Some months ago I was celebrating a weekday Mass and noticed a group of four people sitting in the congregation: a couple and their teenage children. I didn’t know them so at the end of Mass I greeted them at the back of church, automatically assuming them to be the family of the person named in the intention for whom we had just offered Mass. ‘Oh no, Father’, they said, ‘It’s Grandma’s anniversary today so we just came along to Mass to pray for her.’
This family had made the Mass their own. No money had changed hands. It was their own initiative. The irony was that there was no trace in the congregation of anyone connected with the person for whom the Mass was being ‘officially’ offered. The priest was being ‘paid’ to offer Mass for them in their absence.
I’ve always felt uneasy about Mass intentions. The unease comes to the surface when someone asks, ‘How much is a Mass?’ The set answer is that it’s an offering, not a payment. I painstakingly try to explain the difference (without much inner conviction). But the further question always follows: ‘So how much then?’ The impression remains that Masses can be bought.
Did Martin Luther have a point? When money enters the equation it can reinforce a transactional approach to our relationship with God. And even if we don’t pay with money, there’s an impression that we can only win God’s favour, either for ourselves or for someone who has died, by earning it. Yet, as the saying goes, the best things in life are free. And best of all is God’s love.
• In our parish we’ve introduced an additional option to traditional Mass intentions and Mass cards. Cards are available which state, ‘I will pray for you next time I go to Mass.’