A-Z of the Mass: Stipend
One frequent caricature painted by those hostile to the Church is to suggest that the whole ‘operation’ is a money-making scheme by the clergy. They will often hold up the example of Mass stipends. A Mass stipendsis an offering given to a priest by an individual or a group so that he may say Mass for the donor’s intention. Today this offering is usually money. It is an ancient practice going back to the early Church when people would give the priest bread and wine, some of which was used during the Eucharist. What remained was used for the support of the clergy and the poor.
One might still ask is the donor “buying the Mass”? If this was the case then this would be a form of simony: trafficking, for money, in “spiritual things”. This is certainly not the case. No amount of money can buy the sacraments and the Church has regulated the practice so that not even the slightest appearance of profit or scandal will be attached to the Blessed Sacrament.
By making an offering the donor expresses their desire to share in the fruits of the Mass. It is also an expression of their wish to help the Church support her ministries. In many ways it shows the Church as a community in action. It is also often the case that the intentions of the donor are acts of charity. This is especially true of Masses offered for the dead.
Mass Stipends are not a money-making initiative: if they were, they would not be a very good or efficient way of scamming people! They are an example of the people of God supporting each other, both spiritually and materially, following the example of the apostles. Despite all of this, I have never met a priest who would not willingly offer Mass for someone stipend or no stipend. The priority is always the intention of the one who requests a Mass.