With all the best intentions

Friday 20 February 2015 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — early Lent

Yes, dear readers, even I have pet peeves. I know it’s hard to believe. One is when someone phones the rectory and says, “Father, I want to buy a Mass.” The caller, I presume, has all the best intentions but is just unsure of the proper vocabulary. Here’s another one. Someone comes into the Sacristy, hands me $10, and announces, “This is to pay for the Mass.” I try to be polite but I sometimes have to smile through gritted teeth. And a third example: Someone asks me to celebrate Holy Mass for a “special intention.” To celebrate that Mass, I don’t need to know the exact nature of the intention, but are not all prayer intentions special? 

I remember a story about the saintly Curé of Ars, who, overcome by curiosity, finally asked a parishioner the nature of her frequent “special intentions.”  She said she was praying fervently that he get transferred to some other parish. Sometimes it’s best if I don’t know the particulars.

Once, at the request of a parishioner, I said Mass for a “special intention.” I, like St. John Vianney, later learned the nature of the “special intention.” After Mass, with no prompting on my part, the woman volunteered additional information: “Well, I hope this keeps my nasty aunt from cursing me with the evil eye. She’s a witch, you know.” That was way more than I needed to know.  

The fact is that the person who arranged for the Mass intention and offered the stipend has neither bought nor paid for a Mass. That would be wrong on so many levels. What has happened is that I have accepted the responsibility of celebrating Mass according to the intentions of the person who has made the offering. This agreement may carry with it the obligation to say Mass on a particular date, at a particular time, and in a particular place. My acceptance is a Spiritual and internal act. Once I (or my representative) have accepted the commitment, justice requires that I fulfill it. Actually, I am free to offer up as many prayer intentions at Mass as I wish, but this one I must offer to God in a particular way and I can only accept one offering. Sometimes, in certain places, due to the shortage of priests and the large number of Mass intentions, a bishop may allow his priests to occasionally accept more than one intention for a single Mass — but only one stipend. 

Sometimes a lector will say in the Prayer of the Faithful something like, “for whom this Mass is offered.” This is patently untrue. All the dead are remembered in every Mass celebrated anywhere in the world. So are all the living. The priest celebrant and every person in the assembly can properly have his or her prayer intention at Mass. These may be identical, but they don’t have to be. 

Since my prayer intention is Spiritual and internal, I am not obliged to announce it to the assembly. I do so not as a benefit to the deceased, but as a comfort to the living. Even so, unless it is a Mass for the Dead, I do not have the right to insert names into the Eucharistic Prayer. No priest has the right to insert a single word into the Eucharistic Prayer. In solicitude for the family, it is often helpful to make a public announcement in the parish bulletin or add the name to the Prayer of the Faithful that day or announce the name before Mass begins or post the name on the church bulletin board. Another way of alerting a grieving family to a Mass intention is the Mass card. This can be a great comfort at the time of death — immeasurably more efficacious than a floral piece or a commemorative plaque. 

I put out a list of the weekly intentions for the priest celebrants. If one has poor eyesight and can’t make out the name, that’s OK. He is still offering Mass for the intention of the donor. If someone mispronounces the name, that’s unfortunate but it does not affect the Mass intention. If the wrong name is announced, the Mass should probably be rescheduled. 

Am I obliged to say Mass every day? Strictly speaking, no. It’s strongly recommended but I, like you, have only the obligation to participate at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. As a pastor, I also have the obligation to say a Sunday or Holy Day Mass for the people. I celebrate Mass because I want to. When I was a young curate, Father John Driscoll often advised me, “Tim, when you celebrate Holy Mass, you are exercising the gift of your priesthood to the fullest.” 

A stipend is not a fee. In the (very) old days, it was a donation to help defray the cost of consumables (candles, bread, wine, etc.). The requested amount of the stipend is now usually standardized within each diocese. 

I hope this clarifies things a bit. Remember, I have all the best intentions. 

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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