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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Mass Cards

I have just returned from vacation and while working through the mountains of mail on my desk this morning, discovered several "mass" cards from Roman Catholic (and former RC) friends in honor of my mother who died July 29.

My mother was "officially" RC but only nominally so. She "made her Easter duty" but hadn't really been to church except for weddings, baptisms and funerals for the past 10 years or so.

I found these mass cards deeply comforting and loving expressions of prayerful intentions for solace in my grief. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that I am, myself, former RC, but that was so many light years ago, I'm not sure that's really it.

I was also deeply comforted by a message from a former Jew, now Episcopalian, who sent me a note that a prayer for my mother had been faxed to a Rabbi in Israel who placed it in Jerusalem's Western Wall.

So, too, with the certificate I received that a tree had been planted in my mother's name to help restore a forest in California that had been devastated by fire.

And, with the note from a Buddhist friend who told me that he brought traditional food (fruit) and candles to his local monastery where the monks would chant "the prayers" for the next 72 hours for my mother' soul.

Over the past several years, when a parishioner has died, I have received occasional phone call inquires from RC friends of the deceased as to whether or not the Episcopal Church offers such "mass cards" for sale.

I have always replied, kindly, that in The Episcopal Church prayer requests - even for requiem masses - are always honored without charge. "But," the reply would most often come, after an uncomfortable pause, "do you have a card that says that so that I can send it to the family?"

As my 6th grade geometry teacher would say whenever we FINALLY got an theorem, "Ah, light dawns on Marble Head."

I think I got it. Finally.

Yes, we have a flower ministry where people can remember the anniversary of the death of their loved one - and those flowers are delivered to someone who is ill or, perhaps, has not been able to come to church for awhile, or needs a "random act of kindness' and beauty in their lives. (Our Prayer Shawl Ministry also does this.)

Yes, we have an annual Requiem Mass on All Souls/Saints' Day where the necrology is read and prayed. We also have a very active Memorial Committee which handles bequests and memorials.

No, I'm not talking about selling 'plenary indulgences" or "praying someone's soul out of Purgatory". Neither am I talking about a way to raise money for the church. I also don't believe that only the "professional prayers" of a priest or those said at a Requiem Mass are the only effective prayers.

I'm thinking about taking this idea to my Memorial Committee next month - of having Prayer Cards available for a nominal fee so that those who wish to send a condolence card to the bereaved might also be able to offer the solace of the prayers of a community during our weekly Eucharist with the specific intention of the repose of the soul of their loved one.

Does anyone reading this blog do that? What is the theological thinking behind such action? How do you offer it to your community?

If you think this is a terrible idea, why do you find it offensive or repulsive?

I will be discussing this with my Wardens and Executive Committee, my Pastoral Care Committee as well as my staff at next week's Staff meeting.

I'm really trying to think this through before I present it to to anyone or any committee. I would be delighted to hear your thoughts, if you would, please, so that I can clarify my thinking before I discuss it further.


it's margaret said...

When I get a request, we remember the person at the Eucharist, and we do have "Mass" cards that say that a mass has been said and that the person has been remembered, but we do not charge for them, and we do give them away and send them ourselves when necessary.

I found the Mass cards in my desk when I was called here 3 years ago. I didn't ask what the former rector did.... I just responded as I felt most comfortable with the requests.

The theology --oh my --when can we talk!? I begin my ramblings with --'life is not ended, but changed' and they are as much alive in Christ as I..... so my brain and heart and soul and body hover in prayer some where between the bottom of the cross and the top of the sky.

And liturgy is always for the living.

Would love to see what more you do with this.


Malcolm+ said...

It would be nice to find a way to adapt the custom without selling sacraments.

Perhaps providing a free card which says something to the effect of "I have asked [Name of Parish] to remember [Name of Deceased] and [his/her] loved ones in their parish prayers."

Cards are free - but an appropriate receptacle if people choose to make a donation. Perhaps a sign saying, in fact, "Prayer Cards are free. A donation is welcome, but not required."

David and John said...

