Father Tirso

When I was first ordained, I remember that a big deal was made about when the Mass book would be opened. That is, there was a date— usually in the fall—when it would be announced that the parish office would be accepting intentions for Masses throughout the coming year. I remember that on the day the Mass book was opened, a long line of people would form outside of the office door at least a half hour before the office was scheduled to open! In their hands, they carried their respective list of names, dates, and monetary offerings.

In fact, the day before, the office staff made ready the entry way to the offices by setting out coffee and treats. Those in line could wait anywhere from ten to thirty minutes before it was their turn to schedule their Mass intentions. At first, I thought that the office staff was just being crazy until the first time I actually witnessed it with my own eyes. The office staff was correct. It was a crazy morning in the office as the line of people extended to outside the front door and to the sidewalk! It was like the “Black Friday” of parish offices.

Why was the reason for the long long line and why did people get there before the office opened? It was for the sole purpose that people wanted to make sure that their loved ones got scheduled as Mass intentions on their preferred dates. The longer one waited the less of a guarantee that the date he or she wanted would be available. People, therefore, got to the office as early as possible when the Mass book was opened in order to ensure that they got the first pick of dates. Those were, of course, the days when there was a limit of three intentions per Mass. Obviously, times are much different nowadays.

Today, intentions seem to be few and far in between. As we can see just from our own parish schedule of Masses, the majority of daily Masses are offered for “the deceased parishioners of St. Margaret Mary.” There are no longer the lines that extend well out the office door of people wanting to make sure they are able to pick their dates. Nowadays, people come to the office on any day and virtually any day of the year is available for a Mass intention. So why do we have Mass intentions in the first place and why the monetary offering?

In the ancient Church, the Eucharist was only celebrated on Sundays—the Lord’s Day. Yet, even in that early time of the Church’s history, the faithful would bring up in the offertory procession various gifts beyond the bread and wine that were to be offered on the altar. The gifts would include anything and everything that the Church could use to advance the mission imperative entrusted to her by Christ himself. In time, the offerings began to include monetary donations that were used not only to help the poor but also to provide for the financial wellbeing of the clergy. Added to this, there arose the custom of votive Masses that were celebrated by monks and other priests on days other than Sundays. These Masses were offered for specific intentions which were oftentimes requested by people who would make a donation which was almost seen as a contractual agreement between them and the priest celebrating the Mass.

In time, however, the Church had to put strong restrictions and regulations on this practice. Obviously, the custom had lead to the idea that people were “buying” a particular Mass. Sadly, this language is still sometimes used today as people will come to a parish office and say to the receptionist, “I would like to buy a Mass.” The restrictions and regulations put forth by the Church then and even now are all meant to teach the faithful that Masses and other sacraments are never “for sale.” Instead, we currently understand this custom in the sense that the faithful are requesting that a particular Mass be offered for an intention and the person requesting subsequently makes an offering (customarily in the form of a monetary donation).

There is more to say about this but I am seeing that I am running out of space in one article. It will be concluded in the next issue.

Fr. Tirso S. Villaverde, Jr.

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