No more cash on the plate?

No more cash on the plate?

We have certainly seen, in recent years, the onward march of the cashless society. First, there were credit cards, which began to make their appearance in the latter half of the 20th century.

Subsequently, there were bank debit cards, which allowed us to pay for an item via ‘chip and pin’. Then, in the 1990s, South Korea was the first country to introduce ‘contactless’ payment, and in the first decade of the 21st century, this electronic payment method started in Britain and Ireland.


For the past ten years, the cashless society – payments made by the touch of the debit card on the electronic machine – has spread ever more widely.

In recent times, I’ve noticed church offerings now include a “contactless” option available the congregation. The church which I frequent in south Dublin has had a contactless card reader for some time; the church I attend in Kent, in England, has only recently installed the apparatus, and we are now reminded that it may be convenient to give via the contactless terminal.

It dispenses with the fiddlesome business of notes, coins and change. It is a peerless method of auditing”

It’s a natural development that churches, like any other institution, would embrace a modern way of organising finances. The “cashless society” is considered an efficient advance in accounting.

In the ordinary process of commerce, it dispenses with the fiddlesome business of notes, coins and change. It is a peerless method of auditing. It is liked by governments because it reduces the opportunities for tax evasion. In businesses where dodgy practices may arise,  it minimises the chances for dishonesty.

Big Brother

But the cashless society means that ‘Big Brother’ can track all your expenditure and revenues – be that the banks, the state or even global forces. Small organisations, like charities, which attract casual donations lose out. Poorer people, who have modest budgets, become disadvantaged.

So I find myself in two minds about the onward development of contactless payments in church. There is something physical and substantial about putting cash on a plate – a public act of commitment.

There is something meaningful about seeing a member of the congregation take the collections at Mass and passing the plate, or the collection bag, along the pew. There is an element of ritual which seems more communal than just touching the electronic gadget.

Money may be “filthy lucre” but it also represents something tangible and real: it’s not just a touch linked to an electronic procedure, it’s the widow’s mite, the Samaritan’s Dinari”

It’s a little like candles versus electric lights. There is something about the act of lighting a candle which seems a more thoughtful measure than pressing an electric light.


Like most people, I use contactless payments in everyday life, but I try to keep cash going as well. Money may be “filthy lucre,” but it also represents something tangible and real: it’s not just a touch linked to an electronic procedure, it’s the widow’s mite, the Samaritan’s Dinari, and the coins over which Our Lord pointed to the image of Caesar. It has history. I hope the contactless transaction won’t entirely replace the offering on the plate.

When courage is rewarded

A plaque has been erected in the town of Béthune in France – just over 40 kilometres from Calais – to the Irish Franciscan nun Sr Katharine McCarthy, a Corkwoman originally from Drimoleague. Sr Kate was a war heroine who helped more than 120 Allied soldiers escape the Nazis – while also caring for the wounded as a nurse in the local hospital. She was captured by the Gestapo and sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp where she suffered dreadfully  but survived to be liberated in 1945.

The story of Sr Kate (in religious life Sr Marie-Laurence) is recounted in a commendable new book on “The Irish in the Resistance”, written by Clodagh Finn (and John Morgan), to be published by Gill in September. Irish nuns, as well priests – and Irish governesses working in France – were involved with helping the Resistance, and it’s the first time their life stories have been gathered together.

Clodagh Finn is an outstanding historian and archivist of women’s lives.  Among other disclosures, it emerges that Shane Ross’s mother, Ruth Isabel Ross, was a code-breaker at Bletchley Park, the famously secret location where so many clever women worked breaking wartime codes.

I do hope to visit Béthune in the near future and see where Sr Kate McCarthy is honoured.


Sinn Féin candidate and former councillor Sarah Holland has drawn some attention to herself by claiming that “traditional Catholics” and those who pray the Rosary in public are “fascists.”

It’s irksome to witness this word used so ignorantly. Fascism is the political system of a militarised state, in which everything is controlled by the state and subject to the absolute leader. It’s grotesque to compare this to the benign act of reciting the Rosary.

Ms Holland might enlighten herself by reading David O’Donoghue’s book “The Devil’s Deal: The IRA, Nazi Germany and the Double Life of Jim O’Donovan” – being a meticulous chronicle of how one of Sarah Holland’s political forerunners engaged with real fascists.