QUAERITUR: The collection basket when you are poor.

collection basketFrom a reader:

I experienced something today at Mass I’ve never experienced before.
When the collection basket got passed around and I put nothing in, the lady sitting next to me “tsk’d” me.

I’m a student with no money, and I just finally got a job making minimum wage. I’m expected to save the money I make during summer for school, so I live very frugally during the summer. Granted, I don’t look poor because I’ve learned how to look presentable on a low budget, so she likely wouldn’t have known.

This left me wondering just what my financial responsibilities are to my parish when I’m literally nickel and diming it every month? Also, because I live at home right now, and still registered under my family’s address and name, does their monthly lump sum offering cover me as well, even though we attend different Mass times?

I suppose it was not the best moment loudly to tell the nosy old trout to mind her own business.

We have all at one point or another not been able to be as generous as we would prefer, when it comes to the obligation to see to the material support of the Church.

It seems to me that at a certain age you begin to contribute your own contributions.

But perhaps it might be helpful to remember that we can contribute on more ways than simply by giving money.  Sometimes we talk about supporting parishes through

  • Time
  • Talent
  • and Treasure

If you are not able to give money at the moment, perhaps there are other ways to help around the place, ways to get involved.

In the meantime, if you had more disposable cash, you could print some cards saying something like:

“Congratulations, you just committed the sin of rash judgment.  Furthermore, in your desire to feel morally superior, like the Pharisee praying in the temple,  you may also have also scandalized your neighbor.  Since you are probably closer to the end of your life than its beginning, do confess these things as soon as possible.  And if you can’t pay attention to MASS during Mass, at least mind your own business instead of everyone elses.  Have a nice day!”

And put a little smiley face on the card, and maybe some daisies.


I hope people understand that I was being somewhat satirical to make a point.  I am not advocating actually giving people cards like that, which is fraught with its own problems in the realm of fraternal correction.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Ben Yanke says:

    Re: ““Congratulations, you just committed the sin of rash judgment…”

    Fr. Z, you are a riot! I especially like the smiley and daisy. :)

  2. Minima says:

    A lovely large family that I knew added a fourth ‘T’ to the time, talent, and treasure list of contributions: tots. Tots are treasure with interest.

  3. Paul says:

    Who’s to say the person doesn’t just write one check a month, quarter, year, or whatever? That was very common at the Anglican church I attended prior to conversion.

  4. Josephus Muris Saliensis says:

    Minima, that’s lovely, in its own way, but as you do not know this young man, perhaps that is also a “Rash Judgement”. You cannot presume to know his vocation. Maybe he is not called to Tots. Like Fr Z.

  5. Chrissy says:

    “Congratulations, you have . . . .”
    This card ranks right up there with the “pants pass” as one of the funniest ideas ever. Thanks!

  6. Jayna says:

    Josephus Muris Saliensis: I don’t think Minima was suggesting having children as an option, merely sharing a story. I also don’t think we can presume the gender of the reader who asked the question (unless I totally missed something in the post).

    This question may as well have come from me. I’ve never been scolded for not putting anything in the collection basket, though (the nerve of that woman!). I give what I can when I have money, but I try to make up for by volunteering. Perhaps more than any sane person might, actually.

  7. michelelyl says:

    This is an irritating problem at a lot of parishes.
    I finally wrote an article for the bulletin at my parish after I had been’ tsk’d ‘and received raised eyebrows from ushers who knew I worked at the parish. What they didn’t know is that my husband and I auto pay a generous check each month- not that it’s anyone’s business but God and my conscience. Perhaps a gentle request to the pastor to discuss this in an appropriate homily? I know many people who are embarrassed by ‘holier than thou’ folks at the collection who are the ones most generous with their time and prayer.

  8. Josephus Muris Saliensis says:

    Jayna, a just correction indeed, though there are such things as Sisters and Nuns!

    I am as you, and much may be given “in kind” without the interference of the tax-man.

    This whole subject begs a broader question. Often visiting other churches one gives to the collection plate and the (well-meaning) collector say “Thank you.” It makes me want to shout “I’m not giving it to you!” Passing the bag around is a mechanical exercise, you are not doing it asa representative of the Parish, even if you are on the parish council. It is gross presumption to thank people, especially if it is done loudly for big notes (USA: bills), and grudgingly for coins, as is so often heard.

    Think of the widow with her talent. Ours is not to judge.

