QUAERITUR: putting collection under the altar during offertory

A reader queries:

Our diocesan liturgist claims that it is ok with Canon law to put the monetary offers under (literally in my parish, there’s an opening under the altar stone, between the supports of the table part) the altar.   She says that the GIRM (which I quoted on the subject) does not have the weight of canon law[FAIL.]

I am pretty sure she’s wrong, [She is wrong.] and you seem like the sort of priest who could point me to where she is wrong.  Is there anything written to the effect of GIRM is the law of the Mass, and Canon Law is the law of (whatever Canon Law deals with)?

I consulted a canonist just to be sure to get the right language for this fundamental response which any priest or "liturgist" – lay or ordained – ought to know in order to claim anything close to competence.

Canon 2 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church pretty much destroys the argument of the diocesan liturgist:

"For the most part, the Code does not determine the rites to be observed in the celebration of liturgical actions. Accordingly, liturgical laws which have been in effect hitherto retain their force, except those which may be contrary to the canons of the Code."

This acknowledges several important things – first of all, liturgical law is truly lawnot just "guidelines."

Secondly, the Code is not the place to look for liturgical law. The Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani (hereafter GIRM) was duly promulgated as law in accord with canons 7 and 8.
John Huels (a canonist who holds a lot of weight – mostly deservedly – among liturgists – though no weight at all concerning anything else and for pretty serious reasons) states in his book Liturgy and Law:

The major sources of universal liturgical legislation for the Latin Church are the norms contained in the liturgical books, the canons on the liturgy in Book IV of the Code, and other current legislative texts issued by the Holy See. The canons of the Code for the most part do not specify matters dealing directly with the celebration of the liturgy. Such laws are found principally in the liturgical books in two forms: the rubrics and the praenotanda…. Both rubrics and praenotanda are overwhelmingly ecclesiastical, not divine, laws and are subject to the general norms of the Code on ecclesiastical laws. They are equal in weight to the canons of the Code and to other universal ecclesiastical laws. (p. 84 ff)

Article 73 of the GIRM has the same canonical weight as a canon. 

Shall we have a look?

The Preparation of the Gifts

73. At the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist the gifts, which will become Christ’s Body and Blood, are brought to the altar.

First, the altar, the Lord’s table, which is the center of the whole Liturgy of the Eucharist,70 is prepared by placing on it the corporal, purificator, Missal, and chalice (unless the chalice is prepared at the credence table).

The offerings are then brought forward. It is praiseworthy for the bread and wine to be presented by the faithful. They are then accepted at an appropriate place by the priest or the deacon and carried to the altar. Even though the faithful no longer bring from their own possessions the bread and wine intended for the liturgy as in the past, nevertheless the rite of carrying up the offerings still retains its force and its spiritual significance.

It is well also that money or other gifts for the poor or for the Church, brought by the faithful or collected in the church, should be received. These are to be put in a suitable place but away from the eucharistic table.

NB: "These are to be put in a suitable place but away from the eucharistic table."

AWAY from the altar.

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  1. Taquoriaan says:

    What we usually do is put the collection money on the edge of the Communion Rails or on the Credence Table. It depends on the situation.

    The reason my priest gives for not allowing Collection money to be put on the altar is that the bread and wine are taken from the gifts of the people. That’s how it used to be. For our convience bread and wine are pre-purchased by the parish and put on the credence table before Mass starts. It’s only logical to add the gifts of the parish to the gifts of the credence table, since bread and wine is being apart from all the gifts to used in the Service of the Eucharist.

  2. Templar says:

    Actually left a Parish over this abuse, well more correctly it was the last straw in a long series of abuses. The Church was having a building fund collection and decided to include the kids. Each child was given a little church shaped box to save their change, and were instructed to bring it to the 930 Mass on a specified date. So far so good. Well, after the stirring Homily on the subject of the importance of being able to pay down the mortgage on the new Church in 3 years instead of the 15 year term of the note, Father decided to skip the Creed, and the Intercessions and proceeded to invite all the children up onto the sanctuary to deposit their boxes in a heap under the altar. During the consecration the pile of boxes shifted and a mini landslide of change boxes occurred. It was a complete farce of “inclusiveness” if ever there was one.

