Fr. Peter Daly
I'm ready for the angry letters. I'm ready for the letters telling me that I don't know Canon Law, the history of the church, or the problems of financing missions and religious orders. I know that I am going to get those letters because of what I am about to say.
I am opposed to the payment of stipends for the saying of masses.
I am opposed to it even though it is permitted and encouraged by custom and law of the church.
I am opposed to it because it smacks of "simony," ( the buying and selling of religious benefits).
I have been a parish priest for 12 years. In every parish where I have served we have collected stipends for mass intentions. For all 12 years I have turned those stipends back into the general parish fund, even though it is technically "my money." (It usually amounts to over $1,000 per year.) I do this because I think that we should avoid the impression that we are "selling our prayers" like the mercenary televangelists who traffic in prayer for money.
Don't get me wrong. I think we should offer masses for the intentions of our parishioners. I do it every day. It is especially right to pray for the souls of the departed.
I also think that the faithful have an obligation to support their parish and their priests.
Moreover, people should make a donation, preferably a sizeable one, to the priest and the parish for special events such as wedding as funerals. These events require a great deal of time, effort, preparation and resources.
But, the "payment" of money for mass intentions is different. It gives the wrong impression, no matter how we try to say otherwise.
I wince whenever I hear people say that they "bought a mass for someone."
Mass stipends inevitably give the impression of a sale of some sort of commercial exchange.
Canon law is obviously aware of this problem and tendency. Why else would there be 13 separate canons (945 to 958) dealing entirely with the practice of mass stipends. That is a lot when you consider that there are only 1752 canons (or laws) in the whole Code of Canon Law.
Canon 947 says that "even the semblance of trafficking or trading is to be entirely excluded from Mass offerings." But how exactly is this to be done? Most dioceses set a mass offering amount. This not only misleads the faithful, it also changes the relationship to the priest. We become their paid "prayers."
Even worse are the religious orders that solicit donations in the mail in exchange for enrolling someone in a "spiritual benefits" society. We have to find a better way to support our religious orders and missionaries.
Perhaps the larger answer is tithing. People should give freely and substantially to the work of the church, in thanksgiving to God for His bounty to them. That is the spirit of the Acts of the Apostles and of Jesus.
Our parish is a tithing parish. The dependable generosity of our people takes away the anxiety about money and makes it possible for us to share with the missions and the poor. In our parish the first 10% of our receipts go to the poor.
There will always be a desire to offer prayers, especially for the dead. There will always be a need to support the work of the church. But somehow we have to separate the two needs because it gives the wrong and impression about our motives and fails to give adequate support.