  9. Jack Hughes says:

    This can be a problem for me when I go to both the OF and EF Mass on a Sunday and cannot afford to give at both Masses; I hate to say that usually I put my £X in at the EF Mass because I’m afraid that my fellow Traditionalists will look down on me if I don’t put anything in (most of the folks at this Mass ARE the generation that grew up with the EF and are VERY generous when compared with the OF congregation).

  10. frdgss says:

    the lady sitting next to me “tsk’d” me

    Why are we all jumping to conclusions … maybe it was just her ill-fitting dentures slipping… [ROFL! Touché!]

  11. Banjo pickin girl says:

    At my parish lots of folks don’t use their envelopes every week. There are probably a lot like me who give in one big slug in January for the year (it’s like ripping off a band-aid, OW, and it’s over). Now some parishes have auto deduct from checking accounts and autopay with credit cards too.

  12. Joan M says:

    With more and more parishes turning to Stewardship, with it’s emphasis on Time, Talent and Treasure, this can become a problem.

    When I got involved in helping to implement Stewardship in parishes, my part was to talk about Accounting for Stewardship. Besides talking about how to account for the money, I emphasized the need for confidentiality on the part of those who might become aware of what individuals / families were contributing (those counting the collection as well as those keeping records). I also made it very clear that those doing the collection should be very careful to realize that there would be people who would only be putting an envelope in the basket once per month and not to do the slightest thing to draw attention (theirs or anyone else’s) .

    There was one person taking up collection in my own parish at that time who made a point of shaking the basket under the nose of anyone who did not put anything in….. O believe Father spoke with him, but, unfortunately, we only came to know some time later that he was beginning the long goodbye of Alzheimers and was unable to remember any instructions for any length of time. Those of us who suffered from the shaking basket had to offer it up!

    It is no one’s business what anyone else puts in the collection basket.

  13. AnAmericanMother says:

    Need not pay to get them printed . . . you can buy card stock at the office supply store in very small lots, say 10 sheets. Your word processing program should be able to handle ‘business cards’ which would be about the right size.
    If anybody had the nerve to do that to me I would stay up all night hand printing Fr. Z’s redoubtable rejoinder on 3×5 index cards, just to show ’em!!!

  14. APX says:

    I wish they’d just get rid of the collection baskets altogether and switch over to automatic withdrawal where you can make your own arrangements privately. I especially dislike the baskets with handles because I feel even more psychologically pressured into giving money I don’t have because there’s a guy staring at me. Being Canadian it’s even worse because our money is all color-coded, so everyone can either see how little or how much a person gives by a slight glance. Being a student as well, I don’t really have the option of getting envelopes because I move from parish to parish throughout the year as I move.

    I’ve contemplated donating my musical talents, but I can’t bring myself to support the electric guitars and bongos accompanying our pianist/organist, and I don’t see myself being able to bring about a change.

  15. Fr-Bill says:

    In the 1970s my wife and I decided on the tithe (a tithe of our net). At the time I was a grad student and she was working as a lab assistant at a hospital. We had little, and our tithe was 10% of that little. No worries about whether or not we were giving enough. As our life expanded and my income increased, we calculated the percentage each time the net increased or decreased. No worries about the amount we gave. A tithe of our net goes to charity, and support of the local parish is a large part of that amount. I was once excommunicated from the Episcopal Church by the diocesan bishop, because we changed to a mission parish outside of his jurisdiction. I could only assume it was because we were the largest donors in the parish we left.
    Now that we are moving toward Rome and an Ordinariate, we get “emergency appeal” letters from various Roman Cathoic charities. The tithe continues to be planned and spread toward those LOCAL charities to which we beleive need the money. We use some Pauline thought (God forbid) in our planning too. And we do not ever ever ever wonder if we are giving enough.

  16. APX says:

    If anybody had the nerve to do that to me I would stay up all night hand printing Fr. Z’s redoubtable rejoinder on 3×5 index cards, just to show ‘em!!!

    No one needs to spend money to get a professional printing company to make them, nor stay up all night hand printing them.


    [I hope people understand that I was being somewhat satirical to make a point. I am not advocating actually giving people cards like that, which is fraught with its own problems in the realm of fraternal correction.]

  17. BLB Oregon says:

    Yes, sometimes it is necessary to return the “work of mercy” and admonish a fellow sinner in kind. In that case, a smiley face with daisies makes a very nice touch! (The thought of that is delicious, I have to admit it!)

