QUESTION 86: OF OBLATIONS AND FIRST-FRUITS
We must next consider oblations and first-fruits. Under this head there
are four points of inquiry:
(1) Whether any oblations are necessary as a matter of precept?
(2) To whom are oblations due?
(3) of what things they should be made?
(4) In particular, as to first-fruits, whether men are bound to offer
Article 1: Whether men are under a necessity of precept to make oblations?
Objection 1: It would seem that men are not bound by precept to make
oblations. Men are not bound, at the time of the Gospel, to observe the
ceremonial precepts of the Old Law, as stated above (FS, Question , Articles ,4). Now the offering of oblations is one of the ceremonial precepts of
the Old Law, since it is written (Ex. 23:14): "Three times every year you
shall celebrate feasts with Me," and further on (Ex. 23:15): "Thou shalt
not appear empty before Me." Therefore men are not now under a necessity
of precept to make oblations.
Objection 2: Further, before they are made, oblations depend on man's will, as
appears from our Lord's saying (Mt. 5:23), "If . . . thou offer thy gift
at the altar," as though this were left to the choice of the offerer: and
when once oblations have been made, there is no way of offering them
again. Therefore in no way is a man under a necessity of precept to make
Objection 3: Further, if anyone is bound to give a certain thing to the
Church, and fails to give it, he can be compelled to do so by being
deprived of the Church's sacraments. But it would seem unlawful to refuse
the sacraments of the Church to those who refuse to make oblations
according to a decree of the sixth council [*Can. Trullan, xxiii], quoted
I, qu. i, can. Nullus: "Let none who dispense Holy Communion exact
anything of the recipient, and if they exact anything let them be
deposed." Therefore it is not necessary that men should make oblations.
On the contrary, Gregory says [*Gregory VII; Concil. Roman. v, can.
xii]: "Let every Christian take care that he offer something to God at
the celebration of Mass."
I answer that, As stated above (Question , Article , ad 3), the term "oblation"
is common to all things offered for the Divine worship, so that if a
thing be offered to be destroyed in worship of God, as though it were
being made into something holy, it is both an oblation and a sacrifice.
Wherefore it is written (Ex. 29:18): "Thou shalt offer the whole ram for
a burnt-offering upon the altar; it is an oblation to the Lord, a most
sweet savor of the victim of the Lord"; and (Lev. 2:1): "When anyone
shall offer an oblation of sacrifice to the Lord, his offering shall be
of fine flour." If, on the other hand, it be offered with a view to its
remaining entire and being deputed to the worship of God or to the use of
His ministers, it will be an oblation and not a sacrifice. Accordingly it
is essential to oblations of this kind that they be offered voluntarily,
according to Ex. 25:2, of "every man that offereth of his own accord you
shall take them." Nevertheless it may happen in four ways that one is
bound to make oblations. First, on account of a previous agreement: as
when a person is granted a portion of Church land, that he may make
certain oblations at fixed times, although this has the character of
rent. Secondly, by reason of a previous assignment or promise; as when a
man offers a gift among the living, or by will bequeaths to the Church
something whether movable or immovable to be delivered at some future
time. Thirdly, on account of the need of the Church, for instance if her
ministers were without means of support. Fourthly, on account of custom;
for the faithful are bound at certain solemn feasts to make certain
customary oblations. In the last two cases, however, the oblation remains
voluntary, as regards, to wit, the quantity or kind of the thing offered.
Reply to Objection 1: Under the New Law men are not bound to make oblations on
account of legal solemnities, as stated in Exodus, but on account of
certain other reasons, as stated above.
Reply to Objection 2: Some are bound to make oblations, both before making them,
as in the first, third, and. fourth cases, and after they have made them
by assignment or promise: for they are bound to offer in reality that
which has been already offered to the Church by way of assignment.
Reply to Objection 3: Those who do not make the oblations they are bound to make
may be punished by being deprived of the sacraments, not by the priest
himself to whom the oblations should be made, lest he seem to exact,
something for bestowing the sacraments, but by someone superior to him.
Article 2: Whether oblations are due to priests alone?
Objection 1: It would seem that oblations are not due to priests alone. For
chief among oblations would seem to be those that are deputed to the
sacrifices of victims. Now whatever is given to the poor is called a
"victim in Scripture according to Heb. 13:16, "Do not forget to do good
and to impart, for by such victims [Douay: 'sacrifices'] God's favor is
obtained. Much more therefore are oblations due to the poor.
Objection 2: Further, in many parishes monks have a share in the oblations.
Now "the case of clerics is distinct from the case of monks," as Jerome
states [*Ep. xiv, ad Heliod.]. Therefore oblations art not due to priests
Objection 3: Further, lay people with the consent of the Church buy oblations
such as loaves and so forth, and they do so for no other reason than that
they may make use thereof themselves. Therefore oblations may have
reference to the laity.
