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A stipend is an offering given to a priest,
in consideration of which he is obliged to apply the fruits of the Mass
for the special intention of the donor. Mass stipends are also
Mass offerings and honorariums for Masses.
Historical Development. Pagan priests were paid a fee for their services, such as a burial fee. When they sacrificed to the gods for the people, part of the sacrificial offering was retained for their own sustenance. The Old Testament contains similar prescriptions for the Jewish priests (Leviticus 2:3; 5:13; 6:8-10).
In the early centuries of Christianity, the bishop celebrated Mass with all the clergy and people participating. The faithful brought bread and wine to be used in the Sacrifice of the Mass. Later, other gifts were substituted for bread and wine. These offerings were used for the support of the clergy and the poor. There is some evidence that as early as the 2nd century, Mass was sometimes celebrated in homes in the presence of only a few participants. Those present provided the elements used in the sacrifice. By these offerings the faithful participated in and provided for the celebration of the Mass and the sustenance of the clergy. Mass was not offered for the special intentions of any one person. There are strong indications that from the 4th and following centuries people made offerings, not merely to participate in the sacrifice, but to have Mass celebrated for their particular intentions.
Only in the 6th century do we find any evidence of private Masses, without any participants except the prescribed servers. There is evidence dating from this time, of offerings made to have Mass celebrated for the intentions of the donor. But the earliest certain proof of stipends for an individual intention is from the Rule of St. Chrodegang in the middle of the 8th century. Two councils of Rome (816 and 853) urged priests not to restrict their application of Masses by receiving offerings from individual donors. By the 11th century both private Masses and individual stipends were common practice.
Kinds. There are two kinds of stipends: the manual stipend and the founded stipend. Manual stipends are the common kind, where a sum of money is given to have a priest apply the fruits of the Mass for the intention of the donor. In founded stipends, a sum of money or property is given, the interest or other return from which is to be used as a stipend for one or more annual Masses said over a number of years.
Lawfulness. Abuses that have appeared at various times and places in regard to stipends have been severely condemned. But the practice of stipends has never been condemned. St. Paul asserts the right of those who serve the altar to live from the altar (1 Corinthians 9:13). Many papal documents uphold the practice and condemn those who attack it. Saints and theologians have both defended and observed the practice (St. Thomas Aquinas ST 2a2ae, 100.2 ad 3).
Present Discipline. Today Church law has many detailed and stringent norms regulating Mass stipends. The amount of the stipend is determined by the bishop or by lawful custom, and priests may not demand more. One Mass must be offered for each stipend, and only one Mass a day for a stipend. When the Holy See does give permission to accept a stipend for a second Mass, the extra stipend generally has to be given to a specified charity. These and many other laws and penalties ensure that no abuses or appearances of cupidity arise.
Explanations. When a priest accepts a stipend for a Mass, he has a grave obligation to apply the fruits of the Mass according to the intention of the donor. Theologians have various explanations of the nature of the pact between the priest and the donor. Many consider that there is a bilateral contract known as do ut facias. One person agrees to give while the other party agrees to do something in return. Another opinion claims that the custom of giving stipends merely defines the natural obligation of supporting the clergy. An appealing opinion holds that stipends are a monetary equivalent of the early offerings of bread and wine. The money purchases the elements of the sacrifice; the surplus is retained for the sustenance of the priest who celebrated the Mass.
Payment for some extrinsic title, such as asking that Mass be celebrated at a certain hour, or for inconveniences incurred by travel, is not forbidden. These circumstances may entitle the priest to a recompense distinct from the stipend for the application of the Mass to a certain intention.
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