Question corner: Are our intentions really remembered in the shrines to which we donate?

Q: “If I send a donation to a group that says they will remember my intentions at Mass, how does that work? They can’t remember every donor’s intentions! (Garden City, NY)

A: Depending on the specific circumstances of the gift and the nature of the prayer request, the group in question may indeed remember your particular intention.

If you make a general, unspecified donation to a group like a shrine or religious community, they may send you a note saying they are praying for your intentions. Sometimes this means that your intentions are included in a non-specific (but lawful) way when the community prays for “the intentions of our benefactors”. But in other cases, if you write to a religious community with a specific prayer request – especially a contemplative monastic community, as these communities are specialists in intercessory prayer – you may be prayed by name.

When you make a small monetary donation to a parish, religious community, splinter, or other relevant Catholic organization after requesting that Mass be celebrated for a particular intention, that money is called an “allowance.” As canon 945, 1 describes this custom: “In accordance with the approved practice of the church, any priest celebrating or concelebrating is authorized to receive an offering to apply the mass to a specific intention”.

The original idea behind Mass stipends was that a stipend for a priest’s daily Mass would be sufficient to meet his daily material needs – although in this respect Mass stipends certainly did not keep up with the times. ‘inflation ! Our current Code of Canon Law describes Mass stipends as works of charity, insofar as the faithful, by making the offering of a stipend, share in the “concern of the Church to support her ministers and her works”. . (can. 946)

The fixed amount of a Mass allowance is determined locally by the bishops of an ecclesiastical province (i.e. the region made up of an archdiocese and its surrounding suffragan dioceses). In the United States, stipends tend to range between $5.00 and $20.00, but at the end of the day, a stipend is truly a gift, as canon law states: “It is strongly recommended that priests celebrate Mass for the intention of the Christian faithful, especially the needy, even if they have not received an offering. (can. 945, 2) canon 947 goes on to warn that “any appearance of tracking or trading is to be entirely excluded from the Mass offering”.

Yet even if the law is strict to avoid any semblance of commercialization of the intentions of the Mass, it is equally strict to ensure that the intentions of the faithful in this context are respected as a matter of fundamental justice. To this end, canon 948 states that: “separate Masses are to be applied for the intentions of those for whom a single offering, however small, has been given and accepted”; and canon 949 describes priests as “obligated” to honor the intention for which an offering was accepted “even if the offerings received were lost through no fault of his”.

Canon 953 tells us that no priest is “authorized to accept more Mass offerings” than he can celebrate in a year. If there was a scenario where a given church or other community received more allocations and Mass intentions than it could handle on its own, it is possible to “outsource” the Mass intentions to d other priests or religious communities, as long as the person who donated the allowance does not specifically indicate otherwise. (can. 954) In this case, the law gives us detailed provisions on how to preserve the archives of this sacramental “outsourcing”. (See can. 955)

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