QUAERITUR: Priests keeping or turning over Mass stipends

From a priest:

As we know, a priest is only allowed to keep one Mass stipend per day, with those exceptions noted in Canon Law. However, when a
conference/bishop has named a “standard” offering for a Mass, can
local law require a priest to “turn in” any larger amount given as a
gift for the Mass offered? I have seen certain dioceses enacting this
as policy. {Please note that I am NOT speaking of binations, but only
of “generous” stipends. In the case of many priests, these are very
welcome subsidies for their income). I am looking for a canonical
opinion here.

I consulted a trustworthy canonist on this point. The first line of his response was:

Ugh, I hate questions about Mass stipends, because there are so many variables from diocese to diocese.

I base my response on his response to me so that I can stay on firm ground. I have my instincts about this, and I have talked to several canonists about this, but … here we go.

The universal law seems clear. The 1983 Code can. 952.1 explicitly states that the bishops of a province should issue a decree setting the normative offering to be given. If the bishops do not issue such a decree, can. 952.2 states that “the custom in force in the diocese is to be observed.” That canon adds that a priest is not to seek a larger sum.

“Nevertheless, he is permitted to accept for the application of a Mass a voluntary offering which is larger or even smaller than the one defined.”

A bishop cannot issue a particular law that is contrary to the rights given by a universal law.

Since this matter of stipends is a favorable thing granted to the priest, it is subject to a broad interpretation (cf can. 18 – It is a principle of interpretation of the law that laws which favor a person are to be interpreted as favorably as possible and laws that place a restriction on a person are to be interpreted as strictly as possible in order to protect the person’s favors/rights).

Since in this case there is no specific provision, a bishop could make a law requiring a priest to retain the smaller of the stipends he receives for one day, and turn the larger one over to the “purposes prescribed by the ordinary” spoken of in can. 951. That would be a petty and un-generous decree. Priests of such a diocese would be within their right to appeal to the Congregation for the Clergy to seek revocation of that decree, following the norms of administrative recourse.

That said, there are many dioceses – particularly in the U.S.A. and Canada, where the “praxis” has been that priests ordinarily do not receive or retain stipends in those places to which they have been assigned. The logic behind this is that they receive a salary from the parish and, therefore, they don’t need the stipend in order to live, that is, for the necessities of life or living expenses. All the stipends are thus to be turned over to the parish.

The law seems to be a bit murky. Practice varies from place to place. This isn’t exactly the third-rail, but it isn’t too terribly far from it either.

That said… dignus est operarius mercede sua and sacerdos ad altare et de altare vivit.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. mike cliffson says:

    “dignus est operarius mercede sua and sacerdos ad altare et de altare vivit.”
    Isnt’t there also a bit in Tit or Tim where St Paul says something amounting to that a priest should , in effect, get double the going median wage?

  2. Supertradmum says:

    The amount varies. In some dioceses in England, the Mass stipend is 15 pounds; in others, it is 5 pounds. I have assumed that the difference is in the diocese and the cost of various things a priest may need. As to one a day, I think this should be known to more people, as some of my good friends, who are daily Mass goers, have questioned why there cannot be multiple intentions for one Mass, considering the lack of Masses in most places, especially in the Midwest, where one Mass a day is common outside the big cities.

  3. Volanges says:

    I’ve always understood that multiple Mass intentions COULD be used in one day but that the celebrant only gets one stipend, the rest are dealt with in the way determined by the bishop for his diocese. That was the practice in our parish for a while when there were so many Masses requested.

    The stipend in our parish is $10 but sometimes a donor will give $20 or even more. The priest who celebrates the Mass for which a higher donation had been made always gets whatever the donor gave, not the usual $10.

    There is a canon that says a parish can only accept as many Masses as can be acquitted in a year. Yet, several years ago when, in an unusual situation for our parish, we found ourselves with no Mass intentions on our books, the diocese sent us 1500 requests. 1500! It would take more than than 4 years to acquit all those, and that’s if we had daily Mass, which we don’t. 100 Masses would have been sufficient to keep us going. I know that some of those Masses were subsequently transferred out to missionaries but we still have some on our books.

  4. Nicole says:

    I asked the diocesan priest here several years ago what the stipend was for a Mass intention and he acted like he didn’t know and wasn’t overly concerned about it, which made me think that it wasn’t something essential to his sustenance. He said I could give whatever I was able or merely state my intention and he would offer Mass for it regardless. Later he got back to me that the general stipend which is customary in our area is $5.00 … I don’t think he kept the money, however, judging from the way he acted about the whole deal.

  5. frjim4321 says:

    My understanding is that technically the mass stipend is $10 per mass. I don’t think we can accept more that $10 per mass, and any excess goes into the mass money fund for payments of offering for which no money has been received. Excessive money in the mass money fund goes not to the bishop but to the missions office for mass stipends by the diocesan missionaries.

    I believe there is an exception on All Souls day when all the mass stipends offered for anyone particular mass can be retained by the presider.

    The stole fee for baptisms is usually $50, funerals and weddings are both $100. But these are suggestions and not requirements.

  6. I found this all very enlightening. I am the one who computes and distributes stipends for my parish. Our practice is this: the normal stipend is $10. The priest gets $10 for every Mass said that month, with no reference to how many Masses were said in one day. Any extra donation remains in the Mass account to make up for stipends that were never paid. We have about a years worth of unsaid Masses, but we are constantly taking new stipends. We could go a year with no additional stipends coming in, but I don’t see that happening. I will have to research our diocese guidelines on this. Thanks for posting on this topic.

  7. Choirmaster says:

    If I’m not mistaken, in my home diocese the practice is for every priest-celebrant to be paid the full amount of the Mass stipend regardless of his manner of assignment or employment at the parish/facility.

    I think the theory was “keep it simple”: if you’re a priest, and you say Mass, you get the stipend. Saying Mass and dispensing the other sacraments was one thing, and the stipend was given, but the mundane, administrative and clerical tasks were covered by their salary. That didn’t stop my pastor from complaining about the redundancy of his salary + stipend, not to mention the extra work in meticulously reporting every Mass and cashing all of those $10 checks! :)

  8. Fr_Sotelo says:

    I would counsel that Father use his common sense, as well as Canon Law. Most dioceses ask for a $10 stipend. If more is given, most priests leave that money in the Mass account or stipend account or hand it over to the diocese for that intention which is spelled out by the diocesan bishop.

    In my diocese, extra money from stipends is usually given to the Priests’ Retirement Fund. However, the younger priests tend to have more bills from student loans or other expenses of their training. They tend to keep not only the $10 but the surplus that is donated by some parishioners. I don’t see anything sinful or illicit in that, since it is understand that the donor wishes to contribute to the support of the clergy. Where the priest in question cannot easily meet his debts from his salary alone, it would only make sense that he will also avail himself of those funds given by the generosity of parishioners.

  9. mpolo says:

    Here the stipend is 5 euros. Most people give 10 euros, though. As a religious, I pass stipends directly to my superior. If I celebrate Mass for a parish, I get something like 40 euros + allowance for mileage + 5 euros for the stipend. The money for the stipend comes as a separate transfer, as the government taxes stipends — they are considered payment of a wage.

  10. Volanges says:

    @philothea.distracted You wrote that “The priest gets $10 for every Mass said that month, with no reference to how many Masses were said in one day.”

    I’m sorry, I didn’t express myself well in my previous post. If several intentions are assigned to one Mass the celebrant only gets one of those stipends; OTOH, if he celebrates two Masses in one day he gets two stipends. I’m just so used to our priest never celebrating more than one Mass a day that I expressed it that way.

  11. eulogos says:

    Volanges-don’t they celebrate more than one on Sunday? My diocese has a limit of 3 masses for Sunday per weekend per priest, but is hard put to meet the need for masses with the priests available, and some say more. Just about every priest in the diocese says a Saturday evening mass and two masses on Sundays. Before this regulation was put in place, a few years back, the priest of the small parish I went to then and of one other smaller one, said two Saturday evening masses and three Sunday masses. The three Sunday masses required him to say an early one at 7:30, drive 15 miles to say one at 9, and drive back to say one at 11. He did this for about ten years.
    I believe there was a diocesan regulation in which all stipends would go into a pool and then be distributed equally to the priests, since otherwise the priests of large parishes might earn much more for weddings and funerals than the priests of small parishes. Later on when this same priest was the pastor of a large parish, he laughed at himself because he had been on the committee that came up with that policy, and now he was feeling the unfairness of having to do so many more weddings but not receive any more money from it.

    The pastor of two Byzantine Catholic parishes I now attend CHANTS three divine liturgies a weekend, one Saturday, and two Sunday. To chant two hour 15 mins to hour and a half long liturgies one right after another is very strenuous, especially as a man gets older. I don’t know what the Byzantines do about stipends.
    Susan Peterson

  12. Volanges says:

    No, in my parish there are only two Sunday Masses, one on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. and one on Sunday morning at 10 a.m. It’s plenty for our parish, we only get between 25 and 40 at the Saturday Mass and about 125-150 on Sunday morning in a parish that supposedly has ~1500 faithful.

  13. RichR says:

    I gave a $20 stipend both to my deacon and priest who ministered the baptism of my new son. I just told them to honor us by not giving it away because it was for them.

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