Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I would like to know if the holy Mass can be applied to intentions apart from the suffrage for the dead; for example, so that God may bless an association, an apostolate, or to overcome a moment of depression, etc.? — S.L., Rome
A: The immediate answer to this question is “yes”; the priest may offer up the Mass for intentions other than for the dead. However, it is worthwhile to elaborate a little.
Whenever Mass is offered, there are three fruits derived from the offering: the general (for the whole Church), the special or ministerial (for the intention of the priest as minister), and the personal (to each of the faithful, including the priest, who participate, to each according to his disposition).
The intention for which the priest accepts a stipend is not his personal intention but rather his intention as the priest, that is, the minister of the sacrifice.
Certainly, when a priest accepts a stipend to offer a Mass he commits himself to celebrate a Mass according to the intentions of the person making the offering. Justice demands that he effectively offers the Mass. In order to do so he must make some act of personal offering, at the very least uniting his intention to that of the person who requested the Mass.
This intention is most often to recommend the soul of a deceased person but may also be for the personal intentions of the living. Practically any good and holy request can be made an object of a Mass request.
In the Roman Missal the Church herself provides some examples of possible intentions besides those offered for the dead.
First of all, this is done in the ritual Masses in which usually the celebrant’s intention is for those who are baptized, confirmed, married, ordained, receive the sacrament of the sick, take vows, or receive a ministry.
Second, there is the range of intentions found in the Masses for various needs. Masses are offered for the Church, the Pope or the local bishop, for their election during a Sede Vacante, for a council or synod, for priests and the celebrating priest himself, for ministers, for vocations, for the laity, on anniversaries of marriage, ordination and profession, for the unity of Christians, for reconciliation, for persecuted Christians and for their oppressors.
There is also a wide range of civil intentions such as for the nation, for those who hold public office, for seed time and harvest, for peace and justice and during wartime. Several intentions refer to natural phenomena such as earthquakes and storms.
Another series of intentions are for the forgiveness of sins, chastity, charity, relatives, captives, prisoners, the sick, the dying, for a holy death and for thanksgiving.
There is one catchall Mass formula termed “In Any Need.”
I think it is necessary to mention that a priest who celebrates any of the above Masses may receive a stipend for a completely different intention. Likewise a priest may have one of the above intentions and not celebrate the corresponding Mass formula. For example, a person may request a priest to celebrate a “Mass for vocations” on a day in which the liturgy does not allow for this kind of celebration, such as on a Sunday or during Lent.
The point I wish to make here is that the fact that the missal offers such a wide selection of possible formulas proves that the range of intentions for Mass is very broad indeed. As I mentioned above, Catholics can request practically any worthwhile or good and holy intention. The examples of the missal also go to show what kind of intentions can be considered good and holy.
For this reason there may be occasions when a priest has to gently refuse a particular intention even if the request is made in good faith and may be the object of personal prayer. Requesting a Mass so that one’s favorite team will win the league would be one example. One could imagine the quandary if the same priest were to be asked to intercede for rival teams.
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