On the contrary, A canon of Pope Damasus [*Damasus I] quoted X, qu. i
[*Can. Hanc consuetudinem], says: "None but the priests whom day by day
we see serving the Lord may eat and drink of the oblations which are
offered within the precincts of the Holy Church: because in the Old
Testament the Lord forbade the children of Israel to eat the sacred
loaves, with the exception of Aaron and his sons" (Lev. 24:8,9).
I answer that, The priest is appointed mediator and stands, so to speak,
"between" the people and God, as we read of Moses (Dt. 5:5), wherefore it
belongs to him to set forth the Divine teachings and sacraments before
the people; and besides to offer to the Lord things appertaining to the
people, their prayers, for instance, their sacrifices and oblations. Thus
the Apostle says (Heb. 5:1): "Every high priest taken from among men is
ordained for men in the things that appertain to God, that he may offer
up gifts and sacrifices for sins." Hence the oblations which the people
offer to God concern the priests, not only as regards their turning them
to their own use, but also as regards the faithful dispensation thereof,
by spending them partly on things appertaining to the Divine worship,
partly on things touching their own livelihood (since they that serve the
altar partake with the altar, according to 1 Cor. 9:13), and partly for
the good of the poor, who, as far as possible, should be supported from
the possessions of the Church: for our Lord had a purse for the use of
the poor, as Jerome observes on Mt. 17:26, "That we may not scandalize
Reply to Objection 1: Whatever is given to the poor is not a sacrifice properly
speaking; yet it is called a sacrifice in so far as it is given to them
for God's sake. In like manner, and for the same reason, it can be called
an oblation, though not properly speaking, since it is not given
immediately to God. Oblations properly so called fall to the use of the
poor, not by the dispensation of the offerers, but by the dispensation of
Reply to Objection 2: Monks or other religious may receive oblations under three
counts. First, as poor, either by the dispensation of the priests, or by
ordination of the Church; secondly, through being ministers of the altar,
and then they can accept oblations that are freely offered; thirdly, if
the parishes belong to them, and they can accept oblations, having a
right to them as rectors of the Church.
Reply to Objection 3: Oblations when once they are consecrated, such as sacred
vessels and vestments, cannot be granted to the use of the laity: and
this is the meaning of the words of Pope Damasus. But those which are
unconsecrated may be allowed to the use of layfolk by permission of the
priests, whether by way of gift or by way of sale.
Article 3: Whether a man may make oblations of whatever he lawfully possesses?
Objection 1: It would seem that a man may not make oblations of whatever he
lawfully possesses. According to human law [*Dig. xii, v, de Condict. ob.
turp. vel iniust. caus. 4] "the whore's is a shameful trade in what she
does but not in what she takes," and consequently what she takes she
possesses lawfully. Yet it is not lawful for her to make an oblation with
her gains, according to Dt. 23:18, "Thou shalt not offer the hire of a
strumpet . . . in the house of the Lord thy God." Therefore it is not
lawful to make an oblation of whatever one possesses lawfully.
Objection 2: Further, in the same passage it is forbidden to offer "the price
of a dog" in the house of God. But it is evident that a man possesses
lawfully the price of a dog he has lawfully sold. Therefore it is not
lawful to make an oblation of whatever we possess lawfully.
Objection 3: Further, it is written (Malachi 1:8): "If you offer the lame and the sick, is it not evil?" Yet an animal though lame or sick is a lawful possession. Therefore it would seem that not of every lawful possession may one make an oblation.
On the contrary, It is written (Prov. 3:9): "Honor the Lord with thy
substance." Now whatever a man possesses lawfully belongs to his
substance. Therefore he may make oblations of whatever he possesses
I answer that, As Augustine says (De Verb. Dom. Serm. cxiii), "shouldst
thou plunder one weaker than thyself and give some of the spoil to the
judge, if he should pronounce in thy favor, such is the force of justice
that even thou wouldst not be pleased with him: and if this should not
please thee, neither does it please thy God." Hence it is written
(Ecclus. 34:21): "The offering of him that sacrificeth of a thing
wrongfully gotten is stained." Therefore it is evident that an oblation
must not be made of things unjustly acquired or possessed. In the Old
Law, however, wherein the figure was predominant, certain things were
reckoned unclean on account of their signification, and it was forbidden
to offer them. But in the New Law all God's creatures are looked upon as
clean, as stated in Titus 1:15: and consequently anything that is
lawfully possessed, considered in itself, may be offered in oblation. But
it may happen accidentally that one may not make an oblation of what one
possesses lawfully; for instance if it be detrimental to another person,
as in the case of a son who offers to God the means of supporting his
father (which our Lord condemns, Mt. 15:5), or if it give rise to scandal
or contempt, or the like.
Reply to Objection 1: In the Old Law it was forbidden to make an offering of the
hire of a strumpet on account of its uncleanness, and in the New Law, on
account of scandal, lest the Church seem to favor sin if she accept
oblations from the profits of sin.
Reply to Objection 2: According to the Law, a dog was deemed an unclean animal.
