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What is an offering for a Mass intention?

Bishop W. Shawn McKnight

For some, their first encounter with a Mass offering is at a funeral service. There’s those piles of envelopes, obviously meant for money, with the option of writing down the name of the deceased for a Mass to be offered for the repose of their soul. Or you may read in the parish bulletin about the Mass being offered for someone who is living in need of healing or celebrating a birthday, wedding, or anniversary.

Mass intentions are deeply rooted in Catholic theology. There’s also a temporal aspect to them, in that people offer a small, symbolic amount of money with a request for prayers by the priest for the living or deceased. How did the theological and the practical became connected?

As Father Dan Merz, chairman of the Diocesan Liturgical Commission, wrote:

When the bread and wine are brought forward, the priest takes them, blesses them (in the Eucharistic Prayer) and gives them back to us (in Holy Communion).

Every member of the baptized is supposed to associate some intention or petition with that offering of bread and wine. So, for example, as the bread and wine are carried up, I mentally lay onto those gifts my intention for my family, or for a sick friend, or for grace to overcome a particular vice, etc.

The priest takes my ‘offering,’ blesses it, too, in the Eucharistic Prayer, and gives it back to me (in a trans-substantiated way) in Holy Communion.

My ‘offering’ just got associated with Jesus, Who ‘lives forever to make intercession’ for me. 

At Mass, every baptized Catholic should be including an intention or intentions on the gifts. God can only bless what we give to Him.  He will never force His blessing upon us without our consent.

Catholic Missourian, February 2014

At the same time, the faithful understand it takes resources to provide the material aspects of the Eucharist: not just the bread and wine, but also the vestments and the ritual books, the maintenance of the building, the care and feeding of the celebrant. People provide money to the priest in support of him and the church. They would ask for his prayers, too. When offering money with a Mass intention, Catholics are joining in providing for the temporal needs of the parish in a small way, while asking the priest to join them in offering their spiritual needs or requests to God.

This is not “buying a Mass.” The Church condemns that notion in the strongest possible language, and it is why we no longer refer to it as a “stipend” or “fee.” Instead, we are returning to God the gifts he has given us, to ensure dignified worship worthy of such a generous God.

Church, or canon, law has some practical applications regarding the use of money offered in Mass intentions. Canon 946 states, “The Christian faithful who make an offering so that the Mass may be applied for their intention contribute to the good of the Church and by their offering take part in the concern of the Church for the support of its ministers and works.”

Canon law also states:

  • The only obligation on the part of the priest is that the Mass intention be satisfied. This information – the date when the Mass intention was satisfied – should be recorded and kept on file for future reference.
  • There is no obligation to announce the intention publicly before or during the Mass at any time, nor any obligation to allow the offerer to bring up the offerings at the Presentation of the Gifts or to announce the Prayers of the Faithful, etc. Remember, all the faithful are encouraged to bring their own intentions to the Eucharistic celebration.
  • The Mass intention could, however, be fruitfully mentioned within the bulletin or General Intercessions, as a way of inviting the whole community to pray for the intention without excluding their own particular intentions.
  • Even if the monetary offering has been lost, the priest is obliged to celebrate the Mass for the intention once he has committed to do it.
  • Only one Mass offering may be kept by the priest per day, even if he celebrates Mass more than once on that day. While the priest may receive an offering for each Mass on a given day, he may retain only one Mass offering per day and must transfer the other to the chancery for charitable uses.  The only exception to this rule is on Christmas day, when the priest can keep up to three Mass offerings (Canon 951).
  • If a parish receives more Mass offerings than can be satisfied in the course of one year, then “it is permitted for them to be celebrated elsewhere unless the donors have expressly indicated a contrary intention” (Canon 954). Mass intentions and offerings that cannot be satisfied within the year at the parish are to be forwarded to the Vicar General for distribution to other priests so that they may be offered in a timely manner. These transferred Mass intentions are needed for priests without parish assignments, for other parishes that do not have enough Mass intentions, and for the missions.

Recently, the bishops of the Province of Missouri raised the standard Mass offering amount from $5 to $10 per Mass, effective July 1, 2019.  Raising the standard amount simply puts the Diocese of Jefferson City in line with other dioceses within Missouri as well as the provinces that surround our state.  Please note that a priest is always free, however, to accept an offering for less than or more than the standard amount.  What is desired is that the donor share sacrificially in the offering of Mass.  Donors are encouraged to reflect on the generosity of God in determining the amount they wish to offer to the priest along with their spiritual intentions, but the standard amount is a good guideline.