The ancient and venerable practice of the Church is that in addition to the intention of the good of the whole Church, a priest offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for a particular intention for the good of the faithful. Often this mass intention is for a deceased person, but can be for some other worthy intention, such as prayers for the healing of the sick, a mass to petition for divine assistance in the midst of great trial or calamity, mass for a married couple celebrating a significant anniversary, or for someone celebrating a birthday. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us about celebrating the Mass for the intention of the deceased: ‘This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore Judas Maccabeus made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead: Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.’
The offering associated with a mass intention is strictly regulated in the Code of Canon Law and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Church wishes to avoid any semblance of trafficking or trading, that is, offering grace in exchange for money. While may be a customary offering (or stipend as it is called) in a geographical region that is determined by the bishop, the Christian faithful give an offering for the intention truly of their free will. The offering contributes to the good of the entire Church and manifests a concern to support its ministers and sacred duties. A priest is recommended to celebrate the Mass for a particular intention, especially the needy have a request, even if no offering has been received. At one time in the Diocese of Jefferson City, there was a variance in what was customary for an offering in parishes. Some parishes had $2.00 for the offering and some had $3.00. In some parishes, there were many offerings given, and in other parishes not so many. The new edition of the Code of Canon Law was an opportunity to update practices regarding mass intentions and ensure a just and proper disposition of the offerings. Therefore, for over twenty-five years, in the Diocese of Jefferson City, it has been a custom to use the money that has been offered for an intention to help a parish ensure a just salary for the priests. The suggested offering was established at $5.00. Priests who are retired may keep the stipend, but priests in active ministry do not directly receive the offering.
Several other regulations and customs are important to note. A priest may only keep the offering from one intention a day. The only exception being Christmas Day. If a priest celebrates a second mass, or for pastoral reasons a third mass, the offering that was given for one of those additional masses must be given to the Diocese for the specified good of the faithful. This case is called a bination. The pastor of a parish is under a grave obligation to offer the Mass for the good of the people of the parish, both living and deceased (Misa pro populo). That is why you will see one of the weekend masses as designated or the Parishioners. There is no offering associated with that. The faithful might request one single mass intention and offer an amount for that intention more than is customary. The parish can accept that offering surplus and use it for the good of the faithful. There might be a request for more than one mass to be celebrated for a specific intention. For example, on the occasion of a funeral, the faithful often give an offering for memorial masses for the deceased. In this case, the number of masses to be satisfied would equal the amount offered divided by the amount of the customary offering for one intention. Another custom that is in other locations was that of charging a stole fee. This is an offering that was tied to the celebrations of sacraments like baptisms, weddings and funerals. Priests are no allowed to charge stole fees for sacraments or other religious activities. The faithful are free to offer a honorarium as a thank you to the priest, but this is at their discretion and the priest must consider it as regular income for tax purposes.
The priest and parish are under a grave obligation to satisfy the intentions that have been requested. The Mass intention book records the requests for a mass intention and the offering, along with the date that the mass is celebrated. When the Bishop visits the parish, this is one of the books that he is recommended to audit. The money given as mass offerings must be kept in a separate account. That money may not be used to gain interest of any form. Money is transferred to the general operating account of the parish on a regular bases in the amount that corresponds to the intentions that have been satisfied. It is a custom at Our Lady of the Lake to accept mass intentions that only can be reasonably satisfied within a year of the offering. Since there are only so many masses celebrated in the parish, you may be asked if it is ok to send the mass intention and offering into the Diocese so that others may assist in satisfying the obligation. We also urge people not to request more than five masses at any one time. We want to be able to offer a mass on a particularly important day, such as the anniversary of death or on someone’s birthday. We trust that people understand that we do our best to accommodate the wishes of the faithful, but we must keep in mind the common good and the rules of the Church.
The regulation of mass offerings is something that bishops in an area are requested to agree upon. Some of the neighboring dioceses had increased the suggested offering. This variance has lead to some confusion for folks who come to Our Lady of the Lake because we have so many visitors from other dioceses. The four bishops of the province of Missouri have therefore agreed upon a new, commonly recommended mass offering. From May 3, 2019, the customary mass offering will be increased to $10.00. Any masses that have been requested before that time will be satisfied as has been custom and the offering remains as has been given. The increase to $10.00 is the only change that would impact the faithful.
I will conclude with a few points about how to go about requesting a mass intention. Susan Ziegler manages the mass intentions in the office, but Kelly Hamrin can also assist those who stop by. You can request a mass intention using these words, “I would like a mass offered for the following intention: for John Smith, for the repose of his soul.” Or you might say, “I would like to have three masses celebrated for Jane Smith, who is deceased.” Or you could request a mass for someone living, “I would like to request a mass for my brother-in-law Bill Smith, who was recently diagnosed with cancer.” Sometimes people request masses for a special intention since they wish to offer a mass, but for some understandable reason do not wish to make public the intention. In this case, we will just record the name of the one requesting the intention and note that it is for a special intention. The office staff is very discrete in these cases. You may wish to give some general indication of what the mass intention is for. This is especially helpful for the priest to offer the mass with a knowing spirit. The bulletin will note that the mass is for a “Special Intention” with no other identifying information.
Once you have made the request. You will want to settle upon a date. You might say, “As soon as possible” but then find out that the next available mass is in four weeks! If a parishioner is recently deceased, we usually have a mass as soon as possible after the funeral. In cases where you wish a particular date, you might want to check with the office several months in advance. As to the offering, as mentioned above, the customary amount for an offering for a single mass intention is now $10.00. You may write a check or bring cash with you. Or if times are tight and there is a great need, offer what you are able. The office is very good at contacting folks regarding the celebration of a mass intention to remind them that it is coming up so that they can participate in the mass personally.
The offering of a mass intention for the repose of a soul or for the spiritual and material welfare of an individual, family or community has been one of the most consistent sources of grace that I have experienced in my priesthood. There can be no greater gift than to offer the sacrifice of the Mass. And there are no richer fruits than the benefits that come from the pious celebration of the Eucharist. In celebrating a mass intention, I am always reminded of the great priestly grace Christ has given me in assisting Him in the salvation of the world. But the fruits of this worthy custom do not only come to the one for whom the mass is offered, nor only additionally the one who made the offering, nor to me, Christ’s unworthy servant, but to the whole Church. When we see the intentions listed each week in the bulletin or when we here the intentioned announced at mass, all the faithful can fulfill their sacred role to pray for the living and the deceased.