the cost of the parish services and operations.
It is a common practice to have the second collection after communion. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal suggests that the period after communion be spent in silent prayer (# 88). While there may be practical reasons for doing so, having a collection at this point of the celebration is distracting.
As the majority of contributors to the second collection make use of planned giving envelopes, one solution to the problem is to have just one collection. Alternatively, two collections could be taken up simultaneously during the Preparation of the Gifts with the second ‘plate’ following a few rows behind the first.
Some parishes have solved both the question of when to schedule the second collection and the problem of keeping large amounts of cash secure over a weekend by arranging for parishioners to contribute to parish running costs via the direct debit system.
Fifty years ago, liturgist Josef Jungmann wrote: “If we see the collection as an integral part of corporate worship and anchor it firmly in the total response we make to the Gospel news, then it takes on a newer, richer meaning; and the dedication of our money becomes the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace of a thankful heart.”
Is the monetary gift we offer at Mass a true reflection of our thankfulness to God? Does the manner in which it collected and brought forward indicate that it is an integral part of the liturgy?