On occasion, someone will arrive at the rectory and ask, “How much does it cost to buy a Mass?" Particularly at the time a loved dies, individuals will approach the Church to “have a Mass said” for the deceased. Sometimes at Mass, the priest will announce who the Mass is for.
There's been a strong tradition in the Roman Catholic Church, as Pope Paul VI stated in his motu proprio, Firma in Traditione (1974), that “the faithful, led on by a religious and ecclesial awareness, desire to participate more intimately in a kind of sacrifice of themselves, as it were, with the Eucharistic sacrifice in order that they might more actively participate in it." In this way, the faithful provide for the support of the Church and in a special way for the support of her ministers. This is done in keeping with the Lord's words, "The laborer deserves his wages.” (Luke 10:7) St. Paul, likewise, reminds us of this point in his First Letter to Timothy (1 Tm. 5:18) and his First Letter to the people of Corinth (1 Cor. 9:7-14).
Historically, the Mass offering or Mass stipend, had its origin within the offertory of the Mass, during which the faithful who participated in the Eucharistic celebration offered primarily the bread and wine for the sacrifice, as well as other natural gifts, for the needs of the poor and for the sustenance of the Church's ministers. In this way, the offering was uniquely united with the Eucharistic celebration itself. From the Middle Ages through the present day, the Mass offering has become almost exclusively monetary.
By their nature, Mass offerings bind the faithful more closely to the sacrifice of Christ, to the work of the Church's minister in carrying out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, in solidarity with one's brothers and sisters in the family of all. So that this kind of awareness may always be preserved, canonical norms have been established through the centuries.
Any priest, in accordance with the approved custom of the Church, may accept an offering to apply a certain Mass for a specific intention. The priest is not to accept more intentions than what can be satisfied in one year. The offering for a Mass intention in the Diocese of Ogdensburg is normally $10.00. In the event of someone not having adequate funds, a priest can celebrate an intention for an agreed upon offering. In the event a priest celebrates more than one Mass on a particular day, he may retain only one offering, with any other offering being given to the purpose the Diocesan Bishop determines.
In the Diocese of Ogdensburg, a priest receives a monthly salary. Any offerings he receives for Masses that he celebrates during the month is deducted from his monthly salary so that his monthly compensation remains the same, regardless of the number of Masses he celebrates in any given month. There are situations where an abundance of Mass intentions exist and cannot be satisfied by a particular priest in one year. In such a case, to ensure that Mass requests are fulfilled in an appropriate time, Mass intentions are to be distributed to those priests who have an insufficient number of offerings for Masses that he will celebrate. In our diocese, this distribution is accomplished through the Propagation of the Faith office.
Separate Masses must be applied for the intention for each of which an offering, even if small, and has been made and accepted. However, by way of exception, a priest may celebrate several intentions at one time. This exception requires the prior approval of the Diocesan Bishop and can only occur if the donor has freely consented to combining intentions and has been informed of the date and the time of the celebration.
Rather than using the term stipend, one should keep in mind that he/she is making a free will offering to the priest for a special intention, not purchasing a Mass. It should also be remembered that when a priest celebrates the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass the spiritual benefits are extended to the whole community and not merely to the donor. Thus, a more appropriate phraseology in the general intercessions is, "for he/she who is being remembered in a special way at this Mass". However, the mentioning of the intention as an intercession is not necessary in order for the intention to be considered satisfied. Keeping in mind one is not purchasing a Mass, the term to be used to denote a stipend is Mass offering.
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the most important prayer of the Church. It is the principle source of God’s graces and blessings showered upon all of humanity. There is no greater gift than to offer the Mass for a departed loved one, for someone’s particular need, or for a special intention. I hope that this information helps to answer questions you might have about Mass intentions. The Eucharist is at the very heart of the Church and the center of her life. As we begin this New Year, may our faithful participation at Mass inspire and strengthen us to live fully the vocation to holiness to which we have all been called. We call on the communion of saints to intercede on our behalf as we seek to respond to Christ’s call: “Follow Me.”