QUAERITUR: Are Mass intentions for the living forbidden?

From a reader:

Recently, I went to my parish office to make an offering for a Mass to be said for the young daughter of a friend of mine that is recovering from …. The receptionist informed me that the pastor couldn’t allow Masses to be said for the living because it’s not allowed in Canon Law. [Noooo….] I left the office scratching my head for several reasons.

One, the pastor is someone I consider to be very solid and orthodox.  [I wouldn’t be so quick to blame this on the pastor.] Second, I know I’ve been to Masses where the priest will say, “This Mass is being offered for the parishioners of so and so parish.” Well they’re living.  Does Canon law prohibit Mass being said for someone living? If not, could you provide me a reference that I could take back to the parish. Like I said, this pastor is a very good man who I know wants to do the right thing.

There must be some miscommunication or misunderstanding.  That is just ridiculous.

You yourself point to the obligation that the pastor has to say Mass pro populo on Sundays and great feasts.

Furthermore, priests for centuries, and some still now, before saying Mass would recite this (my emphasis):

I intend to celebrate Mass and to confect the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the rite of Holy Roman Church, to the praise of Almighty God and all triumphant (heavenly) church/assembly, for my advantage and the good of all militant (earthly) church/assembly, and for all who have commended themselves to my prayers, in general and in particular, and for the felicitous state of the Holy Roman Church.

MAY Almighty and merciful Lord grant us joy with peace, amendment of life, a period for true penitence, the grace and consolation of the Holy Spirit and perseverance in good works. Amen.

Yes, Mass intentions with stipends can and ought to be accepted for the living as well as for the dead.   If the parish secretary is mistaken in this, she should be instructed by the pastor.  If the pastor is mistaken about this, I would bring this to the attention of your local bishop.  If that does not bear fruit, then you can write to the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments.   They may want to know if the pastor has made this determination because of some error in doctrine.  If that is the case, then the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would get involved.

But… it won’t have to go that far.

Yes, Mass intentions with stipends may be accepted also for the living.

Very many of the intentions I receive are for the living, as a matter of fact.

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  1. Well, a simple glimpse in the Missale should resolve this…
    (For the sake of easy writing my comment, I refer to the 1962 Missale, due to the fact, that
    I have a pdf of it. As far as I know the masses are also part of the Missale of Pope Paul VI.)

    Which priest would say, when asked to say the mass “Pro infirmis” for a ill member of the congregation, that he or she has to die, before he can say the mass that he or she may recover from the illness by Gods grace?

    Or the mass “Ad postulandam gratiam bene moriendi” for the grace of a good death…
    shall we wait that the one for whom we want to pray is dead before we pray for a good death?

    Of course some intentions and votive masses can be used only for dead ones like the annual mass pro defunctorum, but some votive masses are necessarily for living ones.

  2. Bryan Boyle says:

    When it comes down to it…could there be any greater gift you can give a living person than to have the greatest act of worship (The Mass) offered for them?

    I offer a stipend many times a year for people I know: birthdays, anniversaries, births, baptisms…

  3. revs96 says:

    I don’t know if the priest is to blame, but the secretary is dead wrong:

    Can. 901 A priest is free to apply the Mass for anyone, living or dead.-1982 Code of Canon Law

  4. shin says:

    I have heard it said that it is more effective to have masses said for oneself while alive, than after death.. . if one is desirous of escaping purgatory..

  5. Titus says:

    The specific canons concerning Mass intentions and the stipends for them are in Book 4, Title 3, Chapter 3 (canons 945–958). Those canons dictate how priests are to handle stipends given for Masses and the Mass intentions attached to them. They say nothing about limiting the intentions to the repose of souls. To the contrary, c. 945 s. 2 reads: “It is recommended earnestly to priests that they celebrate Mass for the intention of the Christian faithful, especially the needy, even if they have not received an offering.” So if you’re looking for a legal authority, there it is.

  6. Ed the Roman says:

    I just requested one yesterday for my father, who had a stroke Wednesday.

    He’s doing much better, but all y’all are welcome to pray for him as well.

  7. Titus says:

    Doh, I missed c. 901, which states the point somewhat more directly. Thanks, Revs96.

  8. Daniel Latinus says:

    Any of the parishes I’ve ever attended routinely list Mass intentions for living people.

    But doesn’t canon law have a restriction on how much of a backlog of Masses to which a priest can commit? Back in my trad days, it was not unusual for traditionalist priests to announce that they could not accept any stipends “until further notice” because they had more than six months worth of intentions.

    I wonder if the real issue is that the pastor for some reason has more intentions than can be accommodated, and is the restrictions on Masses for the living is a “rationing measure.”

    The bottom line, however, is we need more good priests.

  9. Tim Ferguson says:

    I have had people call in to the Tribunal to ask this same question. Some priests, it seems have told their parishioners that they will only accept stipends for Masses for the dead.

    Now, while this is not in anyway found in canon law, I suppose a case could be made for an individual priest to accept only stipends for Masses for the dead. A priest is not obliged to accept every stipend offered to him, though c. 945 urges priests to “celebrate Mass for the intentions of Christ’s faithful, especially of those in need” – even if a stipend is not offered. If a parish is positively overwhelmed with stipends and the priest cannot possibly fulfill them all, he could, I suppose use his discretion and only accept stipends for the deceased. However, he should then inform the faithful that they could send their stipends and their intentions to other priests, especially those in mission countries, who often survive primarily on those offerings.

