About Mass Intentions

The sacrifice of the Mass has an infinite value and indeed there is no objective limitation to the number of intentions that can be offered at any Mass. The Church, however, normally allows only one intention with a stipend united to each Mass. In order to grasp the issues involved, it may help to realize what happens when a priest, or his representative, accepts a stipend to have a Mass said for a specific person or intention. The person who has offered the stipend has not purchased the grace of the Mass, a thing which is patently impossible. What has happened is that the priest or a Religious Community has committed himself to celebrate a Mass according to the intentions of the person making the offering.

This intention is quite 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 even though he is free to offer up any number of other personal intentions, without stipends for the Sacrifice of the Mass is of Infinite Value. 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.

Sometimes, more people request Mass intentions at which they desire to attend than is compatible with parish schedules, a situation ever more common due to the lack of priests. To address this desire, the Holy See has authorized bishops to allow the celebration of Masses with several intentions. These "cumulative" Masses can only be celebrated with the explicit permission of the local bishop. The Marian Fathers do not take advantage of this special ruling. The priest who celebrates such a Mass may retain only one stipend and must dedicate the others to the cause determined by the bishop.

The situation of these cumulative Masses is different from that prevalent in some poor countries in which many people ask the priest to remember them at Mass and often offer a tiny sum as a symbolic contribution. Such offerings are not considered stipends as the faithful are accustomed to Mass being offered for many intentions besides their own.

It is also different from enrollment in Mass associations or spriritual benefit societies such as the Association of Marian Helpers. In this case, a person who makes a donation to a monastery, sanctuary or religious community, either in their own name or to spiritually benefit another, is remembered in a general way at certain fixed Masses celebrated in the sanctuary or community.

The usual amount for the stipend offering is determined by the bishops either nationally or locally. The faithful are free to offer more if they desire, and priests are encouraged to celebrate Mass for the intentions of their faithful even if they are too poor to offer a stipend.

- P.J. Kerbard
(Compiled from my notes on Canon Law, personal reflections and responses from Fr. Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University. in ZENET)

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