September 14, 2007

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Mass stipends are a gift voluntarily offered to God out of love

We often describe the Eucharist as the most important, the most perfect and efficacious Christian prayer.

It is a prayer offered to God not merely by the priest acting in the person of Christ and in the name of the Christian community, but by priest and community acting together.

The fact that the ordained priest performs certain functions which only he is ordained to perform at the Eucharist does not mean that the various ways in which the entire assembly participate are unimportant or “don’t count.”

It did not take very long in the early development of the ritual celebration of the Mass for Christians to seek some way to show the connection between the offering of Christ and our material creation.

Early on, members of the Christian community would bring food or coins which they could offer along with the bread and wine at the eucharistic celebration. These Mass offerings, the goods and monies that all along had been given for use of the Church, were gradually drawn into the liturgical action and joined to the offering of the Eucharist.

Gifts of the community to the Church and to the poor were considered gifts made to God. The offerings served many purposes: provisions of bread and wine for the sacrifice; supplies, e.g. candles needed for worship; sustenance for the clergy; and support for the mission to the poor. These offerings were a tangible way in which the Christians participated in the offering of the Eucharist, and they also expected to share in God’s grace for the community in some special way.

Over the centuries, as we know, offerings of money gradually took the place of gifts “in kind.” Today we have collections and the annual United Catholic Appeal and even capital campaigns.

We also received the tradition of offering stipends when we wish to request the celebration of a Mass for a particular intention or for a deceased loved one. That tradition of stipends or offerings continues, and once in awhile it is important to remind ourselves about the meaning of this practice.

Clearly, when we offer a stipend we are not “buying” a Mass. Nor are we “buying” special grace from God through the prayers of the priest. Every Eucharist is offered for all the community of faith, even as we pray especially for a given intention.

It is also important to keep in mind that one is not obliged to make an offering, especially if one does not have the means to do so, if making an offering would be a hardship. The stipend today, as it always has been, is a gift offered to God as the Eucharist is offered by the priest along with the community of faith.

Mass stipends, then, are not a price one pays so that the celebrant administers and distributes God’s graces placed at his disposal. The request for a special intention is a petition that both priest and community specially unite with the Church’s offering of Christ to the Father. The stipend is a material way to add to that spiritual offering of Christ to the Father.

Since 1965 in the dioceses of Indiana, the customary voluntary Mass offering has been $5. (I noticed that in a column in the Lafayette diocesan weekly in which he wrote about this topic, Bishop William Higi figured out that at the rate of inflation since 1965 that $5 amount would be $31 today.)

For several years now, most dioceses around the country have suggested that the stipend would normally be $10. Recently, the bishops of the dioceses in Indiana approved $10 as the suggested stipend for a Mass.

I am asking that this change in suggested Mass stipend become the norm in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis beginning on Oct. 1. All $5 stipends offered prior to that date will be offered as previously requested.

Once again, I want to stress that it is not obligatory to offer a stipend for the celebration of a Mass. Mass stipends are intended to be a material way of offering our gifts to God as an act of love. God does not demand a price for his generous love.

When we reflect about the virtue of Christian stewardship, we often describe it as our desire to return gratitude to God for the gifts we have received. In fact, we acknowledge that everything we have ultimately comes from God.

In one of the weekday prefaces for the celebration of Mass, as we are offering thanks, we proclaim, “You have no need of our praise, yet our desire to thank you is itself your gift. Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to your greatness, but makes us grow in your grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” †

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