Masses for Priestly Vocations

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Masses for Priestly Vocations

ROME, 26 AUG. 2008 (ZENIT)

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

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 priestly vocations.”

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 Souls' Day.

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 specific formulas.

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 celebrated.

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 Easter.

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 time.

* * *

Follow-up: Masses for Priestly Vocations [9-9-2008]

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 intention."

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.

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