‘Chicken Offertory’ Deepens Meaning Of Giving
Published: July 7, 2005
The procession began at the far entrance. Slowly a group of six swayed and turned in rhythm with the escalating music. Gift bearers and congregation all happy in song to elongate and dwell on the sacred act of presenting at the Lord’s table. This liturgical moment defined who these people are and expressed the earthy depth of their spirituality.
I strained to see what the gift bearers carried—certainly not the usual objects. As they posed and gestured with their “treasure” for the Lord, I recognized the shape of fowl. As the troop drew closer it revealed itself. This was a “chicken procession.”
The pastor of the church gestured at me to help receive the gifts. Glad to oblige I stepped down and waited anxiously. Surely those with the chickens would not expect me to receive their feathered gifts? But on they came. I watched Pere Guy. He received the lead bird and passed it to an altar server. Suddenly I realized there was no way out. A five-pound speckled cockerel was thrust at me. I quickly tried a lateral pass to the expected altar server on my left, forgetting there was none!
My colleagues serving on a medical team in Haiti said I looked befuddled standing before the altar, chicken in hand, not knowing what to do. True, I was surprised at the action down the long aisle and before the altar. Still the richness of the interpretation was no surprise.
A “chicken offertory” in Haiti and in other places is a profound expression of faith. In such places people give from the only “treasure” they have. They give “from their want” like the woman praised by Jesus (Mk 12:44). They have little or no money so they give from their “ordinary” treasure, their own farm animals. They give in love; processing, gesturing, singing, giving glory to God by way of their earthly spirituality.
I am glad that I looked overtaken at the altar in the church of Our Lady of the Presentation, Lospalis, in March. It reminded me of the poverty and simplicity of life in rural Haiti. It was also a new interpretation of the Master’s teaching: When you bring your gifts to the altar, consider the sincerity of your love.
Now that I am experienced in the rubrics pertaining to a chicken offertory, I want to introduce the practice in my parish. No, I am not looking for a great chicken roundup. Rather, I look for a new kind of giving in Church: giving that comes from the gut, freely offering up from what we value most, proportionally and sacrificially.
Studies show that Catholics continue to be in the lowest level of church financial giving. Nationally, Protestants give 2.2 percent of their income, while Catholics donate 1.1 percent.
One cause is our lack of “trust.” We say people are “chicken” because they refuse to fly or ride the Scream Machine. Could we not use the same language to speak of those in our pews who do not show trust in their offertory giving?
We freely use many metaphors to advertise less important things in life. So why not use “chicken talk” to deepen our faith expression? Jesus himself referred to the birds in the sky and lilies in the field as ways to make his listeners think.
Yes, “chicken processions” would be good for all. They inspire the regular givers to reexamine the depth of their giving. Also the message expressed in the chicken procession teaches the non-committed the elements of true sacrificial giving.
I say we would be a better church by having more chickens in the offertory and fewer “chickens” in the pews. What do you think?
Father John C. Kieran is the pastor of St. Pius X Church, Conyers.