Is his ongoing series of catechetical talks on the Mass, Pope Francis in effect issued a critique of Mass stipends. While he did not rule out absolutely the common Catholic practice of making a monetary offering in connection with Mass, the pope made it clear that this should not be understood as purchasing the Mass for a price.
“…Pope Francis issued a harsh critique of the trend to ask parishioners for a financial contribution in order to have Mass said for a loved one, saying to make a personal offering is fine, but the liturgy should never have a price tag.’
“If I have someone who is in need, relatives and friends, I can name them in that moment, internally in silence,’ he said, referring to the moments of silence during the Eucharistic Prayer recited in Mass.”
In striking words, the pope said:
“The Mass is not paid for, redemption is free. If you want to make an offering okay, but the Mass cannot be paid for.”
In this entire catecheical series, Pope Francis has shown himself to be deeply grounded in the spirituality and theology of the Catholic Church’s liturgy, with a strong sense of the aims of the liturgical renewal of the Second Vatican Council.
He said today that the Eucharistic Prayer is the central moment of the Mass, echoing the General Instruction of the Roman Missal: “Among the parts assigned to the priest, the foremost is the Eucharistic Prayer, which is the high point of the entire celebration.” (30)
The Eucharistic Prayer is celebrated “to make communion with Christ truly present in the consecrated bread and wine,” the pope said. In it, “the entire assembly of faithful unites with Christ to magnify the great works of God in offering the sacrifice.” The Second Vatican Council wanted the liturgy to be in vernacular language, he said, so that “everyone understood.”
The pope said that the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) of the Eucharistic Prayer is an acclamation in which “the entire assembly unites their own voice to that of the angels and saints to praise and glorify God.” He added that “it’s beautiful when this [is] sung, it’s beautiful.”
The pope noted that both the action of the Holy Spirit and the recitation of Jesus’ words make Christ’s body and blood truly present, which recalls 1375 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The Church Fathers strongly affirmed the faith of the Church in the efficacy of the Word of Christ and of the action of the Holy Spirit to bring about this conversion.”
Showing a pastor’s awareness of the real challenges in experiencing the Eucharistic Prayer as a true high point, the pope admitted that this “codified formula” can seem a bit “distant.” The meaning must be well understood, and then “surely we will participate better,” he said.
Francis said that the Eucharistic prayer promotes three attitudes needed for disciples of Jesus: constantly giving thanks, making our lives a “gift of love,” and building communion in the Church and with everyone.
The Eucharistic Prayer teaches us “little by little to make our whole lives a ‘eucharist’,” the pope said.
There is an ecumenical aspect to the pope’s remarks today. One of the factors contributing to the tragic split between Protestant reformers and Catholics officials in the sixteenth century was the perception that the Mass had become a good work offered to God by humans in exchange for God’s grace. While Catholic teaching rejects such Pelagianism, and also rejects simony, the manner of celebrating the medieval and Tridentine Mass has sometimes contributed to misunderstandings among the faithful. The pope’s catechesis, while aimed primarily at clarifying eucharistic theology for the Catholic faithful, could also contribute to the overcoming of divisions between Catholics and Protestants.