Masses for Non-Catholic Officials

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Masses for Non-Catholic Officials


Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I recently read in our parish bulletin that a Mass was being offered for the "Intentions of —" (name omitted here, but published in the bulletin), a person who is still alive and who holds a high-profile public office. The individual is Christian but not Catholic and has signed laws or has taken positions which support abortion rights, embryonic stem-cell research and same-sex unions. May a Mass be offered by a priest, publicly, for the intentions of a living non-Catholic (or one whose "intentions" oppose our Church teaching?) If so, should it be? We certainly should be praying for this person's conversion — of both their faith and their positions — but I think offering a Mass for their intentions could lead the faithful to further confusion, and possibly may be scandalous. — M.B., Brookfield, Connecticut

A: I think that some distinctions might be in order. Parish bulletins are not graced with magisterial authority, much less with infallibility, but all the same they should strive to be precise in their terminology. In this sense, Mass may be offered for public officials but not necessarily for their intentions.

As our reader points out, a public official's intentions may be contrary to Church teaching, and he or she might even intend to persecute the Church to some degree or other.

Catholics cannot therefore offer blanket prayers for the intentions of such officials in the same way that we can pray for the intentions of the Pope or bishop.

At the same time, the Church has always encouraged praying for public officials even though they might not be Christians and even when they persecute the Church. St. Peter tells the first Christians to honor the emperor (1 Peter 2:17) in virtue of his authority — but not because of his moral qualities, which in the case of Nero were singularly lacking.

In later epochs there were specific prayers during the Mass for the emperor and even specific votive Mass formulas "for the King." In some eighth- and ninth-century monasteries it was a custom to pray a daily Mass for the king and kingdom.

Today's missal contains Masses for the nation, state and city, for public officials, for Congress and for a country's king or principal governing authority.

The formulas for such Masses usually plead for the monarch or ruler's health and welfare as well as the gifts of wisdom, justice and prudence so that the common good may be served.

Similar petitions are made on other occasions such as the intercessions on Good Friday, and may be included in the prayer of the faithful at all Masses. They are also frequent in the intercessions of morning prayer and evening prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours.

This form of prayer reflects more our intentions for the ruler and not so much the ruler's intentions. This form of prayer may be offered no matter what the religious faith and personal and public moral stature of the people we pray for may be.

Of course, as we believe in the power of prayer, we do trust that God will assist the ruler in making wise, just and coherent decisions, and also to become a better person.

From another point of view, a ruler of any faith could ask his people to pray for a pressing public need, and in this sense Catholics could pray for his intentions.

Likewise a Catholic ruler, as may any Catholic, can request that a Mass be celebrated for his or her private intentions. In this case, just like any prayer, God will only respond to a sincere and humble heart. ZEZE07030629

* * *

Follow-up: Masses for Non-Catholic Officials [3-20-2007]

In the wake of our response on praying for public officials (March 6) a West Hartford, Connecticut, reader commented: "Does the Gospel not say: 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you'? This kind of righteousness that holds back prayers at Mass smacks of the attitudes of the Pharisees. Of course we ought to pray for these people at Mass."

I am in full agreement with this correspondent that we ought to pray for those who govern us, regardless of their religion. But I fear that he may have read too much into the original question.

Our original questioner made a precise technical query regarding the possibility of offering a public Mass "for the intentions" of a governing official who intentionally supports some very anti-Catholic policies. As we explained, this is quite different from asking God, even at Mass, for the overall physical and spiritual welfare of the same official.

I am sure that our original Brookfield, Connecticut, reader is more than sufficiently Catholic to pray often for the official in question who, from the sketch provided, certainly needs them.

Another reader, from Cork, Ireland, mentioned a slightly different case: "A good Methodist lady recently died in our town. Would it be wrong or unwise to pray for her soul publicly with permission from her relatives, or announce the details of her funeral rites? The latter I can see could be dodgy, as it is advertising going to a non-Catholic place of worship. What about praying privately for non-Catholic poor souls?"

As in many cases, there is no simple answer, since the specific pastoral context must be taken into account. From the tone of our correspondent's note I presume that the Methodist woman was well known in the area and esteemed by all.

In such a case I think that a pastor could very well mention the death and even include a petition for the repose of her soul in the prayers of the faithful.

This can be, and often is, done in other circumstances such as when prayers are offered at Mass for the victims of a tragedy that has impacted the national or local community, or when well-known public figures die.

It is also usually possible for a Catholic to be present at the funeral services of people of other faiths out of respect or friendship for the deceased. In such cases a Catholic may join in a prayer or psalm that is not contradictory to his faith. But he or she should not, for example, receive communion at a non-Catholic service, or participate in prayers that explicitly or implicitly deny fundamental Christian truths.

A Catholic may always pray for the deceased of other faiths. Indeed the Church often does so publicly, as in Eucharistic Prayer IV when we ask the Father to "Remember those who have died in the peace of Christ and all the dead whose faith is known to you alone." ZE07032028

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
© Innovative Media, Inc.

ZENIT International News Agency
Via della Stazione di Ottavia, 95
00165 Rome, Italy

To subscribe
or email: with SUBSCRIBE in the "subject" field