29 June 2007

An ancient custom

Update: It would seem that I fell for a hoax at snopes.com, for which I feel rather foolish. It would seem that Sing a Song of Six Pence did not actually originate as pirate code. My apologies for the error. [more]

Original post, unaltered: Every year around this time we take up the collection known as "Peter's Pence," but just what is this collection for and why does it have this strange name?

You might recall the childhood nursery rhyme "Sing a Song of Six Pence" (which, incidentally, originated as pirate code and John Rutter has brilliantly set to music):

Sing a song of six pence
A pocket full of rye
Four and twenty blackbirds
Baked in a pie
A pence, of course, is a monetary unit and six pence a day in the eighteenth century wasn't too bad of pay, but this collection of Peter's pennies originates well before the era of the swashbucklers.

The Anglo-Saxon people, as you might have guessed, began this annual collection in the eighth century with the name of Denarius Sancti Petri, the alms of Saint Peter. This offering soon spread throughout Europe.

The Holy See defines Peter's Pence as "the name given to the financial support offered by the faithful to the Holy Father as a sign of their sharing in the concern of the Successor of Peter for the many different needs of the Universal Church and for the relief of those most in need."

We see from the earliest days of the Church the great care that Christians are to have for one another and, indeed, for their fellow man.

We cannot sit idly by while so many people are suffering from lack of food, shelter, medical care, etc., etc., etc. We must do our part to help them and our sharing in Peter's Pence is a way to meet the duty given us in baptism.

"How will my gift be used?" you ask. The Holy See responds thusly:

The faithful’s offerings to the Holy Father are destined to Church needs, to humanitarian initiatives and social promotion projects, as well as to the support of the Holy See. The Pope, being Pastor of the whole Church, is attentive to the material needs of poor dioceses, religious institutes and of faithful in grave difficulties (the poor, children, the elderly, those marginalized and the victims of war or natural disasters; concrete aid to Bishops or dioceses in need, Catholic education, assistance to refugees and immigrants, etc.).
All of these are worthy and important needs.

Pope Benedict XVI said that Peter's Pence “is the most characteristic expression of the participation of all the faithful in the Bishop of Rome’s charitable initiatives in favour of the universal Church. The gesture has not only a practical value, but also a strong symbolic one, as a sign of communion with the Pope and attention to the needs of one’s brothers; and therefore your service possesses a refined ecclesial character."

In his Encyclical Deus caritas est he reminded us that "the Church can never be exempted from practising charity as an organized activity of believers and, on the other hand, there will never be a situation where the charity of each individual Christian is unnecessary, because in addition to justice man needs, and will always need, love.”

Won't you then assist the Holy Father in his charitable work throughout the world? You can either use the envelope from your parish or you can do what I will do and send your gift to:

His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI
00120 Vatican City State
You may also donate online with your credit card.

Please be generous for every gift of any size is valuable; simply remember the widow's might.


  1. Father,
    Totally unrelated, I am looking for some answers to a few questions that have been bothering me as I make my slow journey back to the RCC.


    Appreciate your assistance in advance. Do not trouble yourself if you do not have the time.

  2. You mean the widow's mite which later became her might? =)

  3. JP Manzi: I'll post a reply later this evening or tomorrow afternoon once I am back in my parish for a day or two.

    Andrew: That's precisely what I mean; I just thought I'd save a step and hop right to it.