“Ask a Priest: Why Do We Still Need a Collection at Mass?”

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Q: Why do we have the collection of money at Mass? In the early Church people gave food to the priest. Nowadays it does not make sense as people can give money by direct debit or by an app on the phone. With direct debit you can give money, for instance, once a month. I guess people who give cash every Sunday really want this strange ritual. Why do we still have this tradition? And why do we have the homily/sermon? How is listening to a priest or deacon at Mass different from doing the same thing at home on YouTube? – H.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: There are practical reasons for the collection at the offertory.

The Church, since it is “in the world,” needs financial support to keep the lights and heating on, its schools and other institutions running, and its staffs paid. Not everyone has a debit card or wants to make automatic donations as you mention. Many people simply prefer to give cash donations.

In any case the collection and the offertory of the gifts of bread and wine represent a moment when we bring something of ourselves and give it to God to be transformed.

The homily is meant, among other things, to allow the priest or deacon to explain the readings to a particular audience in a particular time. Recorded homilies can be helpful to people, but there is something special about hearing the word preached in real time.

Your question, however, seems to touch on a deeper issue: Why go to Mass if we can watch it at home?

The answer deals with the sacramentality of the Church. Jesus wants to come to us in a tangible way, through gestures, spoken words, and sacred items. We are body and soul together, and experiencing things through our senses helps us to grasp the deep spiritual dynamic going on in a Mass.

Moreover, it’s important that we worship together as a community. The Church translates the Greek ecclesia (or ekklesia) which in turn translates the Hebrew qahal, or gathering. The idea here is that we aren’t called to worship God only in the privacy of our own home. We are all brothers and sisters, and God wants to gather us as a family. This is why our physical presence at Mass is important.

We could think of a mom and her child. A mom isn’t content to send text messages or videos of herself to her child. Rather, she wants to be physically present to her child, to speak to and hug the child, to interact with the little one in a tangible way. This helps to make their relationship warm and reassuring.

Moreover, the Mass is a privileged moment when the Holy Spirit works through the prayers, readings, and, yes, the homilies to impart his grace and guidance on souls. And, of course, at Mass there is the Eucharist, the source and summit of the Christian life. We can’t get that through YouTube.

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