What does it mean to have a Mass “offered” for someone? ~ A Message from Father John Thomas
An individual may ask a priest to offer a Mass for several reasons: for example, in thanksgiving, for the intentions of another person (such as on a birthday), or, as is most common, for the repose of the soul of someone who has died. One must never forget the infinite graces that flow from the Sacrifice of the Mass which benefit one’s soul. Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical “Mirae caritatis” (1902) beautifully elaborated this point and emphasized the connection between the communion of saints with the Mass: “The grace of mutual love among the living, strengthened and increased by the sacrament of the Eucharist, flows, especially by virtue of the Sacrifice [of the Mass], to all who belong to the communion of saints. For the communion of saints is simply … the mutual sharing of help, atonement, prayers and benefits among the faithful, those already in the heavenly fatherland, those consigned to the purifying fire, and those still making their pilgrim way here on Earth. These all form one city, whose head is Christ, and whose vital principle is love. Faith teaches that although the august Sacrifice can be offered to God alone, it can nevertheless be celebrated in honor of the saints now reigning in Heaven with God, who has crowned them, to obtain their intercession for us, and also, according to apostolic tradition, to wash away the stains of those brethren who died in the Lord but without yet being wholly purified.”
In his encyclical “Ecclesia de Eucharistia,” our beloved late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, taught, “In the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Church prays that God, the Father of mercies, will grant His children the fullness of the Holy Spirit so that they may become one body and one spirit in Christ. In raising this prayer to the Father of lights, from whom comes every good endowment and every perfect gift, the Church believes that she will be heard, for she prays in union with Christ her Head and Spouse, who takes up this plea of His Bride and joins it to His own redemptive sacrifice” (No. 43).
Please keep in mind that the tradition of offering Masses for others, particularly the dead, originates in the very early Church. Inscriptions discovered on tombs in Roman catacombs of the second century evidence this practice: for example, the epitaph on the tomb of Abercius (d. 180), Bishop of Hieropolis in Phrygia, begs for prayers for the repose of his soul. Tertullian (c. 200) attested to observing the anniversary of a spouse with prayers and sacrifices, i.e. the Mass: “Indeed she prays for his soul, and requests refreshment for him meanwhile, and fellowship with him in the first resurrection; and she offers her sacrifice on the anniversaries of his falling asleep” (On Monogamy, X).
Given this understanding, we can add some specifics. When a priest offers Holy Mass, he has three intentions: First, to offer the Mass reverently and validly in accord with the norms of the Church. Second, to offer the Mass in union with the whole Church and for the good of the whole Church. Third, to offer the Mass for a particular intention, such as the repose of the soul of someone who has died or for someone who is in need.
Therefore, the effects of the Mass bring certain benefits or fruits. The general fruits of the Mass are the effects upon the whole Church — to the living faithful as well as the poor souls in purgatory. For this reason, in the Canon of the Mass (the Eucharistic Prayer), a special mention is made for both the living and the dead. The special ministerial fruits of the Mass are applied to the particular intention of the Mass, i.e. “for whom the Mass is offered.” The special personal fruits of the Mass benefit the celebrating priest who acts in the person of Christ in offering the Mass and to the people who are in attendance and participate in the offering of the Mass.
The intention of the Mass is also determined by various factors: The Church may stipulate the particular intention; for example, all pastors are required to offer one Mass on Sunday for the intentions of the living and deceased parishioners of a parish. A priest may also have his own particular intention in offering a Mass, such as the repose of the soul of his parents. Finally, a person may ask a priest to offer a Mass for a particular intention.
We find not only the origins of this practice dating to the early Church but we also clearly recognize its importance. When we face the death of someone, even a person who is not Catholic, to have a Mass offered for the repose of his soul and to offer our prayers are more beneficial and comforting than any other sympathy card or bouquet of flowers. To have a Mass offered on the occasion of a birthday, anniversary or special need is appropriate, beneficial and appreciated.
I simply offer this short historical explanation of the Mass Intention to make you aware of its importance for all of us. Please remember to have a Mass offered for your loved ones and for their needs. Let us remember to keep one another in prayer, especially in the celebration of the Eucharist.
Blessings, Fr. John
MASS INTENTION GUIDELINES
Priests are “Obliged to apply a Mass for the people (pro populo) entrusted to my care on each Sunday and holy day of obligation” (Code of Canon Law, 543). Take consolation in the fact that every weekend and holy day of obligation, Mass is offered for all of you who are parish members of Saint Stephen Cathedral.
The deep faith and ardent charity of our parishioners is manifested in the numerous Mass offerings you request of the parish, especially for your beloved dead. This abundance creates something of a problem insofar as your requests for Mass intentions far exceed the number of Masses offered at Saint Stephen. We celebrate around 700 Masses each year, and each we year receive more than double the number of intentions. Below are guidelines we will now follow in order to allow for the consistency and reasonable scheduling of Mass intentions.
- The suggested donation for a Mass offering, as determined by the bishop of the Diocese of Owensboro, is five dollars ($5.00). No one is denied the celebration for a particular intention based on inability to make an offering.
- Canon Law, 953 states: “No one may accept more offerings for Masses to be celebrated than can be discharged within a year”. Offerings for Masses that cannot be celebrated at Saint Stephen within one year must be forwarded to be celebrated elsewhere. (Be aware that many of the international priests of our diocese call our parish when they are preparing for a visit to their native country. We regularly send these priests home with Mass intentions from Saint Stephen Cathedral.)
- No Mass will be scheduled farther out than one year.
- At this time, Mass Intentions are generally not available for Easter Sunday, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.
- When many intentions are received at once for the same person (e.g. at time of death), know that every effort will be made to offer as many of the intentions here at Saint Stephen Cathedral as possible.
- Please indicate whether the person the intention is for is living or deceased.
- Remember, the most important reality is that a Mass is said for someone, either here or elsewhere. Having your intention fulfilled in a timely manner is beneficial, especially for our deceased brothers and sisters.