Help support New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download or CD-ROM. Includes the Catholic Encyclopedia, Church Fathers, Summa, Bible and more all for only $19.99...
The offerings of the faithful in their special relation to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass will claim fuller and more general treatment under OFFERTORY and MASS (Pt. B, §(1), (c); text p. 20). We will confine ourselves here to the particular development which took the form of a contribution in money, corresponding particularly to what is conveyed by the French word quête. Of collections for general church purposes we find mention already in the days of St. Paul, for we read in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2: "Now concerning the collections that are made for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, so do ye also. On the first day of the week let every one of you put apart with himself, laying up what it shall well please him; that when I come, the collections be not then to be made." This seems to imply that on every Sunday (the first day of the week) contributions were made, probably when the faithful assembled for "the breaking of bread" (Acts 20:7), and that then contributions were put by, if not required for some immediate and local need, e.g. the relief of the poor, in order that St. Paul might assign them for the use of other more destitute churches at a distance (cf. 2 Corinthians 8 and 9). How far such offerings were allocated to the support of the clergy and how far to the poor there is nothing to tell us, but it is plain that as a matter of principle the claims both of the clergy and of the poor were recognized from the very first. (For the clergy see 1 Corinthians 9:8-11; 2 Thessalonians 3:8; 1 Timothy 5:17-18; and for the poor see Acts 4:34-35, 6:1, 11:29-30; 1 Timothy 5:16, etc.) Again there can be no doubt that from an early date such alms were administered according to some organized system. The very institution of deacons and deaconesses proves this, and we can appeal to the existence in certain places, for example at Jerusalem, of a roll (breve ecclesiasticum, see the recently recovered "Life of St. Melania", § 35) bearing the names of those in receipt of relief. Gregory of Tours gives the name of matricularii (De Mirac. B. Martin., iii, 22) to those who were entered on this roll. Speaking generally, the allocation of all offerings was recognized as belonging to the bishop (i.e. in the period before the modern system of parishes and parish priests had evolved itself with any clearness), and the rule was formally enunciated in the West that all offerings were to be divided by the bishop into four parts: the first for the clergy, the second for the poor, the third for the fabric and up-keep of the churches, and the last part for the bishop himself, that he might the better exercise the hospitality which was expected of him. This arrangement seems to date back at least to the time of Pope Simplicius (475), and a hundred years later it is stated by Pope Gregory the Great in the following form when he was consulted by St. Augustine about the English Church which he had just founded: "It is the custom of the Apostolic See to deliver to ordained bishops precepts that of every oblation which is made there ought to be four portions, one, to wit, for the bishop and his household, on account of hospitality and entertainment, another for the clergy, a third for the poor, a fourth for the repairing of churches" (Bede, Hist. Eccles., I, xxvi).
At a latter date we find some modification of this rule for in the Capitularies of Louis the Pious a third of the offerings are assigned to the clergy and two-thirds to the poor in more prosperous districts, while a half is to be given to each in poorer ones. During all this earlier period offerings in money do not seem to have been connected with the Sacrifice of the Mass, but they were either put into an alms-box permanently set up in the church or they were given in collections made on certain specified occasions. With regard to the former Tertullian already speaks (Apol., xxxix, Migne, P.L., I, 470) of "some sort of chest" which stood in the church and to which the faithful contributed without compulsion. It seems to have been commonly called gazophylacium or corbona (Cyprian, "De op. et eleemos."; Jerome, Ep. xxvii, 14). The collections on the other hand probably took place on days of which notice was given beforehand. Apart from a mention in the "Apology" of Justin Martyr (I, lxvii), from which we should suppose that a collection was made every Sunday, our principal source of information is the series of six sermons "De Collectis", delivered by St. Leo the Great in different years of his pontificate (Migne, P.L., LIV, 158-168). All these, according to the brothers Bullerini, probably have reference to a collection annually made on 6 July, on which day in pagan times certain games were held in honour of Apollo, at which a collection took place. The Church seems to have continued the custom and converted it into an occastion of almsgiving for pious purposes upon the octave day of the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. It may be noted that both Tertullian (De Jejun., xiii, Migne, P.L., II, 972) and St. Leo seem to regard such contributions of money as a form of mortification, and consequently sanctification, closely connected with fasting. That similar collections were everywhere common in the Early Church and that considerable pressure was sometimes brought to bear to extort contributions we learn from a letter of St. Gregory the Great (Migne, P.L., LXXVII, 1060).
