Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

23 May 2013

"Unpacking the Precepts": Church Contribution

The fifth precept ("You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church") means that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability. (CCC 2043)
The Catechism refers the reader to Canon 222§1, which provides the reasons for material support: "so that the Church has what is necessary for divine worship, for the works of the apostolate and of charity, and for the decent support of ministers."

To paraphrase former Speaker of the House Thomas P. ("Tip") O'Neill who naturally spoke of politics, "All religion is local."  My examination of this fifth precept is also local.

The operating budget of any parish heavily depends on the contributions of parishioners.  Oftentimes we experience, and always we appreciate, the generosity of visitors; but it's the crew who steers the foundering vessel through the quotidian tumult.  Considering the low percentage of parishioners who go to Mass regularly among the parishioners "on the books," we cannot help but acknowledge that a relative few people supply nearly the whole parish income.

That's not fair.

Now I don't claim to know what each participating member is able to give.  It's a personal decision, but that doesn't mean that other people can't make suggestions, especially when those suggestions are based on their own experience.

The practice of "tithing" is rooted in the story of Abram and Melchizedek in Gen 14:18ff.  After  rescuing his nephew and company in a battle, Abram brought the king of Salem "a tenth of everything" he had collected in the spoils.  Melchizedek was a precursor of the tribe of Levi, Israel's priestly tribe, which received all its material support from the tithes of the Israelites (cf. Num 18:21; Heb 7:5).

The priestly practice of depending on the people was also an act of dependence upon the Lord.  "Will they (He) provide for us?"  They will, if they take seriously the Lord's command to sanctify the Lord's Day in His holy dwelling place and if they present a just offering with gratitude for the Lord's providential care for their lives.  In this and many other human affairs, God "relies" on us human beings as secondary agents of Providence (CCC 306-308).
Three relevant winners from CCC 306-308:
God grants his creatures...the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus of cooperating in the accomplishment of his plan. (306)
God thus enables men to be intelligent and free causes in order to complete the work of creation, to perfect its harmony for their own good and that of their neighbors.  Though often unconscious collaborators with God's will, they can also enter deliberately into the divine plan by their actions, their prayers, and their sufferings. (307)
Drawn from nothingness by God's power, wisdom, and goodness, [the creature] can do nothing if it is cut off from its origin, for "without a Creator the creature vanishes" (Gaudium et Spes 36§3).  Still less can a creature attain its ultimate end without the help of God's grace. (308)
Contribution to the Church and other worthy causes is for everyone an act of faith, that, when it comes to my life, God "is not dead, nor doth He sleep."  But at the same time, by our many and varied contributions, we become part of the answer to others' prayers.

One-tenth has long been understood as a standard of sacrificial generosity.  Whether we distribute our offering entirely to our parish, or among several recipients, is a personal decision; but this author suggests caution against overextending oneself so that many recipients benefit little.

Your parish ought to be high on the list, because the parish is the "precinct" of pastoral care.  Priests celebrate the holy and life-giving Sacraments, preach the Gospel, and offer themselves for your spiritual needs.  The hired workers of the parish (e.g. secretaries, maintenance personnel) keep the facilities in good working order, so that the physical plant is sound and presentable, and so that services divine and human can be provided.  If the parish participates in a school, the parish likely subsidizes a considerable amount of the school's operating budget.  Everyone has expenses, and our good people enable the household of faith to cover its own.

Moreover, the parish helps to provide for people who need a financial boost.  St. Vincent De Paul Societies, Knights of Columbus, and other organizations help local residents.  Parishioners offer non-perishable foods for direct distribution to parishioners and to local pantries.  Holy Guardian Angels Parish also supports Mary's Shelter and Mary's Home, refuges for women who are pregnant or have young children.  These charitable endeavors are distinct from the ordinary expenses that your weekly contributions offset.

We cannot forget the Church's missionary activity.  "Charity begins at home, but can't stay at home forever."  Efforts exist on a diocesan and national level for the ongoing proclamation of the Gospel in other countries and parts of our own country that cannot easily support themselves.  "Operation Rice Bowl" was started in this diocese by Msgr. Robert J. Coll, one of our now retired priests.  Our school children participate in an initiative called the "Missionary Childhood Association" (formerly the "Holy Childhood Association") that raises funds every year.  Older Catholics may recall the practice of "saving pagan babies" with the quarters they saved as school children.  A kinder, gentler Church eschews such nomenclature in favor of bringing spiritual and material sustenance to the most vulnerable of God's precious poor.

Canon 222§2: "[The Christian faithful] are also obliged to promote social justice and, mindful of the precept of the Lord, to assist the poor from their own resources."  Whom and what you assist outside of the parochial context is a matter of conscience.  Moreover, we never neglect personal justice in the name of social justice: remember (as Fulton Sheen did) how Judas spurned a sinful woman's offering in the insincere interest of "helping the poor," and remember how Jesus approved the woman's regard for Him as appropriate for the moment--yes, because He Is Who He Is, but also because Whoever is in front of us deserves our attention.


  1. Father,

    I have a question for you: At what point does the management of a parish become so egregiously immoral that one can't in good conscience support it financially?

    --> Does the same standard apply as for any other charitable cause? Do we make some allowance for inefficiency or mismanagement, so long as on the whole the parish is not propagating immoral acts? Are we bound to support our local parish now matter how serious the transgressions of its administrators?

    The laity are in a bit of a bind, in that we have no option *not* to attend Mass somewhere -- and wouldn't want to. But because, as you say, the question is always local, we might be aware of serious problems that, in any other organization, would make us unable to support the group in good conscience. How should one proceed in that unfortunate case?

    [Looking for general principles here, not speaking to any specific situation. It's a question that comes up.]


    1. Jennifer,

      While I have not yet been the pastor of a parish, nor do I know much about canon law, I would offer some thoughts. The model for conflict resolution found in Matthew 18:15-20 sounds like the best initial approach: consider the nature of the contention, start local and charitably work your way outward. People not connected to the situation might offer insights into the particulars, but these consultations should be discreet. Bring your concern to the pastor, the bookkeeper, and/or the parish finance council. If one or more of these is among the suspects, approach the regional dean or vicar; absent any progress, approach the diocesan chancery. I am glad to know that dioceses are directing parishes to share the oversight of their financial management to avoid limiting knowledge and power in one person's hands.

      It would seem that we ought to continue supporting the parish for the sake of the temporal and spiritual needs it serves, while diligently investigating any suspicion of mismanagement. And there are other dimensions of Church activity (diocesan appeals, missionary activity) that people can assist.

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

  2. I would like to add, if I may, that one should also consider financially supporting any parish where the sacraments are received regularly. Because my home parish does not offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation (we only have a priest for Sunday Mass), I travel to a different parish for that Sacrament. I regularly send them a donation as well.

    1. Shelly, that is a most thoughtful and appropriate gesture for when you are more than a visitor but "less than" a parishioner. Thanks for reading and commenting!