    Still, maybe this woman has lost a few buttons, like the former usher at Joan M’s parish. At any rate, if someone tries to admonish you as a sinner, you have the option to just examine your own conscience and, if they are way out of line, commend their rash judgment to the mercy ledger. Since “the measure you measure with will be measured out to you,” it never hurts to take those opportunities to enlarge one’s measure. We’ll all need all we can get, after all.

  18. Gail F says:

    Please tell this young man or woman not to worry about what one busybody did one time. Life will bring many people more difficult to deal with! It sounds to me as if the old lady hit a nerve because this young person is wondering how much or if he/she should be giving. That’s a difficult question that requires a lot of information about the person’s actual financial status (some people consider themselves “living on a shoestring” when other people live on much less).

  19. Nora says:

    I am surprised at how often the “tsk” response happens. We tithe so I have no discomfort with what I give. However, as sacristan, I am not infrequently at masses in addition to those I normally attend and at which I put in my weekly envelope, to pattern the kids to also give regularly.

    If a person I do not know is nearby when I hand the collection basket on with out adding to it, about 1 time in 10, there will be some negative reaction.

    As an aside, I have found that tithing, whether all in cash or through some combination of time, talent, and treasure brings great blessings. God is not a magic money machine, nor is tithing a “never fail novena”, but the transformation in oneself from setting aside 10% of the first fruits opens one to graces and opportunities that one doesn’t get otherwise, in my experience.

  20. ndmom says:

    Eventually, when most parishioners realize that online banking makes it very easy to automate one’s contributions, collection baskets will be relegated to the dustbin. That day cannot come soon enough. We make automatic contributions at our local parish, which we cannot bring ourselves to attend because of the lack of reverence there. We attend Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame, where the collection goes toward assisting Campus Ministry. Because that entity gets more than enough University support, we decline to put anything in the basket, as do many of those sitting around us. In this case, passing the basket is rather a pointless exercise, but evidently the Powers That Be felt that some Catholics (especially campus visitors) are simply conditioned to reach for their wallet when the offertory hymn begins, so why not take advantage of it?

  21. oldCatholigirl says:

    Gail F: I agree that no one should dwell on any sort of momentary criticism that they perceive during Mass. Of course, I don’t think that basket-passers, neighbors, or anyone else should be noticing what anyone else is giving , either. Let’s just concentrate on the Offertory. There’s plenty of offering up to do at that time, many people to be remembered, many prayers to pray, or hymns to sing (depending on the particular Mass).
    This is only tangentially related to the topic, but I think that that “custody of the eyes/mind” often needs to be practiced elsewhere in the Mass,too. Ideally, we should have strategies to avoid being stopped from praying by noticing who goes to Communion, what people are wearing, or what the children are doing in the next pew.
    Another thing: eliminating collection baskets in favor of automatic pay plans sounds wrong to me. The plans are great for those who are that wealthy/organized. But what about those with erratic incomes, sudden windfalls, guests in the parish…? And, frankly, I wouldn’t give to a parish that I couldn’t stand to attend, for whatever reason.

  22. Emilio III says:

    When I was a registered member of the parish I put a check in the basket once a month. When I left to join the FSSP personal parish, I put in a check every two weeks (when I get paid). But must say that the only person who has ever made a comment when I did not “make a contribution” is my mother. :-)

  23. mike_e says:

    When I first moved to New York City as a student, I promptly registered at the local parish where I attended Mass. Shortly thereafter I got a phone call asking where they should send my weekly collection envelopes. I told the caller that I’m only a student and while I always give what few dollars I can, I don’t make any money with which to give a regular donation so she needn’t waste the envelopes or the postage. The lady on the other end of the line responded in a huffy and irritated tone, “Then why did you even register at our parish??” I responded, “Well, I’m a Catholic, I live a block away from your church, and I go to Mass there every Sunday, so I thought I could be part of your parish. But if not, what church am I allowed to go to?” She just hung up on me after that. That was 10 years ago and it’s bothered me ever since.

  24. Patti Day says:

    When I was a child the amount given by each family was published in the monthly bulletin. We used to go through to pick out the richies and cheap-o people. God forgive me.

  25. off2 says:

    Were I the writer I’d have been sorely tempted to turn to the busy body with a gravely concerned expression and ask, “Are you all right? You made a strange noise.”

  26. Jamesy says:

    Thank God for the ‘tsk’. A wonderful moment of grace.

  27. cwillia1 says:

    I have a check sent every month automatically. I play the year-end game with the taxman. I never put anything in the basket. As a cantor in the Byzantine Rite I am either cantoring, singing in the choir or standing with the other cantors. As there is no pause in the Divine Liturgy, I can’t allow myself to be bothered with money. Fortunately, the ushers are very fast and discreet with the basket on the pole.

    Special collections are handled with a basket on the tetrapod and there is mirovanije, which occurs at the end of important feasts. We are individually blessed with oil by the priest and a contribution is customary.

    When I visit other churches, I contribute if the parish seems to need money. Otherwise, I am a guest. I certainly do not expect guests to contribute at my own parish.

  28. ray from mn says:

    I am not always able to give as much as I want, but often I have contributed through automatic deductions from my bank account.

    But I suggest to all that “keeping custody of the eyes” and not noting what the person sitting next to you gave, especially if it was only one dollar, as I used to do, would be an excellent practice in the future.

  29. James Joseph says:

    How come if I go to daily Mass (Ordinary Form) there is a collection, and if I go to daily Mass (Extraordinary Form) there is no collection.

    I asked my father, who grew up in the 1930’s and 1940’s. He said that there was no collection until after the Liturgical fiasco. Others who grew up in Boston have corroborated. They said that there were safeboxes with slots where you could drop some coins or bills in but that was all.

    Is the collection part of the “rubrics”?

  30. RichardT says:

    I can get disapproving looks (although never as bad as an audible ‘tsk’) twice in a Mass – I give my donations by a standing monthly bank transfer (so don’t drop anything into the collection), and often I don’t receive communion (and don’t go up for a blessing).

    Some people seem to wonder why I turn up at all.

  31. Toadehall says:

    Easiest and kindest form of fraternal correction: Smile and ask graciously, “I’m sorry, what did you say?” And if/when you get a reply (it will be red-faced if it comes), simply smile again, and say, ‘Thank you. That is what I thought you said.” and go back about your business. Works every time! And does not require you to carry cards….

  32. RichardT says:

    James Joseph (8:49am) asked whether collections are a post Vatican 2 practice.

    There’s a Saki short story (so written somewhere between 1900 and 1914) where the plot turns on a collection in a Catholic church in Paris (from memory someone takes money out of the collection basket rather than putting it in). From the way it was written, a collection was perfectly normal. I’ll see if I can find it for you.

  33. RichardT says:

    Aha, here we are, The Soul of Laploshka. Not a morally uplifting story, but an amusing one.

    But the collection is for the poor of the parish, not the parish organisation.

  34. FrFenton says:

    Having been in the situation of a college student with little or no income, I identify well. Our Bishop recommends, in place of time talent and treasure that we focus on the classic prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Notice that almsgiving is third?
    College students may not yet be able to give alms, but they can pray and fast for the needs of their parish, diocese and the universal Church. I wish someone had told me that when I was in college!
    On the Last Day we shall all learn what was accomplished by their prayers and fasting!
    On the Last Day, we may

  35. ndmom says:

    And our local parish, which enthusiastically encourages automated donations, also thoughtfully provides special envelopes to participants in those programs, enabling them to save face when the collection basket comes through. I guess it also makes the big basket look nice and full when it comes up to the altar. This is one of the many reasons that we attend Mass at that parish only if there is absolutely no other alternative.

  36. Will D. says:

    I wish they’d just get rid of the collection baskets altogether and switch over to automatic withdrawal where you can make your own arrangements privately.

    Oh, heavens, NO. Nobody, not the Pope Himself, is getting my bank account info to do automatic withdrawals. When my father, who had all kinds of automatic payments set up, died suddenly, it became a nightmare trying to stop these withdrawals and cancel accounts.

    Being Canadian it’s even worse because our money is all color-coded, so everyone can either see how little or how much a person gives by a slight glance. Being a student as well, I don’t really have the option of getting envelopes because I move from parish to parish throughout the year as I move.

    Ignore the busybodies and remember Mk 12:41-44 and Lk 21:1-4. Give what you can, however you can. It’s between you, your conscience, and the Lord. As for envelopes, in my experience many parishes have blank ones in the pews, and you can always just use a standard mail envelope if you choose.

  37. todrgn says:

    “Charity that springs from the heart, grows with joy. Charity that is planted by guilt, struggles to find its roots.”

  38. John Nolan says:

    My memories of collections pre-Vat 2 were of two being the norm rather than the exception and priests castigating from the pulpit those who put coppers rather than silver on the plate. ‘Planned giving’ and envelopes were introduced in the 1960s and the parish could then claim back the income tax from donations (in the UK tax is deducted at source but charitable donations are exempt).

  39. everett says:

    About a year after my wife and I got married, we made the commitment to do tithe 10% of our net. My wife, doing most of the accounting, keeps a spreadsheet of what we owe and what we pay out. some months we can’t pay the full amount, so it goes into the spreadsheet so we can keep track of what we owe. Despite making a very average salary in an expensive part of the country, God has blessed us abundantly, including the ability to purchase a house, which we never dreamed would be possible. Originally listed at 215, we ended up getting it for 190 and paying less than we were paying rent. In any event, it is the spirit giving in tithe (whether it is time or money) that is more important than the specific amount given.

  40. susanleeann says:

    everyone who knows me in our parish, knows i am full-time employed making a reasonable salary. after years of putting envelops in the basket, i discovered the wonders of electromic banking and now have the sum sent to the rectory each month as an e-check. i arrange for echecks for special scheduled collections. when there is an emergency collection as was recently for the nearby flood and tornado victims, i put cash in the basket. since very few know i deal with this subject by way of the internet, i sometimes wonder if others are judging me on appearances. but then i think i is simply none of their business. God and my pastor know, probably the finance committee as well. it is unnecessary that anyone else know. i am sure others follow this practice as well. as you have already wisely pronounced—myob!

  41. ndmom says:

    Will D,
    If you sign up for online banking, you can arrange for checks to be sent to your parish (or to any other entity or person you like) without having to participate in an automatic withdrawal program requiring disclosure of your bank information. Many people, including the very nice lady who registered us at the parish, do not seem to know about this option, but it’s a wonderful way to tithe, and to keep track of your contributions for tax purposes. And, if your financial circumstances change, it’s very easy to make changes to your contribution amounts or frequency. You don’t have to call anyone or fill out forms.

  42. irishgirl says:

    I’m ‘poor’ in the cash department, so for several months I haven’t been able to give anything in the collection basket where I go to Mass on Sundays (TLM chapel). I get no ‘tsks’ from anyone for not being able to contribute. I just keep my eyes front and center, and my mind focused on what’s happening on the altar.
    That lady had no business doing what she did to that poor student.
    I know that you were being sarcastic, Father Z-but your ‘card suggestion’ was a winner!

  43. lucy says:

    This brings up another question for me. We don’t want to give most of our tithing money to our local parish. They barely tolerate our traditional Mass as it is. I prefer to give to the places where I know folks are being catechised, such as Catholic Radio. We also give to orphaned children in other countries, etc. My question is how much of our tithing would need to go directly to the parish to fulfill our duty to keep the parish running. I currently give a small amount as compared to the other places I give to support God’s people.

  44. MichaelJ says:

    I agree with the sentiment that we should “keep custody of the eyes” , but I wonder if we can accept that it works both ways.

    While it is wrong to notice what others give or do not give, isn’t it equally wrong (or at least problematic) to notice when other’s notice? To me, this is especially true considering that noises, gestures and facial expressions can be so easily mis-interpreted.

  45. Brad says:

    May I suggest that per Mass the poor student give one dollar bill, the modern American equivalent to the widow’s mite? She will be in very ubiquitous company judging by all the George Washingtons (solo) I see every week. Surely $1 is affordable to anyone. Clip a few coupons from a newspaper and via the savings, there you go. The coupons will take less time than writing to a blog.

  46. JAZ says:

    At a parish I belonged to years ago, they had a wooden box with a slot at the entrance of the church for people to put their weekly envelopes in, and it was clearly labeled as such, but not everyone chose to use it. At the collection, no one could “tsk” you for not putting anything in the basket because of the real possibility that you might have put your envelope in the box on your way into church, and no one could “tsk” you for not putting an envelope in the box on your way in because of the real possibility that you might put something in the basket at the collection. I’ve often thought that more parishes should try this.

  47. GoZagsGo says:

    “and maybe some daisies…” Bwahahahahaaahah

Comments are closed.