    I made my children place their boxes in the collection instead.

    As a final twist of irony, the change boxes were in the shape of a classic church of Gothic design, while the building which was constructed was your standard Protestant Auditorium of theater in the round design, with a stage/altar in the middle, etc etc etc.

  3. Central Valley says:

    Add this to the long list of abuses in the diocese of Fresno, Ca. The “pastoral center” in Fresno will give similar rubish responses. From what I have seen, when this abuse is allowed they often have children present the offering then they have the children stand around the altar and stand during the consecration. Oh, how we suffer in california.

  4. Dave N. says:

    Excellent post.

  5. TrueLiturgy says:

    I was about to ask where people would suggest putting the collection. Then I saw the idea of the Credence Table. Thank you. I sit on the Liturgy Committee for our Parish, however I am fairly disliked during these meetings because I state the rules. My approach is to tell everyone (including the pastor) what the rubrics are. It is their prerogative if they follow them or not. I was able to claim a small victory during Lent. For the first time since I started going to this parish in about 3 years, besides during times when the Liturgical color is white, the top cloth on the altar is white :-).

  6. scylla says:

    There is a strong feeling among liturgists that we are included in the gifts and we are changed into the Eucharist.

    So in classes of the liturgy that I attend they like to stress we are transformed, so it is only natural that our gifts, which represent us are put at the altar.

    Is there anything out there that corrects this thinking or is this just an over stressing of a basic truth taken to a level of abuse?

  7. Taquoriaan says:

    It really helps to have communion rails, It will become less natural to open the doors and pass the collection to the altar. Our credence table is at the side and the gifts taken from there and in a procession the altar servers will go the main altar to present them to the priest as we don’t have a deacon in our parish.

  8. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Can’t the trappings of the laity be left out of the Sanctuary? Where do people get the idea that the Sanctuary belongs to them and their stuff?

    The collection basket being left in the Sanctuary is another symptom of being taught for years that the laity can interrupt the action on the altar. Thus we have the lack of boundaries that include invading the Sanctuary with lay ministers, lay readers, worldly art and such things that have nothing to do with the real Sacrifice on the altar. The altar rail once visually taught about the separation of the world and the holy…now see where we are? The laity continues to be encouraged in arrogant behavior such as this.

    Until the Mass is once again taught and expressed properly, the whole idea that the Mass is a holy conversation between the priest and God the Father will continue to be misinterpreted.

    Similar to the world outside the Church, a law is only as good as its enforcement. Where is the hierarchy in teaching, reminding, and enforcement? The laity is sheep, we go where we are led. …ooh look! an opening in the fence!

  9. In our parish, the collection is consolidated into a single wastebasket-sized cylindrical basket, brought up in front of the altar, and then placed in a waist-high lockbox over in front of St. Joseph’s statue. The lockbox is made out of the same kind of white wood as the sanctuary furniture. It’s a little smaller size than an office secure shredder storage box but not as weighty. It conceals a wide slot in the top and a large canvas bag (like a mailbag) into which the collection basket can quickly be dumped. At the end of each Mass, the guys in charge of the collection wheel the lockbox away, unlock the door on the side and take the money out, and then lock the money up someplace secure. I’m not sure if they keep changing out the canvas bag or what.

    I don’t know how this system got started, but I think it’s very reasonable, and the lockbox is discreet and useful. (Looks almost identical to the wooden casing of our baptismal font, actually. But that’s on the other side of church.)

  10. aandreassi says:

    A most minor point. Not to waste an really time on, unless of course one is a rubricist. In the spirit of Vatican II, these liturgical guidelines should be interpreted broadly, especially by the local pastor in consultation with the lay leaders of his parish

  11. What I mean by “brought up” is that somebody carries it up, with the other gifts at the Offertory, to the area in front of the altar. Then, while the bread and wine are being handed over to Father et al, the money is handed over to the ushers to take to the lockbox.

