ASK FATHER: A single Mass for 3 or 4 intentions – and stipends

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.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. everett says:

    Father, do you, or other commenters, have orders that you’d recommend for using to have intentions offered?

  2. DavidJ says:

    “Would that I had this blog back then, to help people connect with priests who need stipends… but I digress.”

    Father/Anyone, are you aware of any reputable service that does this? I would love to have some intentions offered up with the stipend passed on to some priests who are truly in need.

  3. MrsMacD says:

    The Cardinal Kung foundation
    needs an additional 6000 stipends/year. There is a form on the foundatin’s website for requesting Masses. Each stipend will support a priest for 3 days.

  4. LeeF says:

    A great charity that helps out priests, parishes and religious orders of both the Catholic and Orthodox churches in mission areas with practical infrastructure stuff, is Aid To The Church In Need (ACN). They offer mass intentions including gregorian series. One can pay online with a credit card or paypal.

    Beyond that, in my experience in my own local area, it is mostly conservative parishes where there is lack of space for intentions. Go to a large liberal one and you may find plenty of spaces available, though not necessarily on certain dates. Pick up the bulletins from some nearby parishes and see if there are lots of “filler” intentions, i.e. “for the people of the parish.” While I don’t doubt pastors intentionally include such intentions, I do doubt they do it multiple times a week when there is a healthy demand from parishioners for intentions for the deceased.

    Regardings Father Z’s dilemma on how to match up needy priests overseas to folks here, perhaps contacting ACN or some other organization could help match those needs with directed stipends. From what I remember reading in the past, father only scratched surface of the serious canonical requirements for stipends, which including auditing by the ordinary. Which means that is probably best to use established organizations that already know how to meet those paperwork requirements.

  5. Joseph-Mary says:

    I commission masses regularly from the Aid to the Church in Need
    They also accept requests for the Gregorian set of Masses.
    But then, if I send a donation for Masses from a birthday card–say to the Marians of the Immaculate Conception–and they say to participate in something like the First Saturday Masses for a year, there would probably be thousands of intentions then???

  6. andia says:

    DavidJ says:
    17 August 2015 at 12:05 PM
    “Would that I had this blog back then, to help people connect with priests who need stipends… but I digress.”

    Father/Anyone, are you aware of any reputable service that does this? I would love to have some intentions offered up with the stipend passed on to some priests who are truly in need.

    Opus Bono Sacradotii is a wonderful organization that operates nationwide ( It’s based in Michigan) to help priests experiencing a multitude of difficulties. They are reputable and will make sure that priests who desperately need Mass stipends get the opportunity to say Masses.

  7. OlderCatholic says:

    I believe that diocesan priests in the United States receive a salary or other payment like a salary, from the diocese. Is this accurate? The system outlined here is a little bit too much like singing for one’s supper to make me comfortable. [?]

    Also, regardless of the elaborate circumlocutions, it seems to verge on simony. [?!?!?] Yes, I know it’s an ancient practice, but “we’ve always done it this way” can be used to justify all sorts of behavior, from war on down. Does not make it right. [Wrong.]

  8. Lepidus says:

    My OF parish used to be a big abuser of the multiple intentions scam with some Sunday Masses having six or more listed. Then, the archdiocese cracked down on it. Now it’s one per Mass with the exception that two are allowed on the “main” Sunday Mass and the Saturday anticipation. (We have two priest and a total of four weekend Masses).

  9. Father P says:

    Although this doesn’t seem to be the case in the questioner’s parish it does happen that in houses of religious communities that the priests concelebrate the conventual Mass and each priest will offer that Mass for a particular intention while the main celebrant offers the primary intention (for the community and its benefactors). In parishes where the priests concelebrate the daily Mass that could happen as well with all the intentions printed in the bulletin or announced. It would then be possible for one Mass to have multiple intentions with multiple stipends connected with it.

  10. There is another possibility that comes to mind…

    The rules the Church has about this have to do with intentions attached to offerings. The point being that a priest is not to collect cash from many people, and all of them only get one Mass between all of them.

    But not all intentions are attached to monetary offerings, nor need they be. For example, when I offer Mass privately, I accept no offering for that; I offer that Mass for whatever intention I choose. And I can offer it for more than one. Similarly with Masses at the nursing home; no stipend is accepted for that, and no intention is assigned. I supply whatever intention or plural intentions I choose. These are good times to pray for my parents, my family, for various things that weigh on my heart — or to remember the request made when someone mentions to me, saying, “will you remember X when you offer Mass?”

