Join our Lenten Campaign 2024.
The Code of Canon Law puts the matter very simply:
A priest is free to apply the Mass for anyone, living or dead.(Canon 901)
The commentaries to this short canon explain what can be prayed for during Mass, and what intentions are not allowed.
It is highly recommended to pray for blessings for the living, which can be clearly specified: for healing, finding a new job, improving family relationships, resolving conflicts, or strength in mourning, for example.
We can offer a mass in thanksgiving for gifts received from God.
The most common intention in many places is for the repose of the soul of a dead loved one.
Naturally, it’s inappropriate to ask for Masses to be offered for intentions that are incompatible with God’s commandments: to harm someone, to break up a relationship, etc. Nor is it proper to request Masses for trivial and mundane matters, such as for money for a new watch.
Nor should it be the case that the intention to be read at the beginning of the Mass is a declaration of political views, ideological indoctrination, or advertising. For example, the intention shouldn’t be “For a blessing on such-and-such a company, which sells product x, which has a store located on Main Street.”
What about Michael Jackson?
Some time ago, an elderly woman came to the parish priest in Knurów (Poland) and asked for a Mass for the late musician.
“The priest accepted this intention, and such a Mass will be celebrated. It’s all about the goodness and correctness of the intention. So, in this case this elderly woman was not trying to be provocative — something which I also tried to verify. She felt within herself this desire, this need, to pray precisely for Michael Jackson. She requests Masses for the dead very often,” said the chancellor of the diocesan curia of Katowice.
It’s hard not to agree with the chancellor’s opinion.
Just because a person is well-known and famous, and perhaps even controversial, does not mean that celebrating a Mass for them ceases to be meaningful or important. Just like any person, a celebrity known by millions may also need prayer. And it’s good that there are people who will think of such a straightforward and completely supernatural form of help.
Avoid scandal and sensationalism
Offering a Mass for a deceased musician is entirely possible. Nonetheless, we could suspect that hearing that intention announced at the beginning of Mass could cause a sensation and someone might take it as a joke. Strong emotions can also be aroused by hearing a Mass intention for certain politicians.
In situations that can be expected to arouse unnecessary emotions and comments, it’s better to use the formula “for a special intention” or “for an intention known to God.” A person requesting a Mass intention can ask for prayers for the same intention over and over, and there’s no need to read it from the pulpit.
By keeping the intention private, we can accomplish the most important thing: prayer during the Eucharist. God and the person who submitted the intention know about it, and it doesn’t cause any sensation. It won’t be perceived as a statement or a joke.
Types of Masses for intentions
Since we’re on the subject of Masses, it’s worth mentioning three kinds:
A Gregorian Mass is actually 30 masses celebrated for 30 consecutive days for a deceased person. Its origins date back to the sixth century. When Pope Gregory the Great (540-604) was still a monk, masses were celebrated in the monastery for a deceased brother of the community who was found to have kept money, which was against the rule. After 30 days, the deceased appeared to one of the other brothers and thanked him for his help and release from punishment. When Gregory became pope, the custom of so-called Gregorian masses for the dead spread to the wider Church. Although it’s not grounded in a specific doctrine, it’s a custom and a goodtradition to help the dead.
These are celebrated for a living or deceased person, without a specific intention. The person for whom such a Mass is ordered is entered in a special book, and the Eucharist is celebrated daily, weekly, or monthly for the intentions of everyone in the book (the frequency depends on the institute that commits to it). Such a Mass is to be celebrated as long as there is a community that has committed to it. This is a custom that is very popular in certain countries and could be common in a monastic community, which for example, prays for its benefactors every Monday or every first of the month.
They involve celebrating the Eucharist for several different intentions. This is a common practice at shrines, where there are so many Mass intentions that it is impossible to celebrate them individually. In some parts of the world this is also a generally accepted reality, especially when no offering by the faithful is involved.
In 1991, the Congregation for the Clergy issued the decree Mos iugiter, which regulated so-called collective Masses. The Church stressed that each intention for which an offering has been received should be celebrated separately (Code of Canon Law, can. 948). However, if the donors agree, a Mass can be celebrated collectively, but no more often than twice a week. The document reads:
It is true that from the earliest times the faithful, especially in poor regions, have been accustomed to make modest offerings to priests without explicitly asking that a separate mass be celebrated for each of them for an individual intention. In such cases, it is permitted to pool together the various offerings to celebrate as many masses as correspond according to the diocesan rate.
The document makes it clear that a priest may not, of his own accord, combine several Masses for which an individual offering has been made and pray for them in a single Eucharist.
Sources: Deon.pl, St. Warzyniec Parish in Kutno, zyciezakonne.pl, Report from World Clippings