By Father Thom Hennen
What are the rules for Mass intentions and stipends? What if a parish receives more Mass intentions than it can fulfill?
It is a beautiful and ancient custom in our Catholic tradition to ask for Masses to be offered for particular intentions. It is most typical to have Masses said for the deceased, though Masses may also be applied for the living or for particular intentions. Mass requests are typically “first come first serve” in parishes and are to be scheduled within a reasonable timeframe, accommodating specific dates when possible.
Occasionally, someone will come into the parish office and ask, “How much for a Mass?” While the suggested stipend for a Mass is $5 (as determined by the province, the four bishops of Iowa), technically, Masses are free. We do not “sell” what God has given freely. If someone asks me to say a Mass for a special intention but is not able to make the customary $5 offering and I agree to this, I am obligated to say the Mass for that intention. By canon law, a priest may only receive one stipend per day. Additional stipends (for additional Masses offered, called “binations”) are sent to the diocese. In our diocese, this is used for seminary education.
Mass requests are to be fulfilled within one year. If that is not possible, then they are to be sent to the diocese and the retired priests may take some of them for their daily Masses. Some are sent to other dioceses and missionary orders around the world, often in places where Mass stipends are still an important source of income for priests. Those Masses are said for the requested intentions, but maybe halfway around the world in another language. This is a beautiful testament to the universality of our Church.
Some parishes may have many more requests for Masses than can be reasonably scheduled within a year. A priest may only celebrate one Mass on a weekday or two in case of pastoral need (for example, a funeral, a wedding or nursing home Mass). In our diocese, on a weekend a priest may celebrate the vigil Mass (Saturday) and a maximum of three Masses on Sundays. Many parishes only have one priest or may even share a priest among two or more parishes. Also, the pastor of a parish or cluster of parishes is obligated to offer one Sunday Mass each week “pro populo,” that is, for the (living) people of the parish. You can see how quickly this limits the number of Mass requests that can be accommodated.
Mass requests and stipends must never be stockpiled or held over from year to year. They may be grouped as a “collective” intention only by exception and under certain conditions. Those requesting the Masses must be informed and consent to this. The time and place of the Mass must be made public and a priest may offer a Mass for collective intention no more than twice a week.
For example, if two people ask for a Mass to be said for a deceased loved one on the same day, the parish can contact the parties and ask if they are okay with having the Mass offered for both intentions that day. If they agree, we can do this and it is published accordingly. Each party still makes the customary $5 offering, though the priest only keeps one stipend. The other should be sent to the diocese (as a bination) for the seminary fund.
I know this gets a bit technical but it is important that we follow Church law on this and that we do right by the faithful. I hope this helps!
(Father Thom Hennen serves as the pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org)