For almost two millenia, the Holy Catholic Church has been accused of imposing charges or fees on the celebration of any of her sacraments and sacramentals. These anti-Catholics insisted that the Church is just after the faithful’s money and keeps fooling them for centuries. However, is it true?
Since it has been known that she, through her ministers, absolutely needs the support of the congregation for her sustenance as Jesus Christ taught His apostles to depend upon charity when He sent them on mission: “Provide yourselves with neither gold nor silver nor copper in your belts; no traveling bag, no change of shirt, no sandals, no walking staff. The workman after all, is worth his keep” (Matthew 10:10), the Church, then, has to ensure that her financial and material needs are met in order for her to fully provide the pastoral care needed by the faithful and, at the same time, her priests need sufficient income to cover their living expenses, in accordance with Canon 281.1, which states:
“Since clerics dedicate themselves to ecclesiastical ministry, they deserve remuneration which is consistent with their condition, taking into account the nature of their function and the condition of places and times, and by which they can provide for the necessities of their life as well as for the equitable payment of those whose services they need.”
REMEMBER that the ordained ministers of the Church are not, as a rule, suppose to be engaged in trading or business outside of their ministerial assignment (cf. cc. 285 & 286). Consequently, if the priests are not to receive monetary offerings from the faithful, from what other source could they possibly get their income then? Are there any established norm for this sort?
Primarily, the amounts set are not really fees for sacraments but are called offerings, which are definitely governed by the laws of the universal and particular churches. The Ordinary (bishop) does indeed establish the offering amount for his diocese or particular church, and typically stipulates how the offerings are to be used — for example, in some diocese, the offerings are deposited not to the minister’s purse but into the works of charity account, which are given to the poor and needy in the community.
But, how can those amounts not be considered fees? It is because Canon 848 states that “The minister is to seek nothing for the administration of the sacraments beyond the offerings defined by competent authority, always taking care that the needy are not deprived of the assistance of the sacraments because of poverty.” TAKE NOTE of the last statement: NO ONE IS TO BE DEPRIVED OF THE SACRAMENTS DUE TO POVERTY.
Nevertheless, regardless of the priests’ actual needs, they are allowed to accept a stipend for a celebration of Mass or other sacraments or sacramentals in accordance to Canon 945.1, which states that: “In accord with the approved practice of the Church, any priest celebrating or concelebrating is permitted to receive an offering to apply the Mass for a specific intention.” However, the paragraph 2 of the same Canon provides that “It is recommended earnestly to priests that they celebrate Mass for the intention of the Christian faithful, especially the needy, even if they have not received an offering.“
On the other hand, the laity, in response to the call of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:2 to “set aside whatever he can afford“, they should given an amount of their own money in exchange for the sacramental ministry of the Church through the priest. Making an offering to receive a sacrament or sacramentals, involves financial sacrifice just like what almsgiving does, which is a meritorious act of itself. Canon 945.2 provides that “The Christian faithful who give an offering to apply the Mass for their intention contribute to the good of the Church and by that offering share its concern to support its ministers and works.”
Thus, the Church finds it necessary to set the fixed amount for the celebration of a Mass for specific intention, wedding, baptism, or other sacraments or sacramental ministry by the clergy. But, the question is: Who sets that fixed amount?
The provisions in the Code of Canon Law is indeed very clear on that matter. The offering amount is going to be set by the province of bishops, in accordance with the governance of Canon 1264, as it states: “Unless the law has provided otherwise, it is for a meeting of the bishops of a province: 1/ to fix the fees for acts of executive power granting a favor or for the execution of rescripts of the Apostolic See, to be approved by the Apostolic See itself, and; 2/ to set a limit on the offerings on the occasion of the administration of sacraments and sacramentals.” NOTE that the amount set by the bishops is the “limit”, which stipulates that the sacrament can still be administered even without an offering.
Therefore, it is clear that the Church never imposes fees on her sacraments and other services; because if it does so, then it’s going to be “No Pay, No Sacraments.” The laws of the Church indeed speak with conviction — the sacraments can still be administered even without an offering for no one is to be deprived of receiving them on the account of poverty. How can that be a fee then?
Remember, if the Church incurs charges on the celebration of her sacraments, then she commits the main sin of irreligion, i.e. simony. The Church defines Simony “as the buying or selling of spiritual things” (CCC 2121). Canon 947 has also something to say regarding it: “Even the semblance of trafficking or trading is to be entirely excluded from Mass offerings.” Thus, she infalliby teaches that “The minister should ask nothing for the administration of the sacraments beyond the offerings defined by the competent authority, always being careful that the needy are not deprived of the help of the sacraments because of their poverty. The competent authority determines these “offerings” in accordance with the principle that the Christian people ought to contribute to the support of the Church’s ministers. ