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Where to Place the Collection Money

Date: January 23, 2022
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Please offer an interpretation and explanation of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 73, where the offering of money (i.e., the collection) is to be placed "in a suitable place away from the Eucharistic table." I recently discussed this with a priest, and his interpretation is that it shouldn't be placed on top of the altar. But I think if we understand the reason for the rule, then we will understand how far away from the altar. I am thinking "away" in this case would be at least 5 feet, that it shouldn't seem as though we are "purchasing" the Eucharist. -- J.S., California

A: In full, the norm of GIRM, No. 73, says the following:

“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 of all, the altar or Lord’s table, which is the center of the whole Liturgy of the Eucharist, is made ready when on it are placed the corporal, purificator, Missal, and chalice (unless this last is prepared at the credence table).

“The offerings are then brought forward. It is a praiseworthy practice 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 to be carried to the altar. 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.

“Even money or other gifts for the poor or for the Church, brought by the faithful or collected in the church, are acceptable; given their purpose, they are to be put in a suitable place away from the Eucharistic table.”

First of all, it is important not to totally separate the two parts of this number even though the gifts for the altar and the gifts for the Church and the poor are placed in distinct locations. They both represent the people’s offerings and are acceptable to God.

This spiritual meaning of the gifts is also emphasized by Pope Benedict XVI in the post-synodal exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis:

“47. The Synod Fathers also drew attention to the presentation of the gifts. This is not to be viewed simply as a kind of ‘interval’ between the liturgy of the word and the liturgy of the Eucharist. To do so would tend to weaken, at the least, the sense of a single rite made up of two interrelated parts. This humble and simple gesture is actually very significant: in the bread and wine that we bring to the altar, all creation is taken up by Christ the Redeemer to be transformed and presented to the Father. In this way, we also bring to the altar all the pain and suffering of the world, in the certainty that everything has value in God's eyes. The authentic meaning of this gesture can be clearly expressed without the need for undue emphasis or complexity. It enables us to appreciate how God invites man to participate in bringing to fulfillment his handiwork, and in so doing, gives human labor its authentic meaning, since, through the celebration of the Eucharist, it is united to the redemptive sacrifice of Christ.”

It is also clarified in the 2004 instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum:

“[70.] The offerings that Christ’s faithful are accustomed to present for the Liturgy of the Eucharist in Holy Mass are not necessarily limited to bread and wine for the eucharistic celebration, but may also include gifts given by the faithful in the form of money or other things for the sake of charity toward the poor. Moreover, external gifts must always be a visible expression of that true gift that God expects from us: a contrite heart, the love of God and neighbor by which we are conformed to the sacrifice of Christ, who offered himself for us. For in the Eucharist, there shines forth most brilliantly that mystery of charity that Jesus brought forth at the Last Supper by washing the feet of the disciples. In order to preserve the dignity of the Sacred Liturgy, in any event, the external offerings should be brought forward in an appropriate manner. Money, therefore, just as other contributions for the poor, should be placed in an appropriate place that should be away from the eucharistic table. Except for money and occasionally a minimal symbolic portion of other gifts, it is preferable that such offerings be made outside the celebration of Mass.”

With respect to our question here, I think we can exclude the interpretation given by the priest interpolated by our reader that it merely means that the money gifts should not be placed upon the altar table. This in virtue of the clear indications in GIRM, No. 306:

“For only what is required for the celebration of the Mass may be placed on the altar table: namely, from the beginning of the celebration until the proclamation of the Gospel, the Book of the Gospels; then from the Presentation of the Gifts until the purification of the vessels, the chalice with the paten, a ciborium, if necessary, and, finally, the corporal, the purificator, the pall, and the Missal. In addition, arranged discreetly, there should be whatever may be needed to amplify the Priest’s voice.”

Given the above, the norm of GIRM, No. 73, would be redundant if it meant the same thing as GIRM, No. 306. The text also speaks of “a suitable place” (quapropter loco apto), thus indicating a place distinct from the Eucharistic table, and I, therefore, believe that the norm precludes placing money and other possible gifts in kind at or near the base of the altar.

I do not think that the reason behind the norm is to avoid the idea that the Eucharist is purchased. Rather, it is to emphasize the central and essential importance of the Eucharistic celebration as the source and summit of all other charitable acts in the Church.

Placing money baskets or other gifts at the base of the altar could easily distract from this centrality of the celebration.

The norms, probably quite deliberately, refrain from making any specific rules regarding the “suitable place.” This is a concrete pastoral decision depending on a wide range of factors and the design of each church.

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