Pope Francis: “Mass Can’t Be Bought”

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.

CNA reports:

“…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.


  1. I wish that Pope Francis would abolish, once and for all, the practice of Mass stipends. I know of a parish that abolished them following debates over who was given which dates. Now this parish offers every Mass for the people of God, and instead they sell lovely prayer cards that serve the same practical purpose as the old Mass cards.

    1. I could envision First World bishops conferences asking Rome if they could abolish stipends in their territory, or at least asking they be instead directed to parishes. Stipends admittedly don’t serve as much of a purpose anymore here in the West, where our priests generally live fairly comfortably, thanks in part due to well funded dioceses and generous benefactors. I know of several priests who do indeed send the stipends to the parish fund instead of pocketing it themselves. Let’s also not forget that Canon Law requires that requested intentions still be prayed even if the petitioner cannot pay the stipend (c 484).

      Dioceses in developing countries however struggle financially much more than those here (even with most of the dioceses in my state being bankrupt right now). Priests there live on much less, and many still depend on stipends to even eat in the evening. Asking for stipends for mass intentions is not ideal, but eliminating them Church wide would further impoverish a lot priests who are already struggling and overextended. Dare I say it, stipends might be “necessary evil,” at least for now.

  2. It’s interesting how the Pope states that the bread and wine have been changed once the epiclesis and the words of consecration are finished. I’ve been told that we can’t pinpoint the exact moment in which this change occurs in the Eucharistic prayer.

    1. In the past, the mediaeval Western Church tended to focus on the “words of consecration” while the Eastern Church tended to focus on the epiclesis, the invocation of the Spirit on the gifts. Both have returned to a realization that in fact it is the whole Prayer which is consecratory, not just some “magic words” in the middle. Anyone who doubts this should ask themselves why it is that in services in the absence of a priest it is not just the words of institution that are omitted but the entire Eucharistic Prayer.

      1. The critique of “magic words” then could just as easily be applied to the entire Eucharistic Prayer. Because everytime the prayer is said over the bread and wine by the priest, they are changed into the Risen Lord.

  3. I had heard that it was Ignatius of Loyola’s expectation that no Jesuit receive a stipend for “saying mass.” The ordinance did not survive long, unfortunately, but the aspiration has clearly survived.

    1. They technically still don’t. The vow of poverty that Jesuits and all religious take precludes them from individually owning property, including pocketing mass stipends. The catch here is that the stipends (and all other income) are thus received and spent in common by all Jesuits in their local community.

  4. Bishops could address this matter in short order by directing an increase in salary of 250–300 a month for every diocesan priest to be covered by any unsolicited offerings in connection with scheduling Mass for a loved one. There would be no need to even make it appear that a specific Mass is being offered exclusively for just one individual. The bulletin could publish something along these lines: we have received requests that the following souls of the faithful departed be remembered during the 9am Mass next Sunday. May their souls and those of all the faithful departed through the Mercy of God Rest In Peace.

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