At my small Episcopal Parish, we send a letter to the deceased persons family that advises them that "Mass was said by (name of Celebrant) at St. Paul Episcopal Church on (date) for the repose of the soul of (name of deceased)".

Unlike the RC's, there is no charges for this. We also have several in the congregation that will give our Priest the name of a loved one (on the anniversary of their death or other such personally important date) to be remembered at the beginning of the Eucharist. We call this an "Intention of the Mass".

All this may be pretty "high church" for some folks, but it does mean a lot to those who mourn the loss of a loved one.

Bill said...

I like the idea of a remembrance in the form of a card. It doesn't necessarily have to be a mass card. I always save those little cards from funeral services. Every night when I read compline, the place is marked with a little holy card I kept from my mom's funeral. I see the card and I think of her.

Mary Sue said...

Oh, hon, you've been a priest long enough to know that wherever two or more are gathered in His name, someone's going to take offense.

Reiterating that the cards are free free gratis no charge our business is prayer and we are not-for-profit will probably smooth a lot of the bumps.

Unknown said...

"Unlike the RC's, there is no charges for this. We also have several in the congregation that will give our Priest the name of a loved one (on the anniversary of their death or other such personally important date) to be remembered at the beginning of the Eucharist. We call this an "Intention of the Mass"."

Just to be clear, that is not at all unlike the RCs.

It is completely possible and very common to have Masses offered without a cent being offered.

Priests may ONLY accept ONE stipend per day, but may offer up to three Masses per day.

That being said, priests deserve support, and the offering of the smallest of stipends (Still, most commonly $5.00! - how much is a Hallmark™ card?) For a donation of $10 for a Mass to be offered, a priest in China or Inda can eat for up to four days.

That is fair.

So no, this is NOT a matter of being "unlike the RCs".

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

In all fairness, the prevailing practice in the Northeast Corridor is to pay - sometimes SUBSTANTIAL amounts ($50 - $500) for a Mass card - with no information provided that "Father's" daily activity is restricted. What is provided are lavish "cards" - calligraphy, gold leaf trim, padded cards.

Big. Tacky.

My apologies if that insulted the reality of wherever it is you are, but that is the reality here.

I'm sure that's not so where you are and good for you, but it looks and acts like a Very Big Business here.

Unknown said...

And for those who are so unfortunate to live where a simple Mass card supposedly costs up to $500... (Really, could you provide some details on that MacDaddy of a Mass card?). (I bet if you did a little research you would find that it is a wee bit more than just a Mass card you are talking about there.)

...they can go or write to The Seraphic Mass Association that requests all of $5 for a Mass card and uses the stipends to support the priests who will offer them in some of the poorest parts of Africa and Asia.

Or they could write to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

Or they could write to the Benedictines of Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma where each priest says a private daily Mass - most unstipended.

And anyone, anywhere can do just that.

Further have you ever gone to a parish in the Northeast Corridor and simply asked for a Mass to be offered? In any large parish with a school - which will have up to 5 Masses (some even more) in a day, your request will be taken - even without a donation - and it will be honored likely at one of the school Masses during the week.

My co-blogger - a priest with the Society of the Holy Cross regularly celebrates requiems for free - and I send him a list often. My parish priest doesn't even ask... when he finds out an extended family member has passed, he writes them in his intentions book.

And worth noting, the commentor who brought up the contrarian distinction of a TEC parish that does things "Unlike the RCs" is listed as living in TN... I don't think he had these "$500 Mass cards" in mind.

No need to apologize for "insulting the reality of my location" - it isn't needed. (And would that it were, such an offering is on par with "its regrettable you feel that way"...)

Would you like me to have a Mass offered for you?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

No thanks, but I'm happy to request to have one said for the state of your soul. Obviously, this pushed more than a few buttons for you, my brother.

Unknown said...

"No thanks, but I'm happy to request to have one said for the state of your soul."


Why anyone would ever turn down an offer to have prayers offered for them befuddles me.

You have some insight into the state of my soul because I am frustrated by inaccuracies?

I just find it regrettable and sad that in offering about one's own experiences contradistinction must be made as in "Unlike those RCs"... Especially when it simply isn't accurate at all. Masses are said weekly for millions of souls - as many as not without a dime being offered to the priest.

