Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

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Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Liturgy Reflections
Gifts for the Church and for the poor

by Father Jan Larson

(From the Sept. 11, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Jan Larson We customarily call it “the collection.” It is the time during the celebration of the Eucharist when we sit down and search for our weekly envelope or other money offerings that we will put into the collection basket. It is a part of Mass that was once called the offertory, but is now more accurately called the preparation of the altar and the gifts. It is no longer called the offertory because nothing is offered at this time. The priest may refer to having “this bread to offer,” but the offering of the bread happens only later, when it and the wine have been consecrated. Thus any gestures with bread, wine or money at this time that suggest acts of offering would be inappropriate.

While the liturgy clearly does not provide any ritual for offering money or food for the poor, they are nonetheless symbols of the way we give of ourselves at Mass. At the liturgy we attempt to join ourselves with Christ in a self-offering to the Father, and the gifts of money and food are a concrete symbolic reminder and expression of that self-offering. That is precisely why the rite provides that these gifts be brought forward in procession by members of the assembly.  The bread and wine to be placed on the altar by the priest. To avoid any suggestion that money or food items are to be “offered” in any ritual way, the newest Vatican instructions for the proper celebration of the liturgy instruct that money and food for the Church and for the poor are not to be placed near the altar.

The clear meaning of the Sunday money offering is that it is destined for the poor and for the Church. Thus a certain amount of these money offerings should be earmarked for the poor and for the relief of other human needs, and such destinations could even be mentioned in the general intercession prayers. Such commitment to the poor and the needy is an obvious response to the biblical call to justice and compassion.  It is simply what people shaped by the Eucharist do.

Likewise there should be no conflict between our monetary care for the poor and our obligation to provide for the needs of the Church’s life and worship. When churches are built or renovated, some critics will always insist that the money would be better used for the poor and needy. But the beauty of a church and its liturgies and the needs of the poor are not mutually exclusive. A Christian community ought to be striving to do both, and to do both well. This means charitable outreach, but is also means just wages for quality professional ministry where needed, as well as quality visual environment, furnishings, vessels and vesture for our liturgical rites. The late Robert Hovda, priest and liturgist, cut right to the point: “The search for transcendental beauty in celebration is not a luxury, but a necessity of faith. Nor does it necessarily mean spending more money. Our churches and their ecclesiastical suppliers trade in millions every year to depress our spirits with shoddy, poorly made, ill-designed, pretentious junk.”  As one of our fine liturgical documents puts it, our church buildings and their contents must be not only functional, but must be able “to bear the weight of mystery.”

(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)

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