    I was in a parish early on — a very large parish — in which only one stipend would be accepted for any given Mass. But if people asked to be remembered at Mass, the priest would list in the bulletin those requests subsequent to the stipended intention. He would, from time to time, describe this policy in the bulletin to avoid confusion.

    In my parish, this is not necessary; and it’s better to avoid it if possible. But I don’t see that it violated canon law, precisely because not more than one offering was accepted per Mass.

  11. pitkiwi says:

    What about when the priest always gives his stipend to his parish instead of keeping it for himself? I assume that only a priest can accept a stipend (and not a parish) and thus, if the priest freely chooses to donate his daily stipend to his parish, that’s his business, but doesn’t affect how many stipends can be accepted per day.

    So, for example, if a priest offers a daily Mass and wedding Mass on a given Saturday, the stipend received for the first Mass can go to the parish, but the second would have to go to whatever the bishop stipulates, even though the priest himself never gets a penny of the first stipend because it goes to the parish in practice (which pays his salary). I guess theoretically the bishop could say that any additional stipends would go to the parish general fund for whichever parish at which the Mass was offered, but that depends entirely on the bishop.

    Am I off base on this?

  12. acardnal says:

    Because some have alluded to it, per Canon 534, at least one Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation MUST have the intention for the “members of the parish” or similar. I have seen this abused frequently with personal Mass intentions substituting instead for ALL Sunday Masses.


  13. acardnal says: abused frequently with personal Mass intentions substituting

    It may be that the parish priest is paying another priest to offer the pro populo Mass.

  14. Two thoughts: First, the obligation to offer the pro populo Mass is very serious; if a pastor is found not to have done so, he must make up the missed Masses as soon as possible. I’m inclined to agree with Fr. Z that even if the pro populo Mass is not announced, the pastor has probably given it to a mission or other needy priest so that he can accommodate an extra parishioner every week with an announced Mass. We all know how people get about things like that.

    Second, I would like to point out that not every parish is booked up a year or two ahead with Mass intentions. While that is common, I also see many parishes near me where intentions are still available for the coming week at the time the bulletin is printed. One pastor started offering additional Masses for the recently deceased because of a lack of intentions and then discontinued one daily Mass because of a lack of priests and a lack of interest. I often think that people ought to be encouraged to get their intentions to where they are needed, and some sort of matching system as Fr. Z has suggested would be helpful in that regard (though we all know how people get about things like that– “But I want Uncle Bill’s Mass HERE at 9 AM when I am HERE– oh how mean and cruel Father is for telling me that it had to be offered in Bangladesh!”).

  15. Matt R says:

    The liturgical reformers said to offer Requiem Masses in moderation because there is a memento of the deceased in the anaphora. There is also a memento of the living in the Roman Canon.

    I think that if an offering was not made with an intention, the intention should not be listed along with an intention requested by someone who did leave an offering. Priests should use the Canon and pray for both the living and the dead at the proper places.

  16. Irene says:

    Contact Human Life International about their St. Michael the Archangel Mass Program.
    “The priest who celebrates the Holy Mass you request receives the entire offering…The intentions and offering for Holy Masses are distributed first to priests who celebrate Mass at HLI’s St. Michael the Archangel Chapel….and then to other priests who demonstrate a serious need for financial help. or or 800-549-5433.

  17. Volanges says:

    In my diocese the priests are paid a salary by their parish + a car allowance if he has his own car. They are, of course, taxed on those as well as on the room and board that is provided to them at the rectory. They are not getting rich by any means.

    Mass stipends are collected by the parish and paid to whichever priest celebrated that particular Mass. In my early days in this parish there were two and sometimes three priest concelebrating. Each had his own intention and was given a stipend. We had Masses booked for up to three years in advance.

    Nowadays, with only one priest, and those parishioners who used to offer Masses in abundance gone to their own just rewards, it’s unusual to have to wait more than a few weeks (and sometimes only until the next week) to have a Mass celebrated.

  18. Rob83 says:

    While a global site is probably not feasible, perhaps the local diocese could have someone in the chancery take down intention requests from those having difficulty and put priest and petitioner together, all while strictly refusing to have anything to do with the stipend payment?