  10. o.h. says:

    Fr. Z. is right; never, never assume the parish office staff are taking their cues from the pastor. I once fought for weeks with parish staff who insisted my friend couldn’t stand as godmother because she converted after she was married … and therefore was a Catholic not married in the Church. Arguments from the UCC, canon law, and common sense made no dent.

    The really frustrating thing is when they then prevent you from talking to your own pastor about it directly, because they are the gatekeepers protecting Father from disgruntled parishioners who (in their expert opinion) just don’t want to follow the rules. Are you able to ask your pastor about Mass intentions at your parish? Or is the staff insisting that Mass intentions are only for the deceased, and they won’t allow Father to be bothered by more questions about that?

  11. tobiasmurphy says:

    This reminds me of the old joke that about the guy who was complaining about noisy people in his home and called 911 only to be told the police were too busy to handle non-emergencies. Then the dispatcher hears a gunshot and the guy says, “okay, now it’s an emergency.”

    Why can’t we pray for the living? Heck, it’s more imperative for them, isn’t it? The dead have already made their choices for eternity, the living need the graces now to make the right choice. Not to say prayer for the dead is unimportant, but folks in purgatory aren’t really in danger of going to hell, are they?

  12. WGS says:

    I recall one occasion when I requested that a Mass be celebrated for a specific living person. The priest (pastor) tactfully announced the request in the parish bulletin as “for a specific intention”.

  13. benedetta says:

    Many bulletins list the names of parishioners who are sick and ask the community to pray but clearly this should not take the place of the option of having a Mass celebrated if requested.

  14. Random Friar says:

    As to the question of “backlogs:” Can. 956 Each and every administrator of pious causes or those obliged in any way to see to the celebration of Masses, whether clerics or laity, are to hand over to their ordinaries according to the method defined by the latter the Mass obligations which have not been satisfied within a year.

    Most parish churches should not be having a real backlog, since the books should be filled out for each Mass. However, if they are a popular place for intentions and overwhelmed, they should have an alternate place for which to turn them in, say the local seminary or religious house, as defined by the ordinary.

  15. Supertradmum says:

    There are several Masses at our EF Masses for living members of families, seminarians, and even priests of the diocese.

  16. Jerry says:

    Perhaps the parish secretary in question was confusing Mass intentions with certain indulgences which can only be applied to the dead?

  17. Dean says:

    There are many other examples of Masses for the living: Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, For the Not-Yet-Born…
    As for priests’ backlogs, I recall as an Army Chaplain’s Assistant that our civilian contract chaplain, on loan from the Dominicans, sometimes received Mass stipends and requests for Masses for various intentions from Stateside priests who had more than they could handle. Fr. Johannes was authorized, as a military chaplain, to celebrate more than one Mass a day, every day, as needed.

  18. rakesvines says:

    One more reason to drink Mystic Monk coffee. (“Huh? What did that come from?” you might ask.) Let me explain. Priests and religious pray for their benefactors and even offer Masses for their intentions.

  19. Philangelus says:

    My parish’s secretary said exactly the same thing to me when I asked to have Masses said for my friends whose baby died. She said we could only have a Mass said for the soul of the baby. I pointed out that the baby died sinless and that the parents were the ones in need of comfort. She said no, sorry, no Masses for living people.

    I knew that was bunk but what can you do? I’ve learned long since that it’s impossible to fight a parish secretary. :-(

  20. Philangelus says:

    I should have added the irony: the year before that, I’d made arrangements with that same parish to have a funeral for my own baby. The priest called me back and told me it was cancelled because the church FORBIDS us to have a funeral for infants.

    We fought him to the mat on that one, by the way. My daughter had her funeral. But if you put this together, apparently this parish didn’t want to have Masses for the living OR for the dead. (We left that parish eventually.)

  21. Daniel Latinus says:

    I recall one occasion when I requested that a Mass be celebrated for a specific living person. The priest (pastor) tactfully announced the request in the parish bulletin as “for a specific intention”.

    The parishes I’ve been to print the names of specific persons, living or dead, for whom a Mass is offered. Sometimes, when the Mass is for a birthday or wedding anniversary, that is mentioned as well. If privacy is a concern, the course taken by WGS’s pastor would be appropriate.

  22. Kate says:

    I made this mistake years ago when I was working as a receptionist in our parish.

    A man came in with a darling little boy of about four. He wanted to have a Mass said for his son; they both looked very happy as if they had discussed this on the way and now it was going to happen. I was absolutely flabbergasted. I apologized and said that Masses are only offered for the dead. They left disappointed.

    I was young and ignorant, and to this day I regret it.

    Always go straight to the pastor when a parish secretary or receptionist puts a roadblock in your path!

  23. pfreddys says:

    There are a volume of writings from the saints which can be quoted which state that Masses said for the living benefit them far more than waiting for the people to die.
    I wish to take this opportunity to state that Mass actually can be said for any human being: they don’t have to be Catholic. I often have Mass said for my deceased Luthern grandmother, and for my living Luthern uncle.
    One of the most creative penances I received was to have Mass said for all “whom I have committed a sin with.” I made sure I attened this Mass and it had a profound effect on me.

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