Yet other unclean animals were redeemed and their price could be offered,
according to Lev. 27:27, "If it be an unclean animal, he that offereth it
shall redeem it." But a dog was neither offered nor redeemed, both
because idolaters used dogs in sacrifices to their idols, and because
they signify robbery, the proceeds of which cannot be offered in
oblation. However, this prohibition ceased under the New Law.
Reply to Objection 3: The oblation of a blind or lame animal was declared unlawful for three reasons. First, on account of the purpose for which it was offered, wherefore it is written (Malach. 1:8): "If you offer the blind in sacrifice, is it not evil?" and it behooved sacrifices to be without blemish. Secondly, on account of contempt, wherefore the same text goes on (Malach. 1:12): "You have profaned" My name, "in that you say: The table of the Lord is defiled and that which is laid thereupon is contemptible." Thirdly, on account of a previous vow, whereby a man has bound himself to offer without blemish whatever he has vowed: hence the same text says further on (Malach. 1:14): "Cursed is the deceitful man that hath in his flock a male, and making a vow offereth in sacrifice that which is feeble to the Lord." The same reasons avail still in the New Law, but when they do not apply the unlawfulness ceases.
Article 4: Whether men are bound to pay first-fruits?
Objection 1: It would seem that men are not bound to pay first-fruits. After
giving the law of the first-born the text continues (Ex. 13:9): "It shall
be as a sign in thy hand," so that, apparently, it is a ceremonial
precept. But ceremonial precepts are not to be observed in the New Law.
Neither therefore ought first-fruits to be paid.
Objection 2: Further, first-fruits were offered to the Lord for a special
favor conferred on that people, wherefore it is written (Dt. 26:2,3):
"Thou shalt take the first of all thy fruits . . . and thou shalt go to
the priest that shall be in those days, and say to him: I profess this
day before the Lord thy God, that I am come into the land, for which He
swore to our fathers, that He would give it us." Therefore other nations
are not bound to pay first-fruits.
Objection 3: That which one is bound to do should be something definite. But
neither in the New Law nor in the Old do we find mention of a definite
amount of first-fruits. Therefore one is not bound of necessity to pay
On the contrary, It is laid down (16, qu. vii, can. Decimas): "We
confirm the right of priests to tithes and first-fruits, and everybody
must pay them."
I answer that, First-fruits are a kind of oblation, because they are
offered to God with a certain profession (Dt. 26); where the same passage
continues: "The priest taking the basket containing the first-fruits from
the hand of him that bringeth the first-fruits, shall set it before the
altar of the Lord thy God," and further on (Dt. 26:10) he is commanded to
say: "Therefore now I offer the first-fruits of the land, which the Lord
hath given me." Now the first-fruits were offered for a special reason,
namely, in recognition of the divine favor, as though man acknowledged
that he had received the fruits of the earth from God, and that he ought
to offer something to God in return, according to 1 Paral 29:14, "We have
given Thee what we received of Thy hand." And since what we offer God
ought to be something special, hence it is that man was commanded to
offer God his first-fruits, as being a special part of the fruits of the
earth: and since a priest is "ordained for the people "in the things that
appertain to God" (Heb. 5:1), the first-fruits offered by the people were
granted to the priest's use." Wherefore it is written (Num. 18:8): "The
Lord said to Aaron: Behold I have given thee the charge of My
first-fruits." Now it is a point of natural law that man should make an
offering in God's honor out of the things he has received from God, but
that the offering should be made to any particular person, or out of his
first-fruits, or in such or such a quantity, was indeed determined in the
Old Law by divine command; but in the New Law it is fixed by the
declaration of the Church, in virtue of which men are bound to pay
first-fruits according to the custom of their country and the needs of
the Church's ministers.
Reply to Objection 1: The ceremonial observances were properly speaking signs of
the future, and consequently they ceased when the foreshadowed truth was
actually present. But the offering of first-fruits was for a sign of a
past favor, whence arises the duty of acknowledgment in accordance with
the dictate of natural reason. Hence taken in a general sense this
Reply to Objection 2: First-fruits were offered in the Old Law, not only on
account of the favor of the promised land given by God, but also on
account of the favor of the fruits of the earth, which were given by God.
Hence it is written (Dt. 26:10): "I offer the first-fruits of the land
which the Lord hath given me," which second motive is common among all
people. We may also reply that just as God granted the land of promise to
the Jews by a special favor, so by a general favor He bestowed the
lordship of the earth on the whole of mankind, according to Ps. 113:24,
"The earth He has given to the children of men."
Reply to Objection 3: As Jerome says [*Comment. in Ezech. 45:13,14; cf. Cap.
Decimam, de Decim. Primit. et Oblat.]: "According to the tradition of the
ancients the custom arose for those who had most to give the priests a
fortieth part, and those who had least, one sixtieth, in lieu of
first-fruits." Hence it would seem that first-fruits should vary between
these limits according to the custom of one's country. And it was
reasonable that the amount of first-fruits should not be fixed by law,
since, as stated above, first-fruits are offered by way of oblation, a
condition of which is that it should be voluntary.