    I think that avoids the canonical issue for the most part in that the diocese would only be suggesting an available priest while leaving it to the two parties to make the arrangements on their own. Some care would need to be taken that the diocese isn’t steering every request to the same priest or small group of them while ignoring others in need, but it may be useful in places where, like in my parish, the intention book is literally booked, even though the priests can fulfill over 1000 intentions a year without doubling any.

  19. Militans says:

    “When clerics dedicate themselves to the ecclesiastical ministry, they deserve a remuneration which is consistent with their condition in accord with the nature of their responsibilities and with the conditions of time and place; this remuneration should enable them to provide for the needs of
    their own life and for the equitable payment of those whose services they need.”

    I live in England, and you can see from the attached list the standard conditions here (including for retired priests, supply, etc).

  20. Adoremus says:

    Here in our parish, in the Philippines, one Sunday Mass could have at least 30 souls listed and 5 thanksgiving intentions…

  21. The Masked Chicken says:

    The parish I attend is run by an orthodox religious Order and they are begging for Mass stipends, because, in addition to Church Masses, each day (there are two), they also have private chapel Masses, said by individual priests. The Church Mass intentions are usually filled, but the chapel Masses are begging for stipends.

    Perhaps, if there are Order priests nearby, this would be a good place to check, as well as some of the other suggestions offered, above.

    The Chicken

  22. Imrahil says:

    Whether we like it or not, the practice seems to be generally this:

    There are two models:
    A) Priest says Mass in an intention himself; people can come and pray alongside.
    B) the Mass intention (and the money that goes with it) is yielded to another priest, possibly in a mission country; people are given a specific Mass at their home parish, on the same day (I should think), when to come and pray –

    and at the place where the priest says the intentions, he just says the model-A intention (his own) and all the model-B intentions together, without making distinction.

  23. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    If one were to ask “For the enemies of the Church, both within and without”, that would count as one intention, not bazillions.

    If one were to ask “For my parents, godparents, stepparents and apparents”, this would be one intention.

    BUT, if two persons “Father, would you pray this Mass for x”; “Father would you pray this Mass for y”, and Father listed the Mass intention “X & Y”, this is double-dipping.

    Did I get that right?

  24. Imrahil says:

    If that is his intention, yes.

    If he takes the effort himself to shuffle all other intentions into the missions, while saying one of his own himself, no – not even if he adds all the others.

    Whence the rather lengthy intentions you may hear in Germany just within the Eucharistic Prayer (here, the third):

    “…have mercy on our brethren and sisters deceased and on all that have passed away in Thy grace.

    In this mass, we pray in the Stifts-Mass* for the deceased members of the Women and Mothers’ Congregation of our parish of St. Aloysius, Hintertupfing; then, with Charlotte Hinterhuber for deceased mother Elisabeth, Maximilian Meyer and family for the deceased grandparents, grandparents-in-law and son, Annamaria Schmidtlein for the deceased husband Max, Hermann Bauer nach Meinung**, Kreszentia Wagner to the Honor of the Mother of God, Cäcilia Unterbirnbacher for the deceased uncle Adalbert, Anton Grüninger for the deceased daughter Jacqueline – receive them into Thy Glory, and with them, let us too, as Thou hast promised, sit at the table in Thy Kingdom –

    wherefor we pray through our Lord Jesus Christ; for through Him thou grantest to the world all the good gifts: and through Him and with Him and in Him, etc.”

    [*Stifts-Mass: a mass celebrated to satisfy a somewhat perpetual foundation
    ** nach Meinung: lit., “according to the intention”, means (I guess) that the intentioner does not really say what he is about]

    These intentions are then printed in the Mass bulletins, with “f. +” as abbreviation for “for the deceased”.

  25. Matt Robare says:

    Obviously, we need more priests.

  26. Getting Masses said is a challenge. Around here, intentions can take months, if not a year.
    I have often wished there was a mechanism for having Masses said by priests who never get intentions and stipends. In this digital age, there must be a way to request a Mass, through a webpage with a donation button. While someone in the background manages them, assigning them and responding to the requester. Gee whiz.

