Mass intentions

Why do we have the mass intention for specific people and how are they selected?

Ancient cultures, including the Israelites, had priests who served as intermediaries between the ordinary folks and their gods.  They would offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin, for intercession, for good harvests, etc.  Thus I would argue that the earliest issue of intentions is connected with intercessory prayer.  In the Gospels it is not uncommon for one person to be asking Jesus to intercede for someone’s healing other than themselves.  One of those stories leads us to the prayer we still say at mass, “Lord I am not worthy…”  Thus the custom of mass intentions goes back almost to the beginning of the Church.  People would ask the priest to remember someone in their prayers at mass.  “Canons of Hippolytus (c. 235) explicitly mentions the offering of prayers for the dead during the Mass.”  In the Catholic Church people continue to request the priest to remember their specific needs or their deceased loved ones. 

A parish may accept only as many intentions as can be satisfied within a year.  Which leads to the second half of the question.  How the mass intentions are selected vary according to location and sometimes even the intention of the person requesting the masses.  Some are requested for certain dates, such as anniversaries.  Some are placed on the local calendar on a first come first served basis.  Some are shuffled in such a way to honor the intention without having an entire block of days or weeks for the same intention.  The latter allows for recently deceased members to be included in the rotation without undo delay.  Some locations have such a large number of requests that they cannot be satisfied within the year.  Such parishes will then send the mass intention to another parish where the mass intention can be satisfied appropriately.  In our Diocese the surplus intentions, along with any stipend, are sent to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, which then distributes the masses most often to mission parishes that may be financially struggling.

Author: yuengerwv

Retired Catholic Priest

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