First, a note. Never … and I mean never send me or any other priest a Mass intention and stipend without asking first whether we are free to take the intention and stipend. It must be worked out beforehand. That said…
From a reader…
In my parish each Mass is said for 3 or 4 intentions, with a stipend for each intention. I recently gave a stipend of $20 for a Mass to be said for my wife alone, but another person’s intention was also added.
Is this allowed?
The laws on Mass stipends are clear, though the application of these laws has become convoluted in places because of different salary schemes for priests.
Historically, the stipend for a Mass was intended to be equivalent to a priest’s daily needs. Yes, priests – secular priests especially – have to pay bills too.
Since a priest could only say Mass once a day, the stipend was intended to cover his food, lodging, upkeep for that day. Provisions were made in the law so that on those special occasions where a priest was permitted to say more than one Mass, he would only be able to keep the stipend for one of those Masses. The extra stipend would go into a separate account, usually for some charitable purpose or the support of seminarians. (NB: There is a provision in law that a priest can keep more than one stipend on Christmas.)
In addition, some priests obtained benefices, that is, pastoral assignments which provided them with an income, in addition to the Mass stipend. In Europe, for example, many parishes had been endowed over the years with farms, or fields, or even office buildings, the rent or income from which was given to the pastor.
Human nature being what it is, there were problems with that approach. In Italy I once spoke with a woman who said that her father told he that the pastor used to ride out on his horse to collect rents… with a shotgun. While I see no problem with Father riding around with a rifle, a shotgun, a handgun, a M134D chain gun, collecting rent a gun point may not be Father’s very best pastoral approach.
In the past 50 or so years, most dioceses have come up with alternative ways by which the priests receive income. In many dioceses in these USA, the priest is paid a salary from the parish to which he is assigned (if he’s assigned to a parish). Any Mass stipends he receives at that parish, then, go to the parish.
Once a stipend has been accepted, there is an obligation to offer Mass for the intention specified by the donor.
If the priest himself is unable to fulfill this obligation, he is to make provision for the Mass to be offered by another priest. The stipend then goes to the priest who says the Mass. Missionary orders often rely on these Mass stipends to pay for the support of their priests.
In these USA $10 Mass stipend might buy a priest’s lunch, but in Gabon $10 could cover a whole day’s costs of living.
On 22 February 1991, the Congregation for the Clergy (which has competence over the issue of Mass stipends in the external forum) issued a decree (HERE), permitting Mass to be offered for multiple intentions in some specific situations.
First of all, this is not to be done more than twice a week in any parish. All parties who offer a stipend for this collective intention are to be informed that their intention is to be merged with other intentions. Any amount above the ordinary amount received for a Mass stipend is to be sent to the local Ordinary (usually the diocesan bishop) for application to some purpose that the Ordinary has determined (usually some charitable venture). The decree urges another solution to the “problem” of too many stipends: forward the surplus of stipends and intentions on to other priests, or their Ordinary, so that other priests (many of whom need the stipends for sustenance can offer those Masses).
In my early years of priesthood in Italy, I was desperate for stipends just to make ends meet… barely. When I had a windfall, I tried to share stipends with some priests from the third world. One African priest, as a matter of fact, use to come to me asking for stipends and I usually found something for him. He is now a bishop in a very dangerous place. Would that I had this blog back then, to help people connect with priests who need stipends… but I digress.
As the decree clearly states, these pluri-intentional Masses are not to be the norm. They are exceptional situations.
When would something like this be appropriate? Take, for example, the situation that arises from the deaths of Ottmar Mergenthaler on 1 October 1999 and Myrna Opdyke on 1 October 2012. Both families would like a Mass to be offered on the anniversary of their loved one’s death at their same local parish church, St. Christine the Astonishing, where there is only one Mass per day.
Again, these situations are exceptions, not the norm.
Therefore, unless the priest informed you beforehand that your intention was going to be merged with another intention, no, this is not allowed.
I would approach the priest and ask what happened.
If his answer is not satisfactory, contact the local Ordinary.
I’ve already started getting email both from priests who don’t have stipends and from lay people who – for one reason or another – can’t get their intentions celebrated.
I have often though about how to connect the two. I had once put together a proposal about a site that would do this – be a matchmaker – and I ran it by a famous canonist. We determined that it would be very hard to make this work.
We have to be very cautious, scrupulously so, to avoid even the semblance of “trafficking” in Mass stipends (1983 CIC can. 947). This is serious business. Can. 1385 says that “a person who illegitimately makes a profit from a Mass offering is to be punished with a censure or another just penalty”.
I don’t think it is impossible, but it would be hard.