Newsletter of the District
- May 1998
Fr. Daniel Couture
The early Christians
made offerings of bread and wine for the Holy Sacrifice, and other
offerings for the use of the sacred ministers and the poor. The
former were given at the Offertory of the Mass. These gifts were
distinct, both in origin and signification, from special offerings
made to the celebrant for a pious intention or the application of
Mass to that intention. Offerings were made by those only who had
the right to do so, and consequently the excommunicate, catechumens
and penitents, made no common offering, as they were excluded from
direct participation in the Sacrifice. Formal alms for Masses are
traced to the seventh century, possibly to the fourth. Thus, the
Venerable Bede speaks of money as an alms for Masses. (Eccles. Hist.
IV, 22) By the twelfth century the practice had become general,
but it was open to abuse, as witness Pope Alexander II condemning
priests who celebrated several Masses on the one day for the sake
of profit, and the Council of York (ann. 1193, c. 3) forbidding
the practice altogether.
the Church - Wycliff, Calvin, the jansenists, and many today?implicitly
condemn such almsgiving as simony. The Church, however, accepted
and positively approved of the practice on the very clear grounds
that by Natural law the faithful are bound to support their pastors,
and by divine positive law the pastor has a right to maintenance:
"Even so, the Lord directed those who proclaim the Gospel to live
by the Gospel" (I Cor. 9, 14). Pope Pius VI, therefore, condemned
the contention that alms for Masses were a disgraceful abuse as
false, temerarious, injurious to ecclesiastical and pastoral rights,
and offensive to the Church and her ministers.
of Mass Stipends
then, in her canons (c. 824, CIC 1917) asserts that it is in accordance
with approved custom and the ordinance of the Church that a priest,
who celebrates and applies a Mass, should accept for it an alms
or an offering (stipend). He offers the Sacrifice gratuitously;
he receives, on the ground of strict justice, an alms for his entire
or partial sustenance, and this is not merely equitable, but it
is necessary, for if wine, candles, a server, vestments, altar-furniture
are necessary for the celebration of Mass, much more necessary is
the priest himself, duly maintained and disposed for his office.
No priest and no Catholic make the mistake of thinking that a price
is ever given for a Mass; the error, rather the gross imputation,
is a fabrication of the heretical mind.
of Masses and Stipends
of Masses celebrated and applied in virtue of stipends accepted
must be exactly equivalent to the number of stipends received, even
if they are small. When a priest has accepted a Mass stipend with
the obligation of saying Mass, he must fulfil the contract, even
though the stipend has been lost or stolen, or mislaid, culpably
or not, for he undertook the obligation, the stipend became his
own, and if lost he must be the loser. If, however, such a priest
did not actually receive the stipend, because, for example, it was
lost in transit by post, or stolen before it reached him, he is
under no obligation in justice. Where a sum of money has been given
and accepted for Masses, but the number of Masses has not been indicated
by the donor, that number must be determined by the stipend customary
in the place where the donor is staying unless the priest can legitimately
presume the donor's intention to have been otherwise (c. 830, CIC
1917). Nevertheless, a priest may reasonably presume that a donor
of stipends wishes to benefit a poor mission or to make a personal
gift to the priest. If the presumption is valid, as it may easily
be, the celebrant must determine in his own conscience the extent
of his obligations. For example, a priest in India receiving US$50
with a note to offer "some" Masses would be right in offering 5
Masses (US rate average stipend $10) rather than 65 masses (Indian
rate, average stipend Rupees 30 $0.75)
It is the right
of the local ordinary (local bishop) to settle the monetary measure
of stipends by decree in the diocesan synod, if possible. Where,
however, the ordinary has issued no decree, the custom of the diocese
must be observed. Nevertheless, it is permissible to accept a larger
stipend if spontaneously offered, and a smaller stipend, unless
the local ordinary has forbidden a smaller one to be taken.
Governing the Celebration of Stipend Masses
the donor of a stipend is to be presumed to request only the application
of Mass, but if some particular circumstances in its celebration
are expressly asked for, those circumstances must be fulfilled if
the obligation is undertaken by accepting the stipend. These circumstances
may have reference to time, place, kind of Mass, personal celebration,
and they are a substantial element in the contract.
1. If a precise
time for the celebration of a Mass has been assigned, that circumstance
must be fulfilled, but if the time has passed, the priest may interpret
the reasonable wishes of the donor.
2. If no particular
time has been assigned the canons prescribe the following rules:
(a) If the
Mass is to be offered for some pressing intention, it must be celebrated
as soon as possible.
(b) In other
cases, Masses are to be celebrated within a short time relatively
to their greater or lesser number for the same intention.
(c) When the
door has left the time of celebration to the priest, the latter
may celebrate the Masses at his own convenience, but he may not
undertake to say more Masses than it is possible to say within one
year (c. 835). The latter prescription does not bind a priest
if he accepts the obligation on the condition of being allowed to
pass on some of the Masses to other priests, and this condition
may perhaps be presumed unless the contrary is expressed. The year
is to be computed from the date when the stipends were accepted.
for Novena of Masses (9 Masses in a row) and for the Gregorian Masses
(30 Masses in a row) are usually larger as they bind the priest
for the corresponding number of days.
1. Mass stipends
are the priest's personal money. They do not go to the church fund.
Not this: "Father, here is a donation to the church. Please say
a mass for me." (too vague) But this: "Father, this is a donation
to the church, and this is for a mass for me." (clear distinction)
2. In our Asian
priories, since the Mass stipend is the only "income" or "pocket
money" the priest receives (a regular salary not being possible),
and since the amount of the stipend is left to the donor's discretion,
donors are reminded that their stipend is also a sign of
appreciation for their priests in this time of shortage of priests.
3. As it has
been said above (see "Origin"), the pastors have a right to their
maintenance ("those who proclaim the Gospel ... live by the Gospel").
Therefore a priest is under no obligation to offer a Mass
when no stipend has been given to him, unless he personally
decided otherwise. (This is a frequent case, when people ask for
a Mass by telephone and never send the corresponding stipend).
are urged to present their Mass stipends in a clear and proper
manner, i.e. in an envelope, with the intentions clearly indicated
and with the stipend.
5. By law
(c. 835, CIC 1917), the priest cannot accept more than a year's
Mass stipends unless he can pass some to other priests. As
there are so few priests celebrating the traditional Mass nowadays,
the faithful are asked to be moderate in the number of requests
for Masses. The priest is entitled to send back the stipends when
he is overloaded with Mass intentions or when the requests are unreasonable.
6. For the
same reason, the faithful must understand that it is not always
possible to offer masses on specific days, especially for minor
intentions (such as birthdays). Note. The main reference
for this article is "Moral and Pastoral Theology" by H. Davis,
S. J. Vol III, pp. 174 - 194.