I read a news item by an Italian journalist bringing to light a recent letter of the Most Reverend Socrates Villegas, VP of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines where he sternly criticized the practice of priests charging for the administration of sacraments and sacramentals. Villegas said, in part,
My dear brother priests, the sacraments are not to be celebrated in exchange for money. The trafficking for money in spiritual things is simony. It is a sin.
This is not a problem exclusive to the Philippines but North American priests do similarly in cash-poor parish. It is more subtle, but the attitude is the same.
The faithful are rarely taught to understand that you don’t buy a Mass, nor do you pay a priest to pray for a loved one, living or deceased. All Souls is coming and there is a high concern that priests will try to rake in the cash.
The Code of Canon Law (1983) does undergird theology, that is, it doesn’t make theology but it supports it, and regulates pastoral practice. It ought to be noted that canons 945-958 cover these matters. And we all ought to be aware of what Mother Church teaches and expects. Sadly, many do not. Let me quote from the Code,
Canon 945: In accordance with the approved custom, any priest who celebrates or concelebrates a Mass may accept an offering to apply the Mass for a specific intention.
It is earnestly recommended to priests that, even if they do not receive an offering, they celebrate Mass for the intentions of Christ’s faithful, especially those in need.
Canon 946: The faithful who make an offering so that Mass can be celebrated for their intention, contribute to the good of the Church, and by that offering they share in the Church’s concern for the support of its ministers and its activities.
Canon 947: Even the semblance of trafficking or trading is to be entirely excluded from Mass offerings.
If you want to research on these canons, here is a bibliography
The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses the biblical matter of simony in the section titled “Irreligion.”
Paragraph 2118: God’s first commandment condemns the main sins of irreligion: tempting God, in words or deeds, sacrilege, and simony.
Paragraph 2121: Simony is defined as the buying or selling of spiritual things. To Simon the magician, who wanted to buy the spiritual power he saw at work in the apostles, St. Peter responded: Your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money!” Peter thus held to the words of Jesus: “You received without pay, give without pay.” It is impossible to appropriate to oneself spiritual goods and behave toward them as their owner or master, for they have their source in God. One can receive them only from him, without payment.
Paragraph 2122: The minister should ask nothing for the administration of the sacraments beyond the offerings defined by the competent authority, always being careful that the needy are not deprived of the help of the sacraments because of their poverty. The competent authority determines these “offerings” in accordance with the principle that the Christian people ought to contribute to the support of the Church’s ministers. “The laborers deserves his food.”
Sadly, simony is observed by many of the Church’s ministers. I have personally seen priests refuse to “book” a Mass if the full stipend is not offered. No doubt you can simony, especially expressed in the charging for sacraments and sacramentals is the ugly side of the Church’s administration. Don’t be afraid to confront the abuse.
People familiar with 16th century ecclesial history will recall that Saint Ignatius of Loyola told his spiritual sons who were priests that could only perform Baptism and Confession, in addition to celebrating Holy Mass, AND they could not charge for the administration of sacraments. This was a controversial policy of Loyola because it put into tension the secular priests and others who collected fees for sacraments to cover their living expenses. As you might guess, the Jesuits were popular among the laity went to them to Baptize their children and were obligated to pay for it.
Admittedly, we are a long way from the 16th century, and needs of the parish are different today, but I wonder if there is something we can learn today as we review our teaching of the laity, and implement diocesan/parish policy.
The laity, however, have to realize that they have a fiduciary responsibility to make a sacrifice to support the good their parish does. So many are cheap. I was at a parish for Sunday Mass and the couple next me gave a total of $2 in the collection. Even for the most modest income of middle-aged people can afford more than two bucks especially when they gave the impression of having a stable income. While I don’t want to be judgmental toward those who are of modest means, there needs to be an education to and a recognition of the obligation to support the Church’s ministry. Recall the precepts of the Church. It was brought to my attention, some people use services such as ParishPay, or give as I used to do, once a month, and put in the basket a minimum amount so as not to seem to the nit-pics as shirking responsibility. Fair. Custody of the eyes would save me from observing what others do as it is none of my business. Yet, we need to help each other in living well as Catholics viz. ecclesial ministry.