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.
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?