What are Mass intentions?
There is a long and venerable tradition in the Catholic Church that the faithful ask their priests to celebrate Holy Mass for particular, specified intentions. This custom, well understood in former generations past, is perhaps not so widely understood today.
Why have intentions at Holy Mass? Holy Mass makes present among us the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. There is no greater prayer known to humanity, because Holy Mass is the perfect offering of the Son of God to his heavenly Father. In offering Holy Mass for a specific intention, the priest prays God that the fruits of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice be applied to the requested intention, for the spiritual and temporal good of the person(s) concerned.
Who can offer up an intention at Holy Mass? Any Catholic may offer up a Holy Mass which he or she attends for any good intention. At Holy Mass you are free to associate your prayer with the intention of the priest, or you are free to offer up your own participation at the Mass for any number of personal intentions.
How is that different to the priest’s intention at Mass? The ordained priest has a particular role as an ordained minister of the Church. In offering the Holy Mass, the priest acts in persona Christi capitis, that is, in the person of Christ the Head of the Mystical Body, which is the Church. Thus, the Church has long taught, special graces may be obtained when the priest celebrating Holy Mass dedicates it to a particular intention.
Who can Holy Mass be offered for? Holy Mass can be offered for anyone, or any number of people, living or dead, with some exceptions. They do not have to be Catholics, but the offering must not cause scandal to the faithful, and it must not be for an intention that offends against Christian sentiment. You can also ask for Mass to be offered for a “private intention” if you do not want a person’s name to be published.
What are Mass offerings?
The custom of making an offering to a priest when asking for Holy Mass to be offered for a particular intention began with people paying for the priest’s upkeep for the day he offered Holy Mass for their desired intention.
A priest can only keep one Mass offering a day, so people gave enough to keep him for that day. Now that priests’ food is paid for by the parishes they serve, the Mass offering provides those priests who have chosen not to take a salary from parish funds with an income to spend on other things, and the amount offered is entirely at the discretion of the person requesting the Mass intention.
In the past fifty years or so, the amount people have given has been in the range of three pounds to a hundred pounds – most people have generally chosen to offer between five and twenty pounds. It is up to each donor to apply their own judgement in the light of their own personal circumstances.
It’s important to remember that nobody ever “buys” or “sells” a Mass, and when we support a priest who offers Holy Mass for our intention, none of us ever “pays for a Mass” — the payment for every Mass was offered once and for all by Jesus Christ, on the Cross, and it is from the one, perfect, saving sacrifice of Christ that the Holy Mass derives the grace that we refer to when we talk of “the holy sacrifice of the Mass.”
The Diocesan bishop has the task of deciding how much a priest should accept when an unspecified number of Masses are requested, for example when a collection is taken for Masses for the Holy Souls. Some years ago, our previous bishop wrote to priests to advise them of a change in this sum. Bishop Malcolm wrote, “It is some twenty years since the suggested donation of five pounds as a Mass Stipend was introduced in the Diocese, may I propose that the suggested donation be increased to ten pounds. I realise that this is a sensitive area, however, I believe this to be a fair and just suggested offering and would request that you inform your people of this.”
How to request that a priest offer Holy Mass for your intentions
Simply write down your intention (a form of words is below) and put it in a sealed envelope along with your offering. Address the envelope to Fr Martin, and either put it through the door at Royle House or put it into the collection at Holy Mass.
If you are requesting that Holy Mass be offered for the repose of the soul of somebody who’s died, remember to add “RIP” after their name. Other intentions include “For the welfare of (person’s name)” and “In thanksgiving.”
If you want to request that Holy Mass be offered for someone who’d not want their name to appear in the parish bulletin, you can always request a private intention, and add your initials, so you recognise which Mass is offered for your intention; for example, “Private Intention (MPS).”
If you express a preference for a particular date, and that date is not available, Holy Mass will be offered for your intention on the nearest available date. If you would prefer another arrangement (for example, the next available Saturday or next available Sunday), please indicate this after your preferred date. Mass intentions are listed each week in the parish newsletter.
One form of words to request an intention
Dear Father, please offer a Holy Mass for (your intention).
I enclose my offering of £ ___
Optional: Please offer Holy Mass on or about (your preferred date if you have a preference)
Optional: Please offer Holy Mass at (your preferred church if you have a preference)
Sending your Mass offering online
During the various lockdowns, Fr Martin continued to offer Holy Mass for your intentions. In response to the circumstances at that time, a method of requesting an intention from your computer, tablet, or smartphone was introduced, and that method is still available. There are eight easy steps.
1. Visit https://www.paypal.me/fathermartin
2. Enter the amount of Mass offering you wish to give.
3. Click or tap “Next”
4. Log in to your Paypal account, or click or tap “Sign up” to set up a new Paypal account. If you are setting up a new account, go back to step 1 when you are ready.
5. Click or tap “Add a note” and then type in your desired Mass intention. For example, “Please offer Holy Mass for Arthur and Tessa Sylvester RIP”
6. Do NOT tick the box that says “Paying for goods or a service” — we never ‘pay for’ Holy Mass, as the payment was made once and for all by Jesus on the Cross. We make a gift to support the priest for the day he offers Holy Mass for our intention.
7. Click or tap “Continue”
8. Check that everything looks right, then click or tap “Send money now”
You can also use this service to send a personal donation to Fr Martin, for example a contribution to the Easter Offerings.
Part of this information first appeared in our parish newsletter.