ROME – On Wednesday, Pope Francis issued a harsh critique of the trend to ask parishioners for a financial contribution in order to have Mass said for a loved one, saying to make a personal offering is fine, but the liturgy should never have a price tag.
“If I have someone who is in need, relatives and friends, I can name them in that moment, internally in silence,” he said, referring to the moments of silence during the Eucharistic Prayer recited in Mass.
However, alluding to the fact that it’s common in many parishes for faithful to pay, usually somewhere around 10 dollars, for a Mass to be offered for a specific person, Francis asked, “how much should I pay to have my name written there, [in Mass]?”
“The Mass,” he said, “is not paid for, redemption is free. If you want to make an offering okay, but the Mass cannot be paid for.”
Francis spoke off-the-cuff during his March 7 general audience, which this week centered on the Eucharistic Prayer as part of his ongoing catechesis on Mass and the Eucharist.
In his address, the pope said the Eucharistic Prayer is “the central moment” of the Mass, anticipating the reception of communion.
During this prayer, he said, the Church “expresses what she does when she celebrates the Eucharist and the reason why she celebrates it, which is to make communion with Christ truly present in the consecrated bread and wine.”
After inviting Mass-goers to lift their hearts up to the Lord and to give thanks, the priest recites the Eucharistic Prayer, directing it to God on behalf of everyone present, Francis said. The meaning of this prayer, he added, is that “the entire assembly of faithful unites with Christ to magnify the great works of God in offering the sacrifice.”
To have this unity, “it’s necessary to understand,” he said in an off-the-cuff comment, explaining that this is the reason that the Church during the Second Vatican Council wanted to translate the liturgy into different languages that “everyone understood.”
Francis then pointed to the different parts of the Eucharistic Prayer, including the Preface, which he said is an “action of grace” for the gifts of God, which concludes with the acclamation of the “Sanctus,” or the “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
This acclamation, which is usually sung, is a time when “the entire assembly unites their own voice to that of the angels and saints to praise and glorify God,” he said, adding that “it’s beautiful when this [is] sung, it’s beautiful.”
During the consecration of the bread and wine, both the action of the Holy Spirit and the recitation of Jesus’ words during the Last Supper make Christ’s body and blood truly present, he said, adding that this is the “mystery of faith” that is celebrated during the liturgy.
The Eucharistic Prayer also asks God to gather all of his children together in “the perfection of love,” and in union with the pope and the local bishop, who is mentioned by name as a sign that “we celebrate in communion with the universal Church and with the particular church,” Francis said.
A plea is then made by the priest for all members of the Church, both living and dead, the pope said, explaining that “no one and nothing is forgotten in the Eucharistic Prayer, as the doxology which concludes it recalls.”
While this “codified formula” can seem a bit “distant,” if the meaning is well understood then “surely we will participate better,” he said, adding that the Eucharistic Prayer not only expresses everything that is done during Mass, but it also cultivates the “three attitudes that should never be lacking in the disciples of Jesus.”
These attitudes, he said, are to give thanks “always and everywhere, not just on certain occasions when everything is going well”; to make our lives a “gift of love”; and to build a concrete communion “in the Church and with everyone.”
The Eucharistic Prayer, then, which is the center of the Mass, teaches faithful “little by little to make our whole lives a ‘eucharist,’” which is an “act of thanksgiving,” he said.
After his address, Francis made an appeal for parishes around the world to join him in participating in this week’s “24 Hours for the Lord” event, which will take place March 9 and is a worldwide initiative launched in 2014 to highlight confession as a primary way to experience God’s mercy.
He also gave a shout-out to the March 9 opening of the Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, where the ordinary Winter Olympics recently took place.
Having brought together delegations from both North and South Korea despite their ongoing conflict, the games, Francis said, are an example of how “sport can draw bridges between countries in conflict and give a valid contribution to perspectives of peace between people.”
“Sports thus appear as a school of inclusion, but also of inspiration for one’s own life and of commitment to transforming society,” he said, and offered a personal greeting to the International Paralympic Committee and the athletes who will participate in the games.