Q. 1. What can you tell me about Mass Offerings? What does it cost to have a Mass said for a special intention?
A. 1. These questions are best answered by reproducing the July 1, 2008 letter of Bishop Albert LeGatt, Bishop of Saskatoon.[Original text is found at: http://www.saskatoonrcdiocese.com/news_articles/news_articles.cfm]
Diocese of Saskatoon
OFFICE OF THE BISHOP
2008 July 01
Mass offerings in the Diocese of Saskatoon
Whenever the Eucharist is celebrated, it embraces the entire human family, both living and dead. It is not limited to one person or one intention. The benefits of each Eucharist are infinite and include the whole world.
Nevertheless, as Catholics, we believe that there is inestimable value in “having a Mass celebrated” for a particular intention. This refers to holding up to the Lord a special intention in addition to the intentions that are included in the celebration of every Eucharist: the Holy Father, the diocesan bishop, the clergy and “the entire people your Son has gained for you” (the Third Eucharistic Prayer). Those for whom the Mass is thus offered participate in a special way in the grace of the Eucharistic sacrifice.
These special additional intentions are offered to God as prayers of intercession and thanksgiving. In and through Christ’s perfect sacrifice made present to us in the Eucharist, we pray for the deceased, for those who are ill, for those who face various difficulties or challenges. Often people request a Mass as a prayer of thanksgiving to God for their experience of God’s loving grace helping them through a particularly challenging event or circumstance of life.
When requesting such an intention, it has become customary to make an offering which is given to the priest who celebrates the requested Mass. In the early Church, the faithful participating in the Eucharist provided the gifts necessary for the celebration (especially the bread and wine) as well as other gifts meant to support the clergy and to feed those most in need. In time, monetary offerings came to be substituted for bread and wine. By the end of the Middle Ages, such monetary offerings came to be standardized and were known as “stipends.” There were always some who opposed this practice, claiming it was a charge for services rendered. (There can never be any charge for a Mass. Such a practice is known as simony – a grave offense against God’s will.)
To safeguard against abuses in regard to stipends, a rather complex legislation developed over time. To simplify this complex legislation – and to avoid any public perception that Masses were being sold – the 1983 Code of Canon Law promulgated by Pope John Paul II made significant revisions to the law on stipends. This Code specifies the obligations assumed by the priest when he accepts a request for a Mass intention (cc. 948-949; 953), the time and the place in which such requests must be fulfilled (c. 954), together with the obligations of those who transfer the celebration of such Masses to other priests (cc. 955-956), as well as the records that must be kept in regard to the acceptance of, and celebration of, such requested Masses (cc. 955 & 958).
This 1983 Code clearly acknowledges that the offerings of the faithful for these Mass intentions are a laudable practice. It has deliberately chosen the more precise term “offering”, rather than continuing to use the term “stipend.” This is meant to clearly show that any offering given for the celebration of a Mass is to be freely given – and that the poor and needy are never to be denied the celebration of a Mass for their intentions because of their inability to provide a customary offering (c. 945).
Canon 946 states, “Christ’s faithful who make an offering so that Mass can be celebrated for their intention, contribute to the good of the Church, and by that offering they share in the Church’s concern for the support of its ministers and its activities.”
Pope Paul VI wrote in his Motu Proprio “Firma in traditio” that “the faithful, desiring in a religious and ecclesial spirit to participate more intimately in the Eucharistic sacrifice, add to it a form of sacrifice of their own by which they contribute in a particular way to the needs of the Church and especially to the sustenance of her ministers.” An offering for a Mass – when it is financially possible for a person to make such an offering – is a form of almsgiving, the spiritual importance of which Jesus himself taught.
The offering given for the celebration of a Mass is an expression of the donor’s desire to share in the fruits of the Mass. The material gift not only provides the needs of the celebration and the sustenance of the priest, it also expresses the donor’s gift of self to God and the belief that God accepts our prayers and responds to them as a loving and gracious father.
The suggested (not mandatory) offering is established by the bishop after consultation with his council of priests. Over the past year, I have been discussing this matter with my council of priests. Since 1965, following Vatican Council II, to the present, the suggested offering has been $5.00 in our diocese. In view of the financial realities impacting our ministers, as well as of other important considerations affecting this matter, I and my council of priests have concluded that the suggested offering for a Mass in the Diocese of Saskatoon will be $10.00. This will become the norm for our diocese effective July 1. (This is in line with the Archdiocese of Regina and the Diocese of Prince Albert, which already have an established suggested offering of $10.)
Please note the following with regard to any Mass offerings:
1. It is always permissible for a priest to accept a lesser offering or even no offering for a Mass. Those people who are unable to make an offering for a Mass because of financial circumstances are still encouraged to request their pastor or other priest to celebrate a Mass for a special intention. In place of an almsgiving for such a Mass, they may perform some other work of charity to express their gift of self to God.
2. A donor may offer more than the suggested $10.00. If more is offered voluntarily by the donor, it may be accepted, provided it is clear that the donor is requesting only one Mass.
3. All Mass offerings which have already been accepted at the previous offering level will be honored.
4. The diocesan bishop must apply the Mass for the people entrusted to him on each Sunday and on each holyday of obligation in his diocese (c. 388).
Likewise, the parish priest is bound on each Sunday and holyday of obligation in his diocese to apply the Mass for the people entrusted to him (c. 534).
Such a Mass celebrated by your bishop and by your pastor is known as the Missa pro populo – and no offering may be accepted for such Masses.
Sincerely in Christ,
† Most Rev. Albert LeGatt, DD
Bishop of Saskatoon