It’s the question priests most hate to hear: “How much is a Mass, Father?” Most priests have a standard explanation for reply, about Mass being a pearl of great price, an event of inestimable value, that the Mass can’t be bought or sold (and that attempts to trade in religious things have gotten the Church into terrible trouble in the past), etc. All of this is true and wholesome and must be stated, though it doesn’t really answer the question asked. The explanation usually gives rise to more questions.
Priests may then add that people usually give an offering to the priest who undertakes to celebrate a Mass for them. This offering, they will explain, is usually a certain sum of money, freely given – and they will quickly add that there is no problem in having Mass offered for people who cannot afford this.
The next question is inevitable: “And how much is that?”
So we journey back to where we started. The quiet rumbling noise to be heard in the background is of Martin Luther spinning in his grave. He who was so outraged at the buying and selling of religious objects is a constant background presence in such discussions.
When people pursue such a question with me, I usually explain that, as I understand it, when a priest says a Mass for your intentions, you feed and look after him for the day (or you give him the amount of money that will see him fed and found). As to how much that comes to, it’s a sum people can fairly easily calculate – the cost of eating breakfast, lunch and tea, with fuel for the car thrown in.
I gather that the offering for Mass is set at an official level by the bishops of a province. In my part of Ireland, the offering for Mass was fixed at five punts up in the last century (that’s IR£5). Then, when the euro came into force on New Year’s Day 2002, the usual offering went to €10 – and there it has remained ever since. And yet prices generally have risen quite a bit in the meantime. For instance, your Irish Times cost you €1.30 in 2002 –today it’s €2. So maybe people who arrange Mass should take this kind of inflation into account (while always being aware that priests will never turn away someone who cannot afford to pay).
I am fortunate that, in the parish to which I am assigned, the standard agreed offering had been set at €20 long before I arrived, and people give that much and more whenever they ask me to sign a Mass card or when they ‘book’ a Sunday or weekday Mass. Because I cannot offer all the Masses that come my way, I forward the excess to a colleague in Africa who is very happy to be supported in such a generous way.
I hope that all my colleagues are being supported equally well.
Bogus Mass cards
One of the Christmas cards I got last year was a bogus Mass card. I knew it at a glance. I was going to let the sender know, but decided against it: she had meant well and might be offended. I was just sorry that she had been conned out of her money.
I decided to take action of a different sort. Now, every time I sign my name to a Mass card, I write my name legibly and include my parish name too – for traceability. If every priest did this, bogus cards would stand out a mile.
Stories from parish life
I asked a colleague about a couple I came across who seemed happily married. He replied by means of this anecdote…
A man once went to a priest and claimed his wife was poisoning him. The priest investigated, did all sorts of tests, interviewed both parties. The complainant returned for the verdict: “My advice to you,” said the priest “is that the best thing you can do is take the poison!”
Happy marriages may not always be as they seem. Every door in the parish leads to a secret story, often sad, sometimes happy.