There is one question that often comes to the Office of Divine Worship about receiving and scheduling Masses to be prayed for parishioners’ loved ones. Typically, the question from parishes themselves goes something like the following:
“Must we say a Mass pro populo — for the people of the parish — during our Sunday Mass offerings?”
The quick answer is yes. But a wise priest, now a bishop, once said that it is always good to give people the “why” behind the “what.”
Per canon law — the law that governs the Catholic Church — a priest is required to pray at least one of the Masses each Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation “pro populo” — meaning “for the people” (n. 534.1).
Where the difficulty often comes in for parishes is when they acquire a backlog of Masses that have been requested to be prayed for deceased loved ones on Sundays and holy days. Add this reality to the fact that parishes also must reserve one Mass each weekend to be prayed pro populo. The result may be that the parish staff might be tempted to combine the Mass offered pro populo with another intention. However, this cannot be done.
There are some limited opportunities to combine Mass intentions for individual loved ones, but the Mass that is offered pro populo must never be combined with another intention. If Mass intentions for loved ones are to be combined, only two may be combined for any one Mass and this should only occur once during the Masses offered for the Sunday or the solemnity/feast day.
When a parish finds that a second intention must be combined with a previously requested intention, the members of the family that made the first intention request must be informed before the Mass is celebrated with two intentions.
Some parishes may be in over their heads with requests for Masses to be said for loved ones of parishioners. However, these parishes are still asked to work toward the goal of offering only one Mass intention per Mass and one Mass on the weekend and on each of the solemnities and feast days pro populo.
Deacon Johnson is divine worship director for the Diocese of Green Bay.