As already noted, these methods of gathering alms seem to have had nothing directly to do with the liturgy. The offerings which were invariably made by the faithful during the Holy Sacrifice were long confined to simple bread and wine, or at least to such things as wax, candles, oil, or incense which had a direct relation to the Divine service. According to the so-called Apostolic Canons (see APOSTOLIC CANONS) other forms of produce which might be offered for the support of the clergy were to be taken to the residence of the bishop, where he lived a sort of community life with his priests (See Funk, Didascalia et Constitutiones Apostolorum, I, 564). However, the bread and wine which were brought to the altar at the Offertory of the Mass were commonly presented in quantities far in excess of what was needed for the Holy Sacrifice, and they thus formed, and were intended to form, a substantial contribution towards the maintenance of those who served in the sanctuary. Various enactments were passed during the Carlovingian period with the object of urging the people to remain faithful to this practice, but it seems gradually to have died out, save in certain functions of solemnity, e.g. the Mass celebrated at the consecration of a bishop, when two loaves and two small casks of wine are presented to the celebrant at the Offertory. On the other hand, this oblation of bread and wine seems to have been replaced in many localities by a contribution in money. At what period the substitution began is not quite clear. Some have thought that a trace of this practice is to be recognized as early as St. Isidore of Seville (595) who speaks of the archdeacon "receiving the money collected from the communion" (Ep. ad Leudof., xii). A less ambiguous example may be found in a letter of St. Peter Damian (c. 1050) where there is mention of gold coins being offered by the wives of certain princes at his Mass (Migne, P.L., CXLIV, 360). In any case it is certain that from the twelfth to the fifteenth century a money offering, known in England as the "mass-penny", was commonly made at the Offertory all over the Western Church. Kings and personages of high rank often had a special coin which they presented at Mass each day and then redeemed it afterwards for a specified sum. Chaucer says of his Pardoner:–
Well could he read a lesson or a storie
But althebest he sang an offertorye;
For well he wyste, when that song was songe,
He moste preach and well affyle his tongue
To wynne silver, as he right wel cowde.
Therefore he sang full merrily and lowde.
The offering was voluntarily, and each one brought what he had to give to the altar-rail. Burchard at the beginning of the sixteenth century gives this direction: "If there be any who wish to offer, the celebrant comes to the epistle corner and there standing bareheaded with his left side turned towards the altar, he removes the maniple from his left arm and taking it in his right hand, he presents the end of it to kiss to those who offer, saying to each: 'May thy sacrifice be acceptable to God Almighty', or 'Mayst thou receive a hundredfold and possess eternal life'." This rubric was not retained in the first official and authoritative edition of the Roman Missal, printed in 1570. Possibly the struggle for precedence in going up to make the offering, of which we read in Chaucer, tended to bring this method of contributing into disfavour and led to the carrying round of an alms-dish or bag from bench to bench as is commonly done at present. Collections for special objects, e.g. the building of a church, the construction of a bridge, the relief of certain cases of distress, etc. have at all times been common in the Church, and during the Middle Ages the people were constantly stimulated to give more generously to particular funds for pious purposes, e.g. the Crusades, by the grant of special Indulgences. These grants of Indulgence were often entrusted to preachers of note ("Pardoners") who carried them from town to town, collecting money and using their eloquence to recommend the good work in question and to enhance the spiritual privileges attached to it. This led to many abuses. The Council of Trent frankly recognized them and abolished all grants of Indulgence which were conditional upon a pecuniary contribution towards a specified object. Other collections during the Middle Ages were associated with special objects of piety—for example, noteworthy shrines, statues, or relics. Some few specimens still remain of stone alms-boxes joined to a bracket upon which some statue formerly stood, or united to Easter sepulchres, shrines, etc. One collection, that for the Holy Places, was commonly associated with the creeping to the Cross on Good Fridays, as it still is today.
The strain put upon the charity of the lay-folk in the Middle Ages by the large number of mendicant orders was often severely felt. Some remedy was provided by confining the appeals of those who solicited alms to certain assigned districts. The mendicants so licensed were in England often known as "limitours". A like difficulty is not unfamiliar in our own day, and the principle has consequently been recognized that a bishop has a right to prohibit strangers from collecting alms in his diocese without authorization. Although it is not always easy to exercise adequate control over these appeals, a certain check may be put upon importunate ecclesiastics by withholding permission to say Mass in the diocese. This method of exercising pressure, to be followed by complaint to the Congregation of Propaganda in case such prohibitions are neglected, is indicated in a strongly worded decree drawn up by the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (n. 295). Similar regulations requiring that the bishop's authorization should be obtained before strangers can be allowed to collect money for charitable purposes in the diocese also prevail in England. Restrictions are further commonly imposed, either by synodal decrees or by the command of the bishop, upon certain methods of collecting money which may be judged according to local circumstances to be likely to give scandal or to be attended with danger to souls. The sometimes intricate and delicate questions arising from the collection of money by religious when entrusted with quasi-parochial functions have been legislated for in the Apostolic Constitution "Romanos Pontifices" of 8 May, 1881.
There is a short article s.v. Collecten in the Kirchenlexikon, but there seems to be no one source of information which brings together in moderate compass the facts discussed above. The reader may, however, be referred for various points to different treatises, of which the following are the most noteworthy: FOURNERET in Dict. de théol. cath. (1905), s.v. Biens ecclesiastiques; THALHOFER, Liturgik (Freiburg, 1893), Vol. II, Pt. I; GIHR, The Mass (tr. Freiburg, 1902), 496-514; HADDAN, SCUDAMORE, and ARMFIELD in Dict. Christ. Antiq., s. vv. Alms; Oblations; Poor; SCUDAMORE, Notitia Eucharistica (London, 1876), 346 sq.; BONDROIT, De Capacitate Possidendi Ecclesiæ (Louvain, 1900); BIEDERLACK, De Bonis Ecclesiæ Temporalibus (Innsbruck, 1892); WERNZ, Jus Decretalium (Rome, 1908), III, 134 sq.; LAURENTIUS, Institutiones Juris Ecclesiastici (Freiburg, 1908), 631-657.
APA citation. (1908). Collections. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04104b.htm
MLA citation. "Collections." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04104b.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron. With thanks to Fr. John Hilkert, Akron, Ohio.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.
Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is webmaster at newadvent.org. Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.