Mass intentions

Dear Friends:

                As the Pastor of multiple parishes I was wondering what Canon Law said about my obligations to offer a Missa Pro Populo (mass for the people of the parish) each weekend. Canon 534 §1 states that “After a pastor has taken possession of his parish, he is obliged to apply a Mass for the people entrusted to him on each Sunday and holy day of obligation in his diocese.” Paragraph §2 states that “A pastor who has the care of several parishes is bound to apply only one Mass for the entire people entrusted to him on the days mentioned in §1.”

Every pastor is required to offer the Mass pro populo. For priests who have the care of several parishes there only needs to be one Mass for all the parishes, the Mass pro populo should be listed in the bulletin as either “pro populo,” or “for the People of the Parish.” The Mass pro populo is not to be combined with other intentions. You may have seen these listed in our parish bulletin each weekend, but we also have listed the mass intentions for other weekday masses as well.

I was looking at the commentaries in Canon Law about the subject of Mass intentions and the following information was what I gleaned from my research. The custom of requesting a priest to offer the Mass for a specific intention is a longstanding tradition in the Church. This is because the Church considers the Mass as the greatest possible prayer of intercession insofar as it is the perfect offering of Christ to the Father by making present the paschal mystery of his death and resurrection. Because of the particular role of the priest as mediator between God and humanity, acting "in persona Christi" when offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass, it is usually considered that special graces may be obtained when he applies the Mass to a particular intention.

The faithful generally make an offering, called a stipend, to the priest in order to apply the Mass to a specific intention (in our parishes these go directly to the parish and are not used to help the priests financially). We pay our priests a living wage and this is included in their salary. When a Mass cannot be celebrated in the place it was requested, the excess intentions are passed on to other priests, parishes or the local bishop. They must assure that all Mass requests are fulfilled within the space of one year. The Church normally allows only one intention with stipend united to each Mass.

In order to grasp the issues involved, it may help to realize what happens when a priest accepts a stipend to have a Mass said for a specific person or intention. The person who has offered the stipend has not "bought a Mass," a thing which is patently impossible. What has happened is that the priest has committed himself to celebrate a Mass according to the intentions of the person making the offering. This intention is most often to recommend the soul of a deceased person but may also be for the personal intentions of the living. In some cases the commitment is to ensure that the Mass is celebrated within a year, but frequently also involves other conditions such as a specific time or place for the Mass, especially to coincide with an anniversary of death or when the person requesting the Mass has great interest in personally participating in the celebration. Once he has accepted the commitment the priest is bound in justice to fulfill it and may not normally accept or substitute other intentions for the same Mass.

The priest's intention is essentially a spiritual and internal act through which he commends the intention to God in a particular way. He does not necessarily have to know the person for whom he is offering up the Mass. And in some cases — for example, if unaware of the customs of the church where he is celebrating — it is enough for him to know that an intention was requested and he celebrates the Mass according to the intention of the donor. This aspect should throw light on the rather dicey subject of the public proclamation of the intentions. Because the intention is essentially a spiritual act, its publication neither adds nor subtracts from its efficacy. Indeed, publicly announcing the intention is done for the comfort of the living and not for the benefit of the dead. Provided this is understood, there is usually no difficulty in making some form of announcement. But there are few official rules regarding this aspect.

Some parishes are content with posting a notice on a bulletin board or on its weekly bulletin. Others prefer to announce the intention before Mass begins; others immediately after the greeting. Still others insert the name during the general intercessions. Any one of these solutions is possible. Sometimes, mishaps can occur, such as when a priest forgets to read out a name or cannot find it. In this case it is enough that he celebrated according to the intention of the donor.

                I hope this helps clarify some of the rationale for what we are doing in the cluster and how we can proceed with the subject of mass intentions going forward.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Scott Connolly