Should the church expect donations with Mass requests?
In a Faith & Reason essay published on America’s website in September, John F. Baldovin, S.J., examined the theological soundness of making a monetary offering for the sake of “having a Mass said” for an individual. Father Baldovin urged “that we clarify the role of the priest with regard to Mass intentions, that we attempt to celebrate Sunday Masses for the people in general and that we eliminate money from the equation.” Our readers had a lot to say about the practice of Mass intentions in the online comments.
I make a donation to my parish when I request a Mass for a loved one who is either terminally ill or celebrating a special moment in life (a milestone wedding anniversary, for example). While it is a small donation, I do expect our offertories to help the parish do things like pay the bills and look after building maintenance. It is inaccurate to say that one is paying for a Mass intention.
In churches, there is a donation box to light a candle. There is a collection at Mass. We pay for Mass cards. When is enough enough? Many Catholic websites only “suggest” a donation for submitting prayer requests online, but then they make it very difficult to submit that request without paying for it. I feel like I am being nickel-and-dimed at every turn, but I know this article is just about prayer. Prayer is our Christian obligation and duty, and I would actually say it is our privilege as people in Christ. We should be praying for everyone, all the time, for free. The church can ask for donations and support at other times and in other ways. Separate money from prayer.
I am a pastor. I do require some sort of donation for Mass intentions. It is a practice I instituted a couple of years ago when I got here. Before, people tended to be a bit more flippant, with a half dozen “can you offer this up for” requests five minutes before Mass, expecting and listening for a name to be mentioned. It appeared almost as an afterthought—most would stop, turn their heads and make that request right before I gave the nod to the choir to begin. Now, people have to stop by the office, choose a date for their Mass and make a donation in the poor box I placed in the office. The offering never goes to me, not even as a stipend. No one knows what an individual person donated, since we only empty the box once a month. Honestly, I am ambivalent about the results of the change I made. The number of intention requests has been reduced, but I do believe there needs to be some reverence toward the person for whom the Mass is being offered as well as some protection against flippancy.
(Rev.) Joseph Lody
This is a good article, although I must admit that a lot of it went over my head. It’s a topic I’ve never thought about before. The idea of praying for a specific individual during Mass to remember them seems like the most normal thing in the world to me. If somebody’s grandfather died this time last year and they’d like a Mass offered for him, I think that’s a great idea. A prayer for the beloved departed and a comfort to those they left behind is a good thing. The money part is a bit tricky. I’ve always been under the impression that priests make a pittance, so I can’t blame them for looking for ways to supplement their income. But paying for prayer—paying for access to God—sounds an awful lot like indulgences. And for somebody on a limited income, paying might put that small comfort out of reach. Father Joseph Lody (see comment above) has the right idea: The “cost” of the Mass should be a suggested donation, which can be any amount the person requesting feels compelled to give, and the request has to be made in advance.
Just because a Mass is offered for a person or intention doesn’t mean that those in attendance aren’t free to offer it for their own intentions; God is infinite and can accommodate many prayers. I don’t stress too much about a monetary offering for a Mass, since most of the time it’s pretty nominal. In some parishes they don’t accept an offering at all. I feel it is a comforting thing to have a Mass offered for someone’s departed loved one, more so than buying flowers.