Tithing, the act of setting aside a tenth of one’s gross income for the Lord, is one of the oldest traditions of the Catholic faith.
This act of giving, which started with donations of produce or livestock before evolving into today’s currency, is found throughout the Bible, from Genesis 14:19-20, in which “Abram gave him a tenth of everything,” to Genesis 28:20-22, in which Jacob vowed that “(i)f God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”
“The Old Testament mentions the necessity of people to tithe (give 10 percent) back to the Lord for his goodness to them,” said Msgr. Stephen Doktorczyk, the judicial vicar of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange’s Office of Canonical Services.
Doktorczyk also cited other doctrinal examples of giving, including Deuteronomy 12: 5-6; Leviticus 27:30-34; 2 Chronicles 31:4-5; Nehemiah 10:35-37; and Proverbs 3:9-10, which asks those to “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops.”
In the New Testament, Jesus celebrated the giving of more than the obligatory 10 percent. In Mark 12:43, Jesus praised a poor widow who “has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
In those times and today, tithing was and is seen as an act of gratitude.
“Giving thanks to the Lord for his goodness to us is a good thing to do,” Doktorczyk said. “By tithing, our actions explain that we are not only grateful to the Lord, but also that we trust in him and his providence. This means giving on a regular basis, not only when an urgent need is presented. Tithing should become a way of life.”
Today churches rely on these donations to keep things running, from building maintenance, utilities and administrative payroll to the continuance of liturgy, religious education and youth ministry programs to helping the poor.
“The running of a parish costs money,” Doktorczyk said, adding that pastors need to be attentive to saving money for a rainy day. “As buildings begin to age, various parts need to be replaced. The average parishioner may not know that such work is being done.”
In the realm of donations, Catholics apparently have some catching up to do. According to 2017 Althetia.org piece by Joanne McPortland, U.S. Catholics give a mere 1 percent to the Church, the lowest percentage of any major religious denomination in the United States.
“What if that number were raised to 2.5 percent or 5 percent?” Doktorczyk said. “How much more outreach would the church be able to do? But more than that, Catholics would consider themselves more invested in their parish and faith when they consciously contribute (after prayerful consideration), rather than habitually throwing $2 or $3 in the basket.”
It would also cut down on constant fundraising and bring more focus on worship.
“Without a constant flow of income through tithes given freely in the Offertory a parish must appeal for funding for every activity or ministry it wishes to undertake,” according to the Office of Stewardship and the Annual Catholic Appeal at the Archdiocese of St. Louis. “Parishioners get tired of the constant talk about money and the demands on their time that this kind of approach takes. Our Lord warned about this kind of fundraising approach and yelled, ‘Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace.’ Yet this is often what we have done when we resort to constant sales and fundraising activities rather than simply asking parishioners to bring their tithe to God’s altar first.”
To improve upon one’s tithing, McPortland suggests incorporating one’s parish in the family budget and being mindful of one’s contributions by enrolling in an online giving program or using envelopes dedicated to weekly offerings.
She also suggests giving more than what one thinks one can and donating one’s time to a parish in addition to monetary donations “as a way of living what that support symbolizes.”
To calculate one’s tithe easily, the Office of Stewardship and the Annual Catholic Appeal suggests rounding one’s pre-tax income to the nearest thousand, then removing the last three zeros. For example, a person making $40,000 a year be left with $40 under this formula. That’s 5 percent of what one would give weekly to his or her parish. The other 5 percent, another $40, could be given to charities such as schools, hospitals, missions and religious orders.