Expert Answer Forum

Paying for prayers and masses QUESTION from Claire January 26, 1999 Lately something has been bothering me quite a bit. I keep getting litterature from different groups (priests or nuns) asking to send money and I or my loved ones will be included in their prayers,novenas, masses,etc. I used to always send something but now it really bothers me. Why would you need to pay for prayers? From what I understand, quite a few of those groups are hiring people to raise money. What do you think of those practices?
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius on January 29, 1999 Dear Claire:
What you are referring to is the practice of stipends (an old designation) or in more current language, offerings.
The history of practice and canon law on stipends/offerings is too involved to go into here. But essentially, an offering for a Mass intention is an offering to support the work of the priest or the apostolate.
In some areas of the world priests are entirely supported by mass offerings. If they did not get mass offerings they would not eat.
In the Bible, Paul affirms that a worker for the Lord may be supported by the people (1 Cor. 9:14; 1 Tim. 5:17-18) and in doing so such workers may be free to concentrate solely on the spiritual work without having to stop the ministry activities to work secular jobs to pay the bills and support their ministries.
The bottom line is that a Mass Offering is a donation to a priest or to a religious order or apostolate. In gratitude for the donor's generosity, the priests offer up the intentions of that person in Mass.
However, Mass Intentions must be offered up by priest even if the person does not give a donation. Canon 848 is careful to note that the poor and needy are never to be denied access to the sacraments because of inability or offer a donation.
What these solicitations are asking of you is to donate to their monastery, convent, apostolate, etc. Getting such donations is how these groups exist.
But you can also send back the card with a Prayer Intention and no money, and your intention will still be included in the prayers and masses of that group.
As to the practice of third party fund-raisers, I have person experience with that in a former non-profit organization I use to run. Most of the fund-raisers who solicit donations or sell tickets to a concert through telemarketing are taking a MAJOR chunk of the money received.
The Philanthropic Division of the Better Business Bureau publishes ethical guidelines on what is appropriate in paying fund-raisers. For example, a fund-raiser should never be paid a percentage of the donations, but paid a flat fee that he gets regardless of how much is received. Also ethical standards give a limit on how much of an organization's budget should go for fund-raising. I don't remember the figure now, but I think it is around 15-20% maximum.
If a worthy organization does hire one of these third-party telemarketing fund-raisers (as opposed to the professional fund consultants), and you get a telemarketing call, kindly tell the person that you will send your donation directly to the organization (if you wish to donate to that organization). That way the organization gets 100% of your donated dollar.
The reason that good organizations get involved with these telemarketing fund-raisers is that they don't really know what they are getting into, and it often does provide quick cash, significant cash sometimes (even if the fund-raiser takes most of it). I would also caution parishes on the use of professional carnivals and the like. Often these arrangements are more in favor of the carnival than the parish who books them.
I recommend to all non-profits to avoid such fund-raisers. But don't penalize a good group because they felt a need to use them -- just donate directly to the group.
Now regular and professional Non-Profit Fund Raising Consultants (who charge a flat fee, not a percentage) can help an organization put together a fund-raising plan that will work for them, and that will be ethical and professional. Such consulting is perfectly okay.
It is very difficult for religious groups, and especially monasteries and convents, to raise the money they need to support themselves. If hiring a reputable firm to put a package of fund-raising resources together allows the monks and nuns to be free from the distraction of this very worldly, yet necessary, thing, then it can be a good and useful. I would hate to see the monks and nuns having to go out and work for McDonalds.
So if an organization sends you a Mass Intention card asking for a offering, please consider it if you feel led to donate to that religious community. They need it, and I'm sure you need the prayers (as we all do). But you are NOT required to send money to get the prayers. They will be happy to pray for you with or without a donation.
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