Why Mass stipends?/ Marriage and consummation

By Father Kenneth Doyle
Catholic News Service

Q. Why does the church solicit stipends for Mass requests? It seems that we haven’t learned anything from the Protestant Reformation in 1517. I wish that the church would discontinue this practice. What do you think? (Little Rock, Arkansas)

A. I certainly would not mind if the church were to discontinue the present practice of Mass stipends, but let me offer some background. First, the church’s Code of Canon Law uses the word “offering,” not “stipend” — to highlight that this is a free-will gesture and not an obligation.

To require payment would be wrong, and in fact the code specifies that priests should “celebrate Mass for the intention of the Christian faithful, especially the needy, even if they have not received an offering” (945.2).

Next, in some developing countries, priests do not receive a regular salary but are totally dependent on Mass offerings to meet their living expenses.

Third, the code is especially concerned that “any appearance of trafficking or trading is to be excluded entirely from the offering for Masses” (947). There is no financial incentive for a priest to celebrate multiple Masses a day since he is permitted to keep for himself the offering from only one Mass (951.1).

That having been said, I would still feel more comfortable if there were another way of doing things. I cannot count how many times, in my 50-plus years of priesthood, people have asked me, “How much does a Mass cost?” I have to explain that there is no set fee, that the suggested offering is $10, but if that’s any problem, you can donate something less or nothing at all, and the Mass will still be offered for the intention you desire.

Practically speaking, if there were no Mass offerings at all, I suppose some people might submit pages of intentions regularly while others might be embarrassed ever to ask. And I also think there is some merit in the present practice, when one makes a nominal financial sacrifice to request a Mass for a loved one. So I’m not sure what the ultimate solution is, and the floor is open for suggestions.

Q. I recently attended a bioethics seminar. During the portion concerning marriage, the leader explained how there could be no such thing as marriage between two men or two women because there could be no proper consummation. Fair enough.

      One of the participants then asked, “If that is the case, could a paraplegic man not marry a woman, since such a union could not be consummated?” The leader, who is a member of a religious order, responded that such a marriage could not take place, that such a couple could certainly be regarded as best friends but never man and wife. Is that, in fact, the case? (Richmond, Virginia)

A. I will leave aside the question of whether a paraplegic man is necessarily impotent. (I think this may not always be so.)

But to your basic question — whether impotence is an impediment to a Catholic marriage — the Code of Canon Law answers clearly: “Antecedent and perpetual impotence to have intercourse, whether on the part of the man or the woman … nullifies marriage by its very nature” (1084.1).

So the church considers as essential to Christian marriage the mutual and exclusive right to the conjugal act — i.e., to the total self-giving of the two spouses to one another.

It’s important here to note the difference between impotence and sterility. Impotence — which can be physical or psychological — means the inability to perform the act of sexual intercourse; sterility (infertility) is the inability to conceive or to induce conception. Impotence is an impediment to marriage; sterility is not.

Also key is the fact that to be an impediment, the impotence must be both antecedent and perpetual; impotence that is correctable — either by surgery or medication — does not invalidate a marriage. Neither is impotence that develops later in marriage — after surgery, for example, for prostate cancer.

 Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.

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