In 2014 Pope Francis condemned priests and lay people who turned their parishes into businesses by charging for such things as baptisms, blessings, and Mass intentions, calling it a scandal that is hard to forgive. “There are two things that the people of God cannot forgive: a priest attached to money and a priest who mistreats people,” he said in the homily.
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. Canon 946 states: “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”. This offering is to be determined by the “competent authority,” yet it remains an offering and not something imposed on the faithful.
Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, in the Philippines, has sternly criticized the practice of priests charging for the administration of sacraments and sacramentals. The bishop said, “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.”
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” (Acts 8: 9-24).
Recently, a church in Makati in the Philippines came under severe criticism for its exorbitant fees for getting married there. One argument we often hear is that the couple are no doubt going to spend a lot more for a hall and a banquet and it is only right that the church should get its fair share. But, everyone else is fleecing married couples; shouldn’t the church be above that?
When a couple decides to get married, they want their marriage to work and the wedding to be one of their most cherished memories. They are no doubt aware that their celebration will demand a significant outlay of money, time, and energy. But shouldn’t the priest be helping them in their preparation to encourage them to keep their spending and celebration in perspective?
And couples would be much more receptive to the solid advice of a priest who stresses how both they and the church should develop a mutual relationship. There is no harm in letting them know that the church is being provided for by hardworking parishioners and that they could do their part by making a contribution that they can afford. But when these voluntary contributions are made set norms, it amounts to scandal.
Considering a wedding or administration of other sacraments as a way of making money to balance the parish budget would be a lame excuse. It would be much better if we gave people seeking the sacraments a warm welcome instead of a bill. jose