Chapter 54 Mass Offerings

Preliminary Questions


Ten Finger History


Stipends / Fruits of the Mass

Code of Canon Law



To Think About


Preliminary Questions

At the funeral of a friend, did you ever pay to have a Mass said for the deceased? Why? How did this make you feel?  Did you buy a card?  What did the text of the card say? 

What is the origin of Mass Offerings? What do you know of the theological background of the practice? What is positive in this practice and what abuses should be avoided?

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Paul VI. Firma in traditione, June 13, 1974. [Motu proprio on faculties regarding Mass stipends.] AAS 66 (1974) 308-311. See: DOL 287, numbers 2234-2238.

Code of Canon Law, canons 848, 945-958. Offerings Given at the Celebration of the Mass. See: CLSA Commentary, pp 668-672.  New Commentary on the Code, pp 1129-1137.

Robert Cabie. The Eucharist. New Edition 1986. (The Church at Prayer, Vol II. A. G. Martimort editor. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1986, pp 30 ff.

Documents on the Liturgy, Section 11, "Mass Intentions and Stipends," pp 280-287.

Huels, John M. "Stipends in the New Code of Canon Law" Worship 57:6 (November 1983) pp 215-224.

Huels, John M. Pastoral Companion, Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1986, pp 109-112.

Huels, John M. Disputed Questions in the Liturgy Today, "Mass Intentions," Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1988, pp 47-55.

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Ten Finger History
Mass Offerings (formerly Stipends)

1. Apostolic [0-399]   Dangers of simony

2. Patristic [400-799]   

3. Early Medieval [800-1199]  
Stipend:   (from stipendium, the daily wage of a Roman soldier)  From the eighth century onward "Private Masses"  (Masses without the faithful present) spread in Western monasteries.  The congregation, when present, involved itself in a drastically curtailed manner.  In the Frankish milieu the exchange of material goods for spiritual goods led to the employment of the Mass as the most favored spiritual good to be involved in this "holy commerce." (Kilmartin, 22)

4. Medieval [1200-1299]  John Duns Scotus develops the theology of the "Fruits" of the Mass.  The practice of celebrating distinct Masses for distinct intentions of individual donors of the stipend became the general rule in the thirteenth century.  From the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries, the value of the fruits of the eucharistic sacrifice is the only theological question given much attention in the discussion of the theology of the sacrifice of the Mass. (Kilmartin, 165)

5. Late Medieval [1300-1499] 1317 The Council of Florence fines a priest for saying anniversary Masses on Sundays.  1342 A professor of theology at the University of Wurzburg berated Mass stipends as simony; he was forced to recant the statement and swear to the acceptability of Mass stipends.


6. Reformation [1500-1699]
  Luther (and the other reformers) Christ's sacrifice is the one, sufficient, Good Work necessary for salvation.

7. After Trent [1700-1899]  

8. Before Vatican II [1900-1959]
  K. Rahner, Many Masses, One Offering.

9.  Vatican II [1960-1975] 
Firma in traditione June 13, 1974. Code of 1983 -- no more theology of "fruits of the Mass" -- "stipends" become "offerings"

10. After Vatican II [1975-2050]

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Pastoral Issues

1.  Giving Alms is a good thing. 

ALMSGIVING: Money or goods given to the poor as an act of penance or fraternal charity. Almsgiving, together with prayer and fasting, are traditionally recommended to foster the state of interior penance (1434; cf. 1969, 2447). (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary)

Tobit 4:7 give alms from your possessions, and do not let your eye begrudge the gift when you make it. Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor, and the face of God will not be turned away from you.

Tobit 4:16 Give some of your food to the hungry, and some of your clothing to the naked. Give all your surplus as alms, and do not let your eye begrudge your giving of alms.

Tobit 12:8-9 Prayer with fasting is good, but better than both is almsgiving with righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than wealth with wrongdoing. It is better to give alms than to lay up gold. For almsgiving saves from death and purges away every sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life,

Tobit 14:8 So now, my children, I command you, serve God faithfully and do what is pleasing in his sight. Your children are also to be commanded to do what is right and to give alms, and to be mindful of God and to bless his name at all times with sincerity and with all their strength.

Tobit 14:10 Because he gave alms, Ahikar escaped the fatal trap that Nadab had set for him, but Nadab fell into it himself, and was destroyed.

Sirach 3:30 As water extinguishes a blazing fire, so almsgiving atones for sin.

Sirach 7:10 Do not grow weary when you pray; / do not neglect to give alms.

Sirach 12:3 No good comes to one who persists in evil / or to one who does not give alms.

Sirach 29:8 Nevertheless, be patient with someone in humble circumstances, / and do not keep him waiting for your alms.

Matthew 6:2-4 "So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. [3] But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, [4] so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Luke 11:41 So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.

Luke 12:33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.

Acts 10:2 He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.

Acts 10:4 Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.