    Man, I’m glad I don’t have to write books about rubrics. I usually don’t even think about this stuff happening, much less worry about describing it, you know? It’s a smooth process and nothing goes wrong, so I have no reason to notice the money.

  12. Andy Milam says:

    Ya know, it seems prudent that if the monies would be brought forth, then they should immediately be taken into the sacristy via the side exit outside the sanctuary and placed in a safe until it can be tabulated.

    In today’s age, it seems imprudent to simply place said monies in a place where they are left exposed, even if that be the sanctuary. Reasoning? Once the recessional from the altar takes place, those monies are vulnerable.

    A stretch? Perhaps, but scrupulosity with regard to monies is never a bad thing….as my mentor always said, I don’t want to touch the money, that way I can’t be accused of impropriety.

  13. I’ve been seeing this abuse ever since I moved to my present diocese. Another one is the shakedown of the children: the children all rush forward to put their dollars into the collection basket. The trouble with things like this is that people become emotionally attached to them because they’re cute, and therefore that much harder to get rid of (if anyone tried).

  14. Tom in NY says:

    Readers can discuss the liturgical significance of placing money or other goods offered to God near the altar. Readers can also consider the security aspect – if the money or goods are in view of the congregation, there is more security for them until they are moved to a safe in the sacristy or office. Having a collection box with canvas bags is a time-honored technique.
    Salutationes omnibus.

  15. MAJ Tony says:

    [blockquote]She says that the GIRM (which I quoted on the subject) does not have the weight of canon law.[/blockquote]

    I’m guessing it’s law the same way Army Regulation is law for the Army. If I disobey an AR, there are consequences. Depending on the particulars, it could be costly (financially or career-ending). I’m not even talking about a UCMJ (military justice) violation.

  16. dcs says:

    We take our collection directly to the sacristy. I’ve seen the same thing done at other TLMs. Really, why bring it to the sanctuary at all, to put it near the altar or even on the credence table? What is the point in that?

  17. deborah-anne says:

    The abuses in this regard are many. This is a very noteworthy post. Thank you.

  18. Hamburglar says:

    Thank you for the post, Father. My home parish does this as well, it is one of the more confusing ones, I just see no point making the money so prominent.

    Does anyone know how to get in contact with a Canon Lawyer when one has questions about these kind of things? I’m not looking to “report” any parishes, but just have questions about what is required by Canon Law.

  19. I am always glad to learn something, especially something I should know and don’t. As best I can remember, at every Mass I have attended as a lay person, and every Mass I have offered with a colection, it has always been placed before the altar. In seminary I was never taught this, and my foolish mistake was to not reviewing the rubrics. Starting this weekend we will be placing the collection on the credence table.

  20. Taquoriaan says:


    That’s a spiritual gesture. It’s not about giving money into the collection bag. At that point at Mass we’re preparing to give everything we have, ourselves to Christ. In the early days most of the stuff brought in would be food to distribute for the poor. But spiritually we’re giving over ourselves and everything we got. The collection represents that.

    Following that line of reasoning it’s not too weird to put the offerings at the credence table or at some other place near the sanctuary. NB: the credence table from which bread and wine are brought to the altar in our cathedral isn’t in the sanctuary, it’s at the side. The collection money is never brought INTO the Sanctuary, it’s put just outside the communion rails which close off the sanctuary from the rest of the cathedral.

    I think it’s of vital importance to understand WHY we do stuff and what’s the spirituality behind the rules. Just hammering people with “It’s the rules, obey” doesn’t really help since other people won’t understand what the deeper meaning is. Rules are important, the deeper ideas behind those rules are more important.

  21. Taquoriaan says:

    Just to make sure I’m not misinterpreted: the fact that we’re giving ourselves doesn’t mean our offerings should be placed on the altar. If you think about it, then you’ll see for yourself why doing that would be weird:

    Christ is being sacrificed as the Lamb of God (sort of) on the altar, at least the sacrifice is made present (I don’t know if that’s good English). So the only things that should be on the altar are the things that are needed for THAT sacrifice.

    Which means that everything else (like our money and possibly other gifts) should be AWAY from the altar, since we’re not the ones being sacrificed, only Christ is.

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