Every so often, I have people ask about the meaning of Mass intentions. You have probably noticed that when we offer the Prayers of the Faithful, we always include an intention for a specific person. In the bulletin, you will notice the list of Mass intentions that are coming up for the week ahead. But what is this all about? What exactly are Mass intentions?
When a priest celebrates Mass, he does so with two specific intentions in mind. First, he offers Mass according to what the Church expects of him. Priests are encouraged to pray the following prayer each time before they celebrate Mass:
My purpose is to celebrate Mass and to make present the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the rite of the holy Roman Church to the praise of our all-powerful God and all his assembly in the glory of heaven, for my good and the good of all his pilgrim Church on earth, and for all who have asked me to pray for them in general and in particular, and for the good of the holy Roman Church. May the almighty and merciful Lord grant us joy and peace, amendment of life, room for true repentance, the grace and comfort of the Holy Spirit, and perseverance in good works. Amen.
Let me draw your attention one line, where the priest promises to pray “for all who have asked me to pray for them in general and in particular.” The “in particular” mentioned here is the second specific intention, where the priest will intend to offer that particular Mass so that the fruits of the Mass will be applied to that person in particular. To be sure, each Mass will benefit the entire Church, but it is also the case that individuals can receive special graces when a Mass is offered specifically for them.
One common misconception is that Mass intentions are only for those who are deceased. That makes it pretty awkward when you see somebody’s name listed in the bulletin and you just saw them last week! Having masses offered for the deceased is probably much more common, as this is one of greatest gifts we can offer souls who have died. The Church’s presumption is that when people die, they need purification in Purgatory before being admitted to Heaven. These souls rely on our prayers to assist them in their final steps toward Heaven, and the Mass is the greatest means to help achieve that end. But masses can be offered for the living as well. Several members of our diocesan Catholic Pastoral Center staff have had masses celebrated for them at the Cathedral on or near their birthdays. In that regard, this past Friday (August 5) at the 5:15 pm Mass we had a Mass intention for Bishop Paprocki on the occasion of his 70th Birthday! Many blessings to him in gratitude for his leadership to our diocese! On Sundays and Holy Days, there will also be a Mass offered for the parish family, as required by Canon Law.
In addition to the priest who has a particular Mass intention at every Mass, it is customary for all the faithful to bring a Mass intention with them to offer up with the priest. This is made clear when, at the Offertory, the priest says to the people: “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the Father Almighty.” By virtue of our Baptism, we have a share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, though not in the same way as ordained priests. Nevertheless, we are all priests in the general sense, and one of the primary things that a priest does is to offer sacrifice. Part of that sacrifice is the intention we offer at Mass for somebody, living or dead. Keep that in mind the next time you are at Mass. Before Mass begins, take a moment before each Mass to name that intention in your heart, and unite it to the sacrifice being offered by the priest on your behalf at that Mass.