  27. I have often wondered why the Latin rite generally assigns only one intention per Mass. This has never made sense to me because the power of the Mass is infinite. Why can’t we have more than one intention attached to a Mass that is gigantically powerful? I just dunno.

    The Eastern rite attaches numerous intentions to one Mass.

    So I wonder what the history to this is since the Eastern rite often has preserved many ancient practices from before the year 1000 – but some practices were flushed out by the Latin Rite as abuses.

    Do we have any historians here who can answer this?

  28. robtbrown says:

    1. IMNSHO, confusion about priestly intention at mass is a consequence of the mass as meal crapola that has infected Eucharistic theology.

    2. I personally know of a US archdiocese where the common practice has been, contrary to the document from the Cong of Clergy, to bundle intentions, without the consent of the people, into a single intention for a single mass.

    3. Acc to the document, the only bundling by a celebrant that is permitted is after the people involved are told and have given their assent..

    4. As someone noted, it is common in religious houses that any community mass be concelebrated. That notwithstanding, there usually are still priests who celebrate an individual mass—often despite community pressure to concelebrate.

    5. I have theological objections to accepting multiple stipends for a concelebrated mass and to bundling—both for obvious reasons.

    6. If someone wants to have masses said for their intentions and to be certain that they won’t be applied to concelebrated masses or be bundled with other intentions, I recommend:

    Clear Creek Abbey
    5804 W. Monastery Road
    Hulbert, OK 74441-5698
    Phone (918) 772-2454

  29. robtbrown says:

    Tina in Ashburn says:

    I have often wondered why the Latin rite generally assigns only one intention per Mass. This has never made sense to me because the power of the Mass is infinite. Why can’t we have more than one intention attached to a Mass that is gigantically powerful? I just dunno.

    An excellent question.

    1. Of course, the benefits of the mass are infinite, but that is also the argument used by certain Protestant groups that acknowledge the Sacrifice of Christ but deny Transubstiantiation and the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Why, they say, would it be necessary to reenact what was infinite?

    2. The answer to their and your question is that even though the benefits of the mass are infinite, they are applied to a particular Time and Place (thus particular people), which is not infinite. Think of it as pouring a gallon of water into cupped hands.

    3. Re the Eastern rites and the ancient church: The last time I was in Rome, I heard a lecture from a professor from Tubingen who was Eastern Rite. She said that in the Eastern liturgy there was no notion of the Eucharist as Sacrifice until about the 6th century, then added that in the Roman Rite it was present from the beginning.

  30. The Cobbler says:


    I’m no expert, but I’d imagine it’s for the same reason that traditionalists prefer many priests celebrating many Masses over many priests concelebrating one Mass. Smarter and wiser people than I have written on that one (although I can’t seem to find the essay people usually point to, maybe someone can chime in), but my oversimplified layman’s understanding is something like: “Because the Mass is infinite, but our fallen human capacity to receive its graces is very much not.” I could be off-base though.

  31. dans0622 says:

    Fr. Z says: “It may be that the parish priest is paying another priest to offer the pro populo Mass.”
    That’s possible but, in order to do so, the priest has to be “legitimately impeded” from celebrating that Mass himself (c. 534). If it’s just a matter of “I have so many intentions, I have to farm out the pro populo one”, (this seems to be what “acardnal” is talking about) I wouldn’t consider that to be a legitimate impediment. A legitimate impediment, in my understanding, is one that prevents the priest from offering the Mass (period).

  32. robtbrown says:

    Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    If one were to ask “For the enemies of the Church, both within and without”, that would count as one intention, not bazillions.

    If one were to ask “For my parents, godparents, stepparents and apparents”, this would be one intention.

    BUT, if two persons “Father, would you pray this Mass for x”; “Father would you pray this Mass for y”, and Father listed the Mass intention “X & Y”, this is double-dipping.

    Did I get that right?

    The choice of the word “pray” is probably not a good one–too subjective.

    There are two aspects to the benefits of mass: What is offered and who offers it. The first refers to the objective Eucharistic Sacrifice and is the same for every celebrant–from a lazy priest who is derelict about saying his Office and the Rosary to Padre Pio or a Holy Monk.

    The benefits according to the subject (the celebrant offering the Sacrifice) varies from priest to priest. And so it would be more beneficial that a saint like Padre Pio offer (cf pray) mass than a lazy priest.

    Also: The more specific the intention the better

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