|ROME, 26 AUG. 2008 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: We have been refused to have a Mass said for priestly vocations. I
have tried to determine the reason and only found information to the
contrary. So the question is: Under what circumstances is a Mass for
priestly vocations not allowed, if ever?
C.B., Detroit, Michigan
A: Our reader also provides some texts to support his position that a
priest may always offer a Mass for priestly vocations.
For example: “Canon 901 [of the Code of Canon Law] states that: 'A
priest is entitled to offer Mass for anyone, living or dead.' From this
premise he concludes: That means to me it does not forbid intention for
Also, Canon 897 states: “The most venerable sacrament is the blessed
Eucharist, in which Christ the Lord himself is contained, offered and
received, and by which the Church continually lives and grows. The
eucharistic Sacrifice, the memorial of the death and resurrection of the
Lord, in which the Sacrifice of the cross is forever perpetuated, is the
summit and the source of all worship and Christian life. By means of it
the unity of God's people is signified and brought about, and the
building up of the body of Christ is perfected. The other sacraments and
all the apostolic works of Christ are bound up with, and directed to,
the blessed Eucharist.”
Thus he affirms: “The Church cannot live and grow without priests; thus
it does not seem that a Mass intention for priestly vocations is
forbidden but rather encouraged.”
He also points out that the missal specifically lists Mass formulas for
priestly vocations and that several bishops in the United States have
had public Masses for priestly vocations.
Our correspondent has clearly done his homework and proves that a Mass
for priestly vocations is certainly permissible.
However, I think one or two distinctions should be made to further
clarify the point. We must distinguish between the celebrant’s intention
in offering the Mass and the liturgical formula used.
With respect to the priest’s intention in offering up the Mass for
vocations to sacred orders, there is no limitation whatsoever. If a
person offers a stipend for this intention, a priest can freely accept
it and celebrate for this intention on any day of the year except All
It falls under the umbrella of offering for the living mentioned in
Canon 901, since this implies offering for their intentions. A person
can request a Mass for his own or someone else’s spiritual or physical
welfare. Indeed, any intention found as a Mass formula in the missal may
be requested as an intention, as well as many that are not covered by
The priest is also free to add any number of personal intentions to that
which is tied to a stipend, as the Mass is of infinite value.
The case is different regarding the use of the specific Mass formulas
for vocations to sacred orders and vocations to religious life. These
Mass formulas fall under the same restrictions as all Masses for various
needs and votive Masses. Their celebration is usually reserved to
weekdays of ordinary time when no obligatory memorial is to be
They are usually excluded from the liturgical seasons of Advent from
Dec. 17 on, and from Christmastide, Lent and Easter.
Even during these periods there are some exceptions for Masses
celebrated when a sufficient reason interposes. For example, if the
diocese proclaims a special day of prayer for vocations, the bishop can
mandate, or at least permit, the use of the Mass for vocations even on a
Sunday of Christmastide and ordinary time, feasts as well as all
weekdays of Advent, Christmas after Jan. 2, and those of Lent and
He may not do so on solemnities, the Sundays of the other major seasons,
the Christmas and Easter octaves, Ash Wednesday, and Holy Week.
In conclusion, I have no idea why the request for celebrating a Mass for
the intention of priestly vocations was refused. It is certainly not
justified by any liturgical rule.
Indeed, while respecting the liturgical norms, it is highly recommended
that all parishes and communities celebrate such Masses from time to
* * *
Follow-up: Masses for Priestly
In the wake of our Aug. 26 column on Mass intentions for vocations, I
wish to address a comment a reader sent in some months ago. The comment
dealt with the possibility of offering up Mass for non-baptized persons
(see Dec. 11, 2007).
Our reader commented: "I am sorry to nitpick, and I am sure you
understand the theological distinction in the following, but your
follow-up on Mass intentions for non-Catholics touches on a confusion I
encountered in my last parish assignment. In responding to the question,
you said that 'the public rites are one thing and the priest's personal
intentions in offering the Mass is another.' I would beg to differ
slightly. The intention for which the priest accepts a stipend is not
his personal intention but rather his intention as the priest, that is,
the minister of the sacrifice. When the Mass is offered, there are three
fruits derived from the offering: the general (for the whole Church),
the special or ministerial (for the intention of the priest as
minister), and the personal (to each of the faithful, including the
priest, who participate, to each according to his disposition).
"You will find this handled clearly and succinctly in Book 4, Section 3,
Chapter 3 of Ludwig Ott's 'Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma,' with
references to Denzinger. The upshot of this is that in an environment
where the role and purpose of the priest in the Mass may become
confused, a certain precision in language is called for. Regarding the
ministerial intention for which a stipend has been paid, particularly
when the intentions are published in a bulletin or announced, it would
seem that the level of discretion and judgment called for would be
greater than that of offering one's personal participation for an
First, let me say that I have no objections to "nitpicking" by any of
our readers when the truth is served. Our reader's comment recalls a
valuable teaching regarding the fruits of the Mass. His call for
precision in language is very necessary.
At the same time, I believe in my original reply my use of the
expression "personal intention" did not refer, as our reader seems to
imply, to the priest's offering up the fruit of his personal
participation as an intention. Rather, I used the expression to mean
that the intention for which the priest offers up the sacrifice, as
priest, is a personal act of the will and not something mechanical.
Certainly, when a priest accepts a stipend to offer a Mass, justice
demands that he effectively offers the Mass. In order to do so he must
make some act of personal offering, at the very least uniting his
intention to that of the person who requested the Mass.
However, since the sacrifice of the Mass is of infinite value, then the
priest's offering, as priest, is not limited to the intention that he
has accepted as a stipend. He is also free to personally add any number
of other intentions without committing any act of injustice toward the
person who made the offering.
The personal fruit of his participation is, I believe, something else
and depends on the degree of such factors as the priest's personal
disposition, reverence and fervor in carrying out the celebration.