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It’s all in the giving

Q: Archbishop J, why collection?

Collection is only one part of the Offertory. It is representative of our offering to God who has been so generous in giving us the gift of His Son Jesus Christ.

In the gifts of bread and wine we give ourselves, but we also do so through collection—the offerings we make to be used by the Church and for the poor.

The General Instruction to the Roman Missal (GIRM) states:

The offerings are then brought forward. It is a praiseworthy practice for the bread and wine to be presented by the faithful…Even though the faithful no longer bring from their own possessions the bread and wine intended for the liturgy as was once the case, nevertheless the rite of carrying up the offerings still keeps its spiritual efficacy and significance (GIRM 73).

Four gifts

Let us think of the Eucharist as four gifts:

(1) God’s gift of creation

(2) The gift of ourselves to God, represented by our offering and our human work, represented by the bread and wine, made from the wheat and grape

(3) God takes the bread and wine, consecrates it and gives it back to us as the Body and Blood of His Son Jesus Christ

(4) We receive God’s gift from the altar and offer ourselves to God for mission. (For more on this look out for my booklet The Eucharist: Four Gifts.)

You can see from this sequence that in each movement there is a value added. The gift is received and then raised in value and potency. It begins with God’s gift of creation and ends with our gift of ourselves to God in and through mission.

In the second gift, we give not money but ourselves. The prayer over the gift says:

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.

This is a beautiful prayer that points to the whole mystery of the Eucharist. Through God’s goodness we receive “the bread we offer you”. Yet the prayer also recognises that the bread is the “fruit of the earth and work of human hands”. Our work added to God’s gift of wheat and grape are necessary for the Bread of Life.

In the prayer, there is the recognition that human work is lifted up to God every time we come to Mass. St Paul speaks of himself as a co-worker with Christ (1 Cor 3:9). This is at the very core of the Eucharist and the four gifts, given and received.

The GIRM recognises there was a time when we came to the Eucharist with the fruit of our labour—produce and animals. They represented our giving to God the first and best—the first fruit, first animal, first crop.

Today, at least in our western world, this act has been condensed into giving collection. We miss the biblical foundation of our giving, a thankful response to God for His amazing blessings.

It is not an Old Testament tithe but rather a New Testament offering given freely as a response to God’s gift to you- the gift of life, the gift of education, of family and many opportunities

Biblical giving

The Old Testament speaks of the “tithe”—ten per cent of all that was earned was first given to God (Lev 27:30–33). In Numbers 18:21–24, this tithe is for the support of the priest.

Deuteronomy 14:22–27 speaks of a second tithe for religious festivals. Just after this, Deuteronomy 14:28–29 speaks of what would seem to be a third offering collected every third year. Old Testament people were obliged to give well over 20 per cent of their earnings to support religious institutions.

The tithe was superseded in the New Testament. Christ offered everything for our salvation. This generosity becomes the model of Christian giving. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).

In the Acts of the Apostles, the new community began by giving everything they had, even selling their property (Acts 2:42–45). In the later development of the Pauline churches, Paul’s instruction was clear: give what you can and what you have agreed with God to give: “Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7).

Giving should be cheerful, but St Paul also challenged the Corinthians to sacrificial giving, giving till it hurts (2 Cor 8:1–5). We are also instructed to give expectantly in 2 Corinthians 9:6: “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully.” The giving here refers to alms given in support of the poor in other cities where members of Christ’s Body lived.

To many, this matter of giving has been very confusing. I lay out this teaching for you to see the source of our offering at the Offertory, so you can understand it from the proper perspective: it is not an Old Testament tithe, but rather a New Testament offering given freely as a response to God’s gift to you—the gift of life, the gift of education, of family and of many opportunities.

Through stewardship, we ask all our people to enter into conversation with God; to learn what they should give of time, talent and treasure for the upbuilding of His Kingdom. Each of us, when we come to the Eucharist, brings a real gift to God, not a token offering. It ought to be a real reflection of our gratitude to God for all He has done for us, in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Key Message: In the Offertory we have the privilege of giving our very selves to God.

Action Step: Reflect on your current giving, then pray and ask God to show you what generosity He wants from you.

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 8, 9