Acts 10:31 Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God.

CCC 2447 The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God: "He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food must do likewise. But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you. If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?

2.  Simony is a bad thing. 

CCC 2118 God's first commandment condemns the main sins of irreligion: tempting God, in words or deeds, sacrilege, and simony.   CCC 2121 Simony is defined as the buying or selling of spiritual things. Cf. Acts 8:9-24. To Simon the magician, who wanted to buy the spiritual power he saw at work in the apostles, St. Peter responded: "Your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God's gift with money!" Peter thus held to the words of Jesus: "You received without pay, give without pay." Mt 10:8; cf. already Isa 55:1.It is impossible to appropriate to oneself spiritual goods and behave toward them as their owner or master, for they have their source in God. One can receive them only from him, without payment.

Origin of the name Simony:    "Now a certain man named Simon had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he was someone great. All of them, from the least to the greatest, listened to him eagerly, saying, "This man is the power of God that is called Great." And they listened eagerly to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. But when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed. After being baptized, he stayed constantly with Philip and was amazed when he saw the signs and great miracles that took place. Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying, "Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." But Peter said to him, "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God's gift with money! You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness." Simon answered, "Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may happen to me." Acts 8:9-24 NRSV

3.  Development of "private" Masses.  From the eighth century, the practice of private Mass spreads in  Western monasteries.  These private Masses involved the congregation, when present, in a drastically curtailed manner. 

As the doctrine of purgatory develops, the custom arose of paying the priest to offer Mass for the soul of a deceased.   [This was not "buying a Mass" or Simony, but an offering to support the priest. ]  The custom begins of ordaining priests simply to say Mass.   "The [Renaissance] clergy with whom lay people had the most contact were the parish priests, and there were numerous complaints about them.  In many localities there were too many of them.  In a notorious example, in the German city of Breslau, there were two churches staffed by 236 altar priests whose sole duty was celebrating Masses for the dead.  In such churches, where many Masses were celebrated every day at the same time on side altars, many people would run from one Mass to the next to be present at the elevation of the Host." (Rev. Thomas J. Shelley, Ph.D., Church History, pp 74-75)

4.  Theologians develop a theology of the Fruits of the Mass   The scholastics distinguished three categories of Mass fruits:

  1. GENERAL: in which all the faithful partake (and the infidels also indirectly in order that they may become members of the Church).
  2. SPECIAL: or intentional, medius ministerialis, which the celebrating priest applies to certain determined persons and for a determined purpose;
  3. MOST SPECIAL: The most particular which is so proper or personal to the celebrating priest that it cannot be given up to others, at least not totally.

This theology entered the manuals which were used as seminary textbooks, e.g. Tanquere (Dogmatic Theology) and Jorio (Moral Theology). This is the theology that was taught to most priests, bishops, and popes over 60 years of age. 

This theology was based on such scriptural texts as:  1 Timothy 5:17-18  Presbyters who preside well deserve double honor, especially those who toil in preaching and teaching. For the scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox when it is threshing," and "A worker deserves his pay."

The characteristic traits of the theology of Mass stipends as formulated by Scotus are the following:

a.  The offering for the celebration of a Mass for a particular intention was viewed as a contribution to the livelihood of the priest

b.  The fruit infallibly derived from the Mass and applied to the intention of the donor of the offering was considered to be limited in itself by the limited devotion of the offering Church, and limited by the receptivity of the beneficiary;


1.  This theology of "fruits" and the practice of "stipends" is no longer taught.  It has been radically changed by the Vatican Council, and the events leading up to it, and following it (see below).

2.  Eucharist (in that the part of the iceberg that lies under the water) was seen as an object rather than as a dynamic, communal, ecclesial action.  The verb had become a noun. 

3.  The important question is "What is the relation between the Mass and the once and for all Paschal victory of Christ."  The key to the answer of this question lies in ANAMNESIS   The celebration of the Eucharist enables us to be present to the once and for all Paschal victory of Christ.

4.  The theology of "fruits" views grace in terms of object (a thing) rather than relationship.

5.  This theology was rethought during the discussion of the theological basis for Concelebration

5.  Practice of Mass Stipends

From the theology of fruits comes the Mass stipend.  A Mass stipend is

  1. A financial contribution given to the priest IN ADVANCE of the Mass
  2. requiring the priest to hold the donor's intention PREFERENTIALLY IF NOT EXCLUSIVELY in mind with the celebration of the Mass.
  3. It is a CONTRACT arrangement.

Related practices develop.  For example:

  1. Privileged Altar.
  2. Gregorian Series. See: DOL number 2228.

Alms are devalued in favor of stipends. For example the personl who said:   "Father, please take these two dollars and say a Mass for my husband.  I know that my prayers and these two dollars are worth nothing compared the the infinite value of your Mass."

6.  Abuses cause reaction  When greed and ignorance enter the picture, and priests begin "trafficking in Masses" and "selling indulgences"  stipends are seen to be dangerously close to simony --

As soon as the coin in the collection bucket rings
The soul (of your loved one) from purgatory to heaven springs!

Those who wish to stop these abuses returned to the basic theological fact that salvation if a free gift and we do not earn salvation by good works, even such a good work as the Mass, or by indulgences, etc.

While this is standard, Catholic teaching, the heat of the argument at the time did not permit the two sides to actually dialogue; and the Church split.  Some insisted that since the Sacrifice of Calvary was all sufficient and in no way needs to be repeated, the Sacrifice of Christ is the only Sacrifice.  (And therefore the Mass is not a sacrifice).   The others insisted that Mass is a sacrifice (but insisted so heavily on sacrifice that the meal dimension of the Eucharist was obscured). 

This debate is outlined in these notes at Chapter 34 Reformation / Sacrifice

Today, we have moved beyond this seeming contradiction.  For example, see:  Lutheran Catholic Agreement, October 31, 1999: "By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping us and calling us to good works."

7.  The Liturgical Movement 1900 -- shifting understandings about the Eucharist.  The liturgical movement rediscovers the Eucharist as a communal ecclesial action,  Pius X encourages active participation.  The Theology of "fruits" and "stipends" is rethought. 

8.  Paul VI. Firma in traditione, June 13, 1974. [Motu proprio on faculties regarding Mass stipends.] AAS 66 (1974) 308-311. See: DOL 287, numbers 2234-2238.

9.  Code of Canon Law, canons 848, 945-958. Offerings Given at the Celebration of the Mass. See: CLSA Commentary, pp 668-672.  New Commentary on the Code, pp 1129-1137.  (No more fruits and no more stipends.)

10.  Contemporary Pastoral and Theological Issues

We must keep together in one theology

  1. the assembly
  2. the care of the poor
  3. the offering of the eucharist
  4. the presentation of gifts to God
  5. the active participation of those present at the eucharist

We must preach a positive theology of almsgiving. 

We must provide ways in which people can express their sympathy for the bereaved and their concern for the salvation of the deceased.

We must find ways to support priests that are not open to suspicions of simony.

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Code of Canon Law

  1. The Code of Canon Law.
    1. Book IV: The Sanctifying Office of the Church
      1. Title III: The Most Holy Eucharist c 897 - 958.
        1. Chapter 1. The Eucharistic Celebration
          1. Art. 1. The Minister of the Most Holy Eucharist
          2. Art. 2. Participation in the Most Holy Eucharist
          3. Art. 3. Rites and Ceremonies of Eucharistic Celebration
          4. Art. 4. The Time and Place of Eucharistic Celebration
        2. Chapter 2. The Reservation and Veneration of the Most Holy Eucharist
        3. Chapter 3. Offerings Given at the Celebration of the Mass

Chapter 3. Offerings Given at the Celebration of the Mass

388 and 534.Mass for the People - bishop and pastor - Sundays and Holy days. Note: can keep offering for second Mass on that day.

901. Priests may apply Mass for anyone, whether living or dead

945 1. Celebrate for poor -- if no offering.
945 2.
947. No trafficking
948. Once accepted, must say separate Masses even if small offering
951 1.
951 2.
952 1.
952 2.
952 3.
955 1. Must keep a record which said and which given away.
955 2.
955 3.
955 4.
958 1.   Need a special book.
958 2 .

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  1. John Huels, "Mass Intentions," Disputed Questions in the Liturgy Today, Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1988, pp 47-55.
    1. Can sell a card.
    2. Can sell the trouble to print the name in the bulletin.
    3. Can not sell a Mass, grace, etc.
    4. What [theological] statement would you want printed in the Mass Cards sold in your parish and rectory?
  2. Things to avoid: (Huels, p 51.)
    1. Announcing the offering intention before or at some point during the eucharist,
    2. Isolating the offering intention during the General Intercessions.
    3. Naming the offering intention in the eucharistic prayer.
    4. Reserving special roles for the Mass-offering donor.
  3. Pastoral Recommendations (Huels, p 51)
    1. Publishing the offering intentions in the parish bulletin.
    2. Praying for the offering intention along with other intentions of the same category in the General Intercessions.
  4. What is positive in the practice of Mass Offerings?
    1. Makes offering concrete: like lighting a candle, giving a card to the family of a deceased friend.

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To Think About

1. A catechumen comes to you and says: My sponsor told me I could have a Mass said on the anniversary of my Mother's death and that the Mass cost $10.00. Here is $10.00. I'd like to buy a Mass for my Mother." What would you tell the catechumen?

2. What could be said about the donor of the stipend or the intention of the donor during Mass? What should not be said? When should this be done? When should this not be done?

3. What type of [theological] statement would you want printed in the Mass cards sold in your parish? What type of message would you not want printed in the Mass cards sold in your parish?

Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 06/01/17 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at