From the Pastor…
On the second page of the parish bulletin, directly opposite this pastor’s piece, is a section called “prayer requests.” In this section, we list the names of those
persons whom parishioners have asked us to remember when we pray. The list includes those who are sick, who have recently died, and who have been recently
married or baptized.
Also listed are the names of persons whom parishioners have asked to be remembered at one of the weekday Masses. This continues a long tradition in the Church in which persons ask the priest to remember a loved one, usually deceased, at a particular Mass. By tradition, the one requesting the priest’s prayers normally gives the priest a sum of money. Sometimes, at the beginning of Mass, you’ll hear the priest say, “This Mass is being offered for so-and-so,” as if the Mass is being offered for that person alone. This is not permitted, and in fact is not true. And while we are happy to honor your requests to remember your loved ones at Mass, we don’t take money in exchange. Let me explain why.
From the earliest days of the Church, the faithful have brought gifts to Sunday Eucharist. These gifts, presented during an “offertory” procession, included not only the bread and wine used in the Mass, but also a variety of other items for the support of the poor and the clergy. These items might be money, but often they were food and clothing and other material goods. Eventually, giving
monetary gifts for the support of the Church community became the usual practice. (We still do this, of course.)
In addition to supporting the Church by placing money in the collection basket at the offertory of the Mass, persons sometimes paid an additional sum of money directly to the priest in exchange for his promise to remember the donor’s intentions at Mass. These payments were called “stipends.” In times past when the clergy did not receive adequate compensation from the local bishop, priests often became dependent on these stipends for their livelihood.
Understandably, many in the Church were uncomfortable with this practice. It seemed as if one was purchasing the priest’s prayer. Also, as an inducement to potential donors, persons were sometimes led to believe that, by giving the priest a Mass stipend, the donor would obtain some special spiritual benefit that was not available to others.
Finally, in 1973, in hopes of eliminating these and other misunderstandings, the Church revised the provisions in canon law relating to the practice of paying stipends in return for Mass intentions. See Code of Canon Law, Canons 945 to 958 (1973). Under the new law, it is still permissible and perfectly proper for one to ask a priest to remember a particular intention at Mass, but the priest
may not demand a monetary payment in exchange. No priest’s prayer – certainly not a Mass – is for sale. To be sure, the new law permits one to make a free will offering to the priest, but this is a gift, not a quid pro quo. And if one does freely choose to make such a gift, it is called an “offering,” not a “stipend.”
The new provisions in canon law also make it clear that when one arranges a “special intention” for a Mass, one does not thereby gain some special benefit, or fruit, that is not available to others. Further, the priest is not precluded from remembering other intentions. Indeed, basic Catholic teaching is that every Mass is offered for many intentions. No one – living or dead – is excluded from the community’s prayer at Mass. A careful reading of any of the Eucharistic Prayers confirms this.
At St. Thomas More we go even further than canon law requires in this matter. At STM, we will not accept even a free will offering of money at the time a parishioner requests that the priest remember a loved one or other intention at Mass. We tell the parishioner that Fr. Pat or I will be happy to remember the parishioner’s intention at Mass, and that we will do this gratuitously. We tell the parishioner that, by printing this intention in the parish bulletin, we are asking all parishioners to also pray for this intention. If the parishioner still wishes to make a gift, we tell the parishioner that we are grateful for the gift, and that the parishioner should simply place the gift in the collection basket at Sunday Mass. The gift, when received, will be deposited into the general parish fund, and will not go to Fr. Pat or me.
Confident that you understand the meaning of this practice of arranging for a “special intention” at Mass, we invite you to continue to ask us to remember your loved ones at weekday Masses. The easiest way to do this is to simply call the parish offices and ask the receptionist to add a name to the prayer list. Alternatively, and equally effective, is to mention aloud the name of your loved one during the General Intercessions when the community prays for the sick and the dead.