ASK FATHER: “To contribute to the support of one’s pastor.”

From a reader…


If one spends hundreds of dollars a years on Mass stipends, can that be considered keeping the precept of the Church that says one must “contribute to the support of one’s pastor“? Because after spending that much in stipends, I don’t have enough cash left over for regular tithing.

Good question.

While the Precepts or Commandments of the Church vary a bit in language, they were generally listed in older books as:

1) To keep Sundays and holy days of obligation holy by attending Mass and resting from work.
2) To fast and abstain on the appointed days.
3) To go to confession at least once a year.
4) To receive Holy Communion at least once a year, during the Easter season.
5) To contribute to the support of one’s pastor.
6) Not to marry in a way prohibited by Canon Law.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we are given 5 Precepts, rather than 6:

2041 The precepts of the Church are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor:

2042 The first precept (“You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor”) requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days.

The second precept (“You shall confess your sins at least once a year”) ensures preparation for the Eucharist by the reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, which continues Baptism’s work of conversion and forgiveness.

The third precept (“You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season”) guarantees as a minimum the reception of the Lord’s Body and Blood in connection with the Paschal feasts, the origin and center of the Christian liturgy.

2043 The fourth precept (“You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church”) ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.

The fifth precept (“You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church”) means that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability.

Notice that the issue of marriage is removed from the list, which, in my opinion, is a mistake.

Back to the question.

The faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his own abilities.

The law – and natural justice – requires that we support our pastors. The law does not go into detail about how we do that. Our Lord gives some indication, by praising the widow who gave only her mite (Mark 12: 41-44, Luke 21:1-4).  From this it seems that our charitable giving should truly be sacrificial.

Furthermore, we give to our pastors, not in order that we get something back from them, but out of gratitude for what they give to us. We don’t hire them to perform a task like we would a gardener or an accountant.

Mass stipends, in many places in the world, are means by which priests live. When the concept of Mass stipend originated in the Middle Ages, a priest would ordinarily only say one Mass a day. The stipend was intended to cover his daily cost of living.

For the most part, especially in North America, priests receive salaries and do not live off of their stipendiary income. They are still only allowed to accept one stipend per day (except on Christmas).  In many dioceses, priests forgo stipends entirely and that money is directed toward the parish.  A priest is only permitted to collect Mass stipends for Masses he can reasonably offer in a year. If there are excess stipends, often times the parish or priest will send those stipends and the corresponding intentions to the missions or to religious orders.

How does this answer your question? Imperfectly, I suppose.

Priests have the right to their living “from the altar”.  They don’t do what they do for the sake of money, but they have to live too.   Diocesan priests have to make their own way in the world, like other people.  And, if Father isn’t going to get a job (which would limit his ability to serve the people, and which he may not do without the permission of proper authority), the flock must support him.  This is a symbiotic relationship.

Everyone fulfills their obligation to support their pastors in different ways. Hopefully, their giving is sacrificial, hopefully it aims at the needs of the priest and not just the needs of the donor.  For example, imagine a parishioner who works at, say, a candy company.  As an employee she get discounted gift certificates from her company. She then regularly puts a $20 gift certificate, for which she paid $15, in her Sunday envelope.  The pastor, diabetic, must pass those gift certificates on to others.  Does that really help Father?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    If a priest receives a salary from the parish, then the question becomes more one of supporting the parish. And frankly, that can be a labyrinth. Parishes just about always ask for more money (especially in Europe, where charitable donations tend to be on a much lower level than in the US; even after accounting for our oppressive taxation I think us Europeans can learn something from America in this sense), but it is often unclear how big the need truly is, as paying a salary means the parish priest does always get his monthly payment, and the shortfall, if any, has to come from elsewhere.
    In other words, there is – and has to be – quite a bit of internal reshuffling of funds, and it becomes impossible to tell if the stipends you paid go towards paying Father X, or to the parish poor, or are spend on sending the youth group to – o horror – Taizé.

    All one can do is trust that the finances are handled reasonably, and hat by donating money, one way or the other, you are indeed providing for the needs of the Church.

  2. Matt Robare says:

    Since the law doesn’t prescribe a particular course of action for contributing to the support of one’s pastor, would gifts of labor be acceptable? Could a roofer or bricklayer contribute by performing neccesarry repairs to the church or rectory? Could less professionally licensed parishoners fulfill their obligation by cleaning or cooking for the priests?

  3. St. Rocco says:

    “In many dioceses, priests forgo stipends entirely and that money is directed toward the parish.”

    Like which dioceses?

  4. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Good answer. As usual.

    Rabbit trail warning! “Notice that the issue of marriage is removed from the list, which, in my opinion, is a mistake.” I agree, it’s a mistake. For now. But it’s a another subtle sign, perhaps, that ‘canonical form’ as currently enforced is not in the long term interest of marriage doctrine or law. Hmmm.

  5. SimonDodd says:

    What about a situation like the Church of Our Saviour, NYC, where the pastor is (it would appear) a vandal?

  6. Jim Dorchak says:

    Fr Z
    These things below do not seem very gradual in their mercy in the (dimming) light of the new church? Are you sure we HAVE to follow these rules or are they just suggestions now?

    While the Precepts or Commandments of the Church vary a bit in language, they were generally listed in older books as:

    1) To keep Sundays and holy days of obligation holy by attending Mass and resting from work.
    2) To fast and abstain on the appointed days.
    3) To go to confession at least once a year.
    4) To receive Holy Communion at least once a year, during the Easter season.
    5) To contribute to the support of one’s pastor.
    6) Not to marry in a way prohibited by Canon Law.

  7. VetusMores says:

    You scare me just a little when you say “to each according to his ability,” Father.

    But I know what you mean ;-)

  8. Amateur Scholastic says:

    Hmm. I tithe to the FSSP, instead of to my local parish/diocese (which support some not-particularly-orthodox charities, and where Mass isn’t the best). I pay my parish priest, personally, for Mass intentions from time to time. Am I doing wrong?

  9. Uxixu says:

    I’ve contemplated the marriage precept before and would seem to be due to the details of the differences in the 1983 CIC from the 1917.

    The support of the parish is reasonable. Examine your finances and your conscience and determine what you can safely give without impoverishing your own family.

  10. ManyMacarons says:

    I read this article really to determine the Question posited by Amateur Scholastic…

    I too would like clarification on the matter of living in one place and going to another Parish than Diocesan? I’ve often heard we vote with our pockets. If true, I certainly want my local stand up Homilies among other things driven out of the community. My family would rather save the 1 1/2 to 3 drive we make not mention Ga$, if only there was something of substance locally! I dont think we’re asking much. Our family isnt opposed to Norvus Ordo just the improper ones. Luckily our new Bishop is changing things for the best. Just going to take a while until it trickles into our local parishes.
    It won’t take long for many to notice FSSP growing. The Y? Will need to be faced. Thankfully more of the younger generations are noticing and to their benefit. But there will be the clueless, I mean it doesnt help when theyre (TLM) claimed a “fad” That didnt solidify the arms of Peter!

    Hope all have a Blessed Advent and New Year.

    [I’ve written on this issue several times including HERE and HERE]

  11. TWF says:

    Are we obliged to support “our pastor” in a strict sense? Its my understanding that the current code of Canon Law uses the same language employed in the Catechism – material support for “the Church” in a general sense. MANY of us never step foot in our canonical, geographical parish and worship and materially support another parish of our choice. If we are strictly required to support OUR pastor we would be failing to fulfill the precept.

  12. In our archdiocese, the first collection makes up the priest’s stipend. If it falls short, the Archdiocese tops it up. If it goes over, there’s a threshold beyond which the Archdiocese will simply collect the balance.

    The second collection goes to the needs of the parish, rather than the PP.

    In years gone by, the second collection used to go straight to the central Archdiocesan coffers, from thence to be redistributed to parishes. Our PP back then was in disagreement with the Archdiocese in general (for good doctrinal and liturgical reasons!) and encouraged parishioners to stop giving to the second collection …! It’s taken a while to start people giving again, now that it’s safe to do so.

    Mass stipends: I pay the priest at approximately the same hourly rate that I am paid, before tax. I figure what he’s doing is of infinitely more value than what I do, so the least I can do is pay him like I mean it.

    So I work out that a 1/2 hour daily Mass is around $20, and an hour-long Sunday Mass is around $50. For the sake of convenience, I would give him $50 also for two daily Masses, to save me being too penny-pinching.

    Of course, if all I have is a ten-spot, and it’s an ’emergency’, he gets that instead. I don’t know what he does with these stipends, and I don’t need to know. It’s his money, once I give it to him.

  13. PS: I should add that we have a sensible and honest priest, who does his best with what he gets from what is generally seen as a small and non-affluent parish. Still, there are only one or two really beat-up cars in the car park outside any given Mass; most of us seem to be driving something pretty nice, and pretty much everyone’s employed in a white-collar profession.

    So it makes me ashamed to hear the clinking of coins in the collection plate, because our coin currency these days ($1 and $2) buys you almost nothing. $5 also barely buys you a cup of coffee in this city. It certainly won’t fill up the petrol tank for Father’s car.

    I had a priest friend once who I was generous with stipends for, because he was always short of cash. Turned out he had a big gambling problem, but I didn’t know that at the time …

  14. Imrahil says:

    I guess there are two reasons for the quondam sixth Church commandment being left out:

    *the number. It’s Ten Commandments of God, so it should be Five Commandments by the Church. But then no.’s 2 and 3 could have been subsummed into one, as it were, so that alone doesn’t suffice…

    *Not marrying otherwise than according to Canon Law is more of a “you are not able to anyway” than a “you ought not to”.

    [Note: When, before the Council of Trent, there were clandestine marriages validly possible but forbidden, the case was different. To a less extent also when a priest could be made a witness to a marriage declaration against his will, as Manzoni paints it in The Betrothed, but I don’t know if that’s still possible.]

  15. Imrahil says:

    Dear Amateur Scholastic,

    short answer: no, you are not doing wrong.

    Longer answer: as the Church commandments are, as the name implies, commandments of the Church, a closer look seems appropriate to inquire what does the Church actually command. (She can, perhaps, command something different today from what she commanded yesterday.)

    Which is given in the Catechism: “You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church.” Nor is the CIC in any way more specific.

    Hence, if you direct what you want to give to provide for the needs of the Church to some institution which certainly does work for the needs of the Church, and needs providing (say: the FSSP), you fulfilled that commandment perfectly (at least in this regard). If the Church wants to get provided in a more specific way, let her say so.

    By the way: The CIC contains a canon that the bishop can tax the Church’s own institutions (not, unless of course by particular law, people) to provide for the Church. This cannot have any sense but to remedy, if remedy is needed, any possible problem that comes with free choice of beneficients. Which means we have free choice of beneficient in the first place.

    (Greetings, another amateur scholastic, also known as Imrahil)

  16. ManyMacarons says:

    Thank you Father! This Newbie needs to use that search bar more often.. Lol.

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