Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

From the May AD 2004
Our Lady of the Rosary
Parish Bulletin

    Question: What is tithing; are Catholics supposed to tithe?

    Answer: Since God established a visible Church, it is clear that we have the responsibility to support the operations of that Church. This would seem to be an obligation of the Natural Law, for even before the revelation of God’s Positive Law, pagan societies supported the worship of God as they knew Him in nature—often with a “tithe”—a word coming from the Anglo-Saxon word, “teotha”—meaning a “tenth” of their income. Beyond the natural recognition that we owe God our entire existence and all of our worldly goods, we have the example of the Old Testament patriarch Abraham giving tithes to the Royal Priest Melchesidech, and Jacob’s promise of tithes at Bethel.[i] The Mosaic Law made tithing obligatory:

    The Hebrews are commanded to offer to God the tenth part of the produce of the fields, of the fruits of the trees, and the firstborn of oxen and of sheep (Lev., xxvii, 30; Deut., xiv, 22). In Deuteronomy there is a mention not only of an annual tithe, but also of a full tithe to be paid once every three years. While it was to God Himself that the tithes had to be paid, yet we read (Num., xxviii, 21) that He transfers them to His sacred ministers: "I have given to the sons of Levi all the tithes of Israel for a possession, for the ministry wherewith they serve me in the tabernacle of the covenant." In paying the tithe, the Hebrews divided the annual harvest into ten parts, one of which was given to the Levites after the first-fruits had been subtracted. This was partitioned by them among the priests. The remainder of the harvest was then divided into ten new parts, and a second tithe was carried by the head of the household to the sanctuary to serve as a sacred feast for his family and the Levites.

    If the journey to the temple was unusually long, money could be substituted for the offering in kind. At the triennial tithe, a third decimation was made and a tenth part was consumed at home by the householder with his family, the Levities, strangers, and the poor. This triennial year was called the year of tithes (Deut., xxvi, 12). As the tithes were the main support of the priests, it was later ordained that the offerings should be stored in the temple (II Par., xxxi, 11).[ii]

    This works out to be an annual contribution of about nineteen percent of income, plus an additional ten percent every third year. The pious Jew would, additionally, make occasional offerings of farm animals or doves to be sacrificed at the Temple. Of these sacrificial offerings, some would be offered completely to God in holocaust, some would be retained in part for the priest and his family, and some part might be enjoyed by the donor and his family.

    Old Testament tithes were always on income; agricultural produce, the natural increase of animals and products derived from animals, and production due to human activity. Land itself, buildings, and the offspring of wild animals were not subject to the tithe.

    With the advent of Christianity, the exact formula for determining tithes has varied somewhat with time and place—but, of course, the Natural Law obligation to support the worship and the works of God remains. Although self supporting himself, Saint Paul reminded his readers of their obligation to support the clergy and to provide for the support of the poor, the widows, and the sick.[iii] Early and Medieval Europe, of course, enjoyed the generosity of not only the hard working tithe paying citizens of Christendom, but also lavish gifts of the nobility, the wealthy, and sometimes the government. Yet, the administration of tithes posed difficulties of its own—exemptions were sometimes granted to religious orders and secular leaders, and sometimes tithes were assigned to rulers in exchange for service to the Church—both practices sometimes led to complaints of unfairness.

    In English speaking countries over the past few centuries, support of the Church has become more “outcome based” than mathematical—no specific percentage of income is required, but the faithful are asked to give at a level that allows the Church to function properly. The pastor ought not have to worry about the church’s ability to make payments for things like rent or mortgage, utilities, advertising, literature, and so forth; the poor must not be ignored; vestments and altar furnishings must be attractive, clean, and in good repair; and the priest ought to live under decent conditions and have reliable transportation. Catholics ought not allow the political parties to usurp the Church’s traditional role in maintaining schools, hospitals, orphanages, and charitable institutions. The recruitment and education of new priests and religious must be provided for. Among traditional Catholics the need is acute, as not only must the clergy be supported and the poor be provided for, but virtually all of the material needs for divine worship must be provided from “scratch,” with very little being in place from earlier years. Even where the clergy are self supporting, significant expenses must be incurred for buildings, temporary quarters, maintenance, utilities, and so forth—and, it should go without saying—for vestments, linens, and sacred vessels appropriate to the worship of Almighty God.

    For Americans seeking a more precise mathematical approach to supporting the Church, the definition of income appears to coincide with the federal government’s definition of “total income,” or perhaps, for younger Catholic families, “adjusted gross income.” The federal regulations allow itemized deductions for charitable purposes up to 30% of the “adjusted gross” amount without any elaborate explanation. Above 30% a special schedule must be consulted.[iv] Please be sure to speak with Father if you intend to donate more than 30% of your income to the parish and would like additional tax information.[v]J



[i]   Genesis xiv; xxviii.

[ii]   Catholic Encyclopedia s.v. “Tithes”  See also s.v. “Church Maintenance”

[iii]   Cf. 1 Corinthians ix.

[iv]   Per  IRS 2002 1040 forms and instructions.  See page A-4  and Pub. 526.  This is given by way of illustration only—in practice, consult the latest instructions.

[v]   And Father will probably come by and cut your grass!


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Our Lady of the Rosary, 144 North Federal Highway (US#1), Deerfield Beach, Florida 33441  954+428-2428
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