Father Tirso

I continue last weekend’s article regarding Mass intentions and the stipends that are associated with them.

When the custom of votive Masses and weekday Masses developed, the practice of Mass stipends also began to develop. Initially, the monetary offerings connected to Mass intentions helped to provide for the wellbeing of the priest. Since he was not allowed to engage in any other profession which would afford him another source of income, he became dependent on the stipends given to him for Mass intentions. Of course, this is not really the case today since priests normally receive a salary determined by diocesan guidelines. To be clear, a priest’s salary is nowhere near what someone with a master’s degree is supposed to receive but he does benefit from a financial remuneration from the parish he serves. In some parts of the world (for example, Third World countries), a priest’s salary can be a lot less and so there are times when Mass stipends become a help to a priest’s basic needs.

Either way, we still have the custom of making an offering whenever a Mass intention is requested. Each diocese stipulates for its particular region the amount of this offering but it is relatively the same amount. For example, here in Chicago and in virtually every diocese in the nation, the customary Mass offering for an intention is $10. All of this still begs the question of what purpose it all serves.

First, what we must avoid is the sense or understanding that Masses are being put up “for sale.” There was a part of our Church’s history when simony was rampant. Simony was the understanding/custom that Masses or sacraments could be bought and used as “shortcuts” into heaven. We need to avoid this understanding because offering a Mass intention is not the same as entering into a contractual agreement where we pay for a specific service to be done. In fact, the official term used now in the Code of Church Law is the word “offering” since a stipend still implies that a certain service was “paid for” in return for a service granted.

Rather, what we must always go back to is a sense of gratitude. Whenever we make a donation— whether it be to a parish or any other charitable organization—the motivation is a sense of being thankful for the blessings we have received and the desire to share the blessings with others. So, in the case of making a contribution to a charity, we more than likely might do so because we are being moved by a desire to “give back” or “pay it forward” as we oftentimes say. Those donations, then, are made as an act of thanksgiving and, in the true spirit of generosity, nothing is expected in return.

The same must be the case when offerings are made as an act of prayer. Requesting someone to be prayed for during a Mass is an act of intercessory prayer. Whenever we request a Mass intention, we are doing so because we wish that our prayer be united to the prayer of the Church as she celebrates the Eucharist. Furthermore, since the Eucharist is an act of prayer in which the Church Militant (the faithful on earth) and the Church Triumphant (the faithful in heaven together with the angels and the saints) are both united in the same act of praise, requesting a Mass intention for a specific person elevates our prayer in such a way that both heaven and earth are praying for the same thing.

Of course, this does not mean that only those whose names are mentioned at Mass benefit from this spiritual union between heaven and earth. Whether a name is mentioned or not, the Church’s prayer is still a powerful intercessory tool that has a powerful spiritual benefit for both those on earth and those in heaven. For those on earth, the benefit lies in the very fact that God’s grace is communicated through the act of the Church’s prayer. For those in heaven, they fulfill their role as those who pray for the faithful on earth since they are the ones who are closer to the Throne of God than anyone on earth might be.

Again, what we basically want to avoid is using language that insinuates that the Church is in the “buying and selling” business when it comes to Mass intentions. It must and always be an act of faith and prayer that ought to be motivated by a sense of gratitude.

Fr. Tirso S. Villaverde, Jr.

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