DECREE ON MASS STIPENDS
Congregation for the Clergy
Norms established by the Congregation for the clergy concerning the practice of Mass stipends (February 22, 1991)
It is the Church's constant practice, as Paul VI wrote in the Motu Proprio Firma in Traditione that "the faithful, desiring in a religious and ecclesial spirit to participate more in intimately in the Eucharistic sacrifice, add to it a form of sacrifice of their own by which they contribute in a particular way to the needs of the Church and especially to the sustenance of her ministers."
Formerly this contribution consisted predominantly in gifts in kind; in our day it has become almost exclusively monetary. However, the motive and purpose of the faithful's offerings have remained the same and have also been sanctioned by the new Code of Canon Law.
Because the matter directly affects the Most blessed Sacrament, even the slightest appearance of profit or simony would cause a scandal. Therefore the Holy See has always followed the evolution of this pious tradition with attention, with opportune interventions to provide for adaptations to the changing social and cultural situations, in order to prevent or correct any eventual abuses connected with these adaptations, wherever they might occur.
In recent times many bishops have appealed to the Holy See for clarification about the celebration of Masses for what are called "collective" intentions, according to a rather recent practice. It is true that the faithful have always, especially in economically depressed regions, had the practice of giving the priest modest offerings, without requesting expressly to have a single Mass celebrated for a particular intention. In such cases it is licit to combine the various offerings in order to celebrate as many Masses as would correspond to the fixed diocesan stipend.
The faithful are also free to combine their intentions and offerings for the celebration of a single Mass for these intentions.
Quite different, however, is the case of those priests who, indiscriminately gathering the offerings of the faithful which are destined for the celebration of Masses according to particular intentions, "accumulate them in a single offering and satisfy them with a single Mass", celebrated according to what is called a "collective intention."
The arguments in favor of this new practice are specious and pretentious if not reflecting an erroneous ecclesiology. In any case this use can run the serious risk of not satisfying an obligation of justice towards the donors of the offerings and progressively spread and extinguish in the entire Christian people the awareness and understanding of the motives and purpose of making an offering for the celebration of the holy Sacrifice for particular intentions, therefore depriving the sacred ministers who still live fro these offerings, of a necessary means of support and depriving many particular Churches of the resources for their apostolic activity.
Therefore, to execute a mandate received by the Supreme Pontiff, the Congregation for the Clergy, which has the jurisdiction of the discipline of this delicate subject, has carried out an extensive consultation on the matter, including the opinions of the conferences of bishops. After careful examination of the responses and the various aspects of the complex problem, in collaboration with other interested curial departments, this congregation has established as follows:
1. According to canon 948, "separate Masses are to be applied for the intentions for which an individual offering, even if small, has been made and accepted." Therefore the priest who accepts the offering for a Mass for particular intention is bound "ex iustita" to satisfy personally the obligation assumed or to commit it fulfillment to another priest, according to the conditions established by law.
2. Priests who transgress this norm assume the relative moral responsibility the relative moral responsibility if they "indistinctly collect offerings for the celebration of Masses" for particular intentions and, combining them in a single offering and, without the knowledge of those who have made the offering, satisfy them with a single Mass celebrated according to an intention which they call "collective."
1. In cases in which the people making the offering, have been previously explicitly informed and have freely consented to combining their offerings in a single offering, their intentions can be satisfied with a single Mass celebrated according to a "collective" intention.
2. In this case it is necessary that the place and time for the celebration of this Mass, which is not to be said more than twice a week, be made public. 3. The bishops in whose dioceses these cases occur are to keep in mind that this practice is an exception to the canonical law in effect; wherever the practice spreads excessively, also on the basis of erroneous ideas of the meaning of offerings for Masses, it must be considered an abuse which could progressively lead to the faithful's discontinuation of the practice of giving offerings for the celebration of Masses for individual intentions, thus causing the loss of a most ancient practice which is salutary for individual souls and the whole Church.
1. In cases described in art. 2, par. 1, it is licit for the celebrant to keep the amount of the offering established by the diocese.
2. Any amount exceeding this offering shall be consigned to the ordinary as specified in canon 951, par. 1, who will provide for its destination according to the ends established by law.
Especially in shrines or places of pilgrimage which usually receive many offerings for the celebration of Masses, the rectors, bound in conscience, must attentively see to it that the norms of the universal law on the subject and those of this decree are accurately applied.
1. Priests who receive a great number of offerings for particular intentions for Masses, e.g., on the Feast of the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, or on other special occasions, being unable to satisfy them personally within a year's time, rather than refusing them, and thus frustrating the devout intention of those making the offering and keeping them from realizing their good purpose, should forward them to other priests or to their own ordinary.
2. If in these or similar circumstances that which is described in art. 2, par. 1 of this decree takes place, the priests must be attentive to the dispositions of art. 3.
To diocesan bishops in particular falls the duty of promptly and clearly making known these norms, which are valid for secular and religious clergy, and seeing to their observance.
It is also necessary that the faithful should be instructed in this matter through a specific catechesis, whose main points are as follows: the deep theological meaning of the offering given to the priest for the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice, the goal of which is especially to prevent the danger of scandal through the appearance of buying and selling the sacred; the ascetical importance of almsgiving in Christian life, which Jesus himself taught, of which the offering for the celebration of Masses is an outstanding form; the sharing of goods, through which by their offering for Mass intentions the faithful contribute to the support of the sacred ministers and the fulfillment of the Church's apostolic activity.
On January 22, 1991, the Supreme Pontiff approved the norms of the present decree in their specific form and ordered that they be immediately promulgated and take effect.
Cardinal Antonio Innocenti
Archbishop Gilberto Agustoni