Prayer of thanksgiving and intersession is at the heart of our friendship with Christ. In the Catholic tradition having Mass offered for a particular person or intention is an especially valued expression of our charity and faith. Mass cards remain very popular in Ireland. Not every Catholic majority country has this custom. Irish Catholics send Mass cards to the bereaved and the sick, to newly-weds, those celebrating birthdays, anniversaries of marriage or ordination or preparing for examinations etc.
Sending a Mass card is a statement that we have arranged to have Mass offered for that person’s intentions. It is a beautiful expression of our love and concern for the person concerned. Nevertheless, every Mass is offered for all Christ’s sisters and brothers. Mass is never offered for one intention to the exclusion of all else.
Mass cards are an area where the spiritual and monetary overlap. Not every Catholic or every priest is entirely comfortable with the practise. To respond to these concerns, the Church has developed detailed rules to regulate Mass cards and offerings. The benefits of having Mass offered are entirely spiritual. However, history shows that there is always the danger that spirituality can be exploited in an unworthy fashion.
In 2010, the Irish Bishops issued a statement on Mass offerings which reminded us that:
The practice of giving an offering dates back to the early Church when the faithful brought bread and wine for the Mass and other gifts for the support of the priest and for the poor. Nowadays a Mass offering is a way for the donor to join him/herself to the sacrifice of the Mass; it unites the donor closely with the life and apostolic activity of the Church, the Body of Christ, as the offering becomes a form of material support for the Church’s ministers and pastoral life. The Mass must never be an occasion for ‘buying and selling’ or ‘making money’, nor should there be even the slightest appearance of making a profit from Mass offerings.
The Irish Bishops’ 2010 statement stresses the spiritual aspect of arranging to have having Mass offered for a person. They reminded priests that accepting an offering for a Mass includes the obligation, in justice, to offer a separate Mass for that intension. While the bishops of a province propose a recommended Mass offering (usually €10 in Ireland), the donor may choose to make a greater or lesser offering. A priest may only keep one Mass offering per day. If for pastoral reasons, he celebrates more than one Mass per day for which he has accepted an offering, the second or third offering must be used for charity, as directed by the Bishop. A priest is required to offer Mass within a year of accepting the offering. He must carefully record the intention, the offering accepted and when the Mass was celebrated. If a priest receives more intentions than he can celebrate within a year, he must transfer the surplus intentions to another priest. Often these offerings provide valuable support to priests in mission countries. A priest is not obliged to accept a Mass offering
The Church regards single intention Masses as the norm. However, ‘multi-intentional’ Masses can be celebrated by way of exception. Many parishes have shared monthly anniversary Masses. The Church has attached conditions to this concession:
- the donor must consent freely;
- the place, date and time for this Mass should be indicated publicly;
- Such Masses may not be celebrated any more than two days weekly in any church;
- the priest must not keep any more than the specified diocesan offering, and must transfer any additional amount to charity.
As part of their desire to stress the spiritual over the financial, the Irish Bishops prohibit the ‘sale’ of signed Mass cards in shops. The 2009 Irish Charities Act supports this regulation by directing that the ‘sale’ of Mass cards requires permission from a Bishop or Religious Superior. This permission has not been given in Ireland. The bishops suggest that the best way to arrange to have a Mass celebrated for a particular intention is to buy an unsigned Mass card and have it signed at a Church or by a priest you know. Many parishes or pastoral areas have offices which help in this regard.
The bishops encourage the donor, where possible, to attend and participate in the Mass. It is beautiful to personally bring the intention in your heart to the altar. They also recommend that the intention for which the Mass is being offered is mentioned in the prayer of the faithful. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our Christian life, the foretaste and promise of eternal life with Christ. May our hearts always be open to the love and grace it offers.
Fr. Albert McDonnell
Radharc na nOileán
Clare Champion Article 19th of November 2021