Let's be realistic and just leave it at that.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ummm . . . because your offer for prayer was not offered from one of good intention; rather, it was an offer of prayer as a wisecrack.

I take prayer very, very seriously.

Let's just leave it at that, shall we?

Unknown said...

I donate Mass stipends to the Cardinal Kung Foundation and the Franciscan Fathers weekly. When I get paid, they get paid. For a $10 stipend to the Cardinal Kung Foundation, underground Catholic priests (yes, contrary to the mainstream media, loyal priests are STILL persecuted there)can live for 4 days. For $5 to the Seraphic Mass Association, a priest in Africa who spreads the Gospel and supports vaccination and healthcare missions can live for a day. For $5 to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (a papal agency that also supports Orthodox priests) a priest in Ethiopia, India, or Pakistan can eat for a day.

As birthdays, anniversaries, deaths, births, whichever come up, I earmark those stipends that I send out each and every week for souls for whom I am praying.

But I also regularly pass along to several priestfriends - with no stipend whatsoever - the names of persons to remember at their private Masses. Many, many Catholics do.

It certainly was NOT a wisecrack. We can be clear about that.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

well, pfc, while you were busy tooting your own horn about how pious you are, you probably should have spent the time re-reading what you posted. It was a wisecrack, pure and simple.

Have you ever considered that if you need to toot your own horn about how you have prayers said for so many other, perhaps you should spend some time on your own prayer life - you know, just you and God. Nobody mediating for you.

It's just a suggestion.

Might help to lower your defensiveness and anger level a few degrees.

Fr. J. said...

As a Catholic priest I can attest that there is no charge for a mass intention. Each diocese establishes a recommended donation typically 5 to 10 dollars. This donation, however, is never required, which would be simony. As said before, a priest may say up to 3 masses on a Sunday and 2 masses on a weekday, but only one of these masses can be stipended. And, every mass has an intention, even if known only to the priest. Thus, typically more than half of the Catholic Church's masses have intentions which are not stipended.

That some churches are "selling masses" for exorbitant fees is false. If this were to happen, any average Catholic would simply call the chancery and the priest involved would lose his faculties to say public masses and lose his parish. We take simony and charges of simony very seriously, which is why there is only an optional nominal donation attached.

As for liturgy being only for the living as someone said earlier, at least the Catholic Church would disagree. Every mass regardless of the intention is for the sake of both the living and the dead as well as for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.

I hope I have been able to shed some light. God Bless, Fr. J.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Father J - Thanks for your post.

I need you to hear me say clearly that I am neither a liar nor do I exaggerate.

While I'm certain that many RC clergy do not charge for mass cards, there ARE mass cards available at shrines and local churches in the area that sell for $5 - $500 dollars.

This is not done in secret, but right out in the open. I have no doubt that a call to the Chancery would merit me a polite conversation, an insincere sounding "God Bless You" and nothing more.

I trust that not all RC's charge for a 'Mass of Intention," but I am trying really hard not to be insulted by your suggestion that I am either not telling the truth or exaggerating something just to put down "all" RC's.

I'm not. I work very hard at ecumenical relationships in my community and am blessed with the good friendship of a few RC priests and nuns who, btw, also find this practice distasteful - theologically as well as financially.

Unknown said...

It is Fr.Balaswamy from India.

How nice it is to find this blog. Wherever we are we are all brothers and sisters making one body of Christ. This is how we bring our solidarity and unity of the Church.

The best possible prayer is Mass. To offer a mass for various intentions has been uphold in the catholic tradion.

It is more useful to the mission priests who are finding no mass stipends to make them selves survive. This is a nice gesture of helping the missionary priests across the world. Thanks to the west who has been supporting India for quite good many years with mass stipends.

Those who wish to add some mass stipends to Fr.Balaswamy B please don't hesitate to contact me. Mass cards are available.

God bless u

Fr.Balaswamy B

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for stopping by, Father. I'm really happy to know that the money paid for Mass cards goes to helping people in need in this life.