Offering for Spiritual Services
As you give so shall you receive. This concept seems to have existed in most cultures through time. So why do we have difficulty in accepting the manner in which this plays out in other peoples traditions. It is so unfortunate that we don't seem to be able to see past the difference in form to see that the essence of our behaviour is more similar than it is different.
We can all, myself included, be too often ready to jump to the conclusion that those of another tradition are gullible and their hierarchy possibly dishonest, or that the hierarchy is honest and the followers greedy expecting spiritual service without giving anything in return. Of course either of these presumptions could be true, but often they are based on no real knowledge of the other tradition.
Growing up as a Catholic I have always been used to my family having a Mass said for a person who was ill or who had passed away, for a student doing exams, to keep someone safe as they travelled far from home, or the catch all of "for someone's intentions" for good luck for whatever it was they were hoping for - a job, a baby.
Any time such a Mass was arranged money was given to the church for the person's name to be added to the list of those being prayed for in the Mass on a given day. Depending on the church how much of an offering was suggested. The decision to have a Mass said and the choice of which church you went to, was completely up to you.
In the same way if a Baptism, Wedding or Funeral had to be arranged for a family member money was given to the priest who performed the service. For such a personal service the amount would be more substantial, as the exclusive use of the church and the priest's individual attention would be taken into account.
When we went to Mass a collection (donation) basket was always passed around and a couple of times a year donation envelopes would be delivered to Catholic households for the upkeep of the local church and the priests' living expenses. Whilst people were aware that the Vatican was wealthy they were equally aware that, what you gave, or if you wanted to give anything in these general collections was completely up to you.
I do not claim to have any depth of knowledge of other faiths but would have found it strange that others would not have made offerings in the same way. But, equally because of my conditioning and lack of understanding I found it strange that in some Protestant traditions people practice tithing, where they give ten percent of their income to their church. I would have found this system more controlled. But the truth of the matter is that it is six of one and half a dozen of the other. Whether you pay set amounts if you want a particular service and donations when you feel you want to, or you give a set amount regularly, isn't it really all the same thing?
The same applies to the Buddhist approach to making offerings. If someone asks for a specific service, such as Mantric Healing or Dharma Rite, both of which are prayer services, they will give a donation. The amount may be specified or not depending on the circumstances, e.g. depending on how many days a Dharma Rite is held for, some Rites such as a Birthday Rite, only last one day, others may be held for seven or nine days. In general several practitioners pray together in a Dharma Rite. In explaining the similarity to Catholic friends I have said it is like having a Mass said every day for the required time and having several priests saying the Mass at the same time, all focused on your intention. So if a Dharma Rite were to be held for seven days with six practitioners praying each day, it would be similar to having forty-two Masses said over a short period of time, so the requested offering reflects this.
In some Protestant faiths a member may gift money to their church to reserve a pew for their family, or have a plaque erected in the church in a person's memory or may gift a stained glass window in their own name or on behalf of another. Similarly a Buddhist may make an offering for a stupa to be made for them or for another. Or on the very rare occasion that a new temple is being set up, they may make an offering for their name or the name of another to be placed inside the main statue that will be enlivened - consecrated and placed on the altar. In both traditions these kinds of offerings reflect the understanding that the blessings they bring are ongoing for a very long time.
Another understanding which seems pervasive in all faiths is that there is no guarantee that a prayer will be answered in the way that a person wishes. This may be explained in different ways e.g. God may have a better plan for you than what you can see right now, or because of past actions/karma you may not have merit for the prayer to come to fruition yet.
In different times and places, offerings have been made in money or other material items, according to people's means and with consideration of the material needs of spiritual practitioners. Everyone needs to eat and practicalities have to be seen to, so in our days the most convenient way for all concerned is often money. Offerings are also often seen as relevant to the request and the requestor - a poor person offering one dollar, when they only have five in their pocket, is making a huge offering. A busy millionaire giving a thousand that they won't miss may not seem much, but an hour of their time could cost them a fortune. All is relative. As you give so shall you receive.
We decide if we pray, or if we pay, the result thankfully, is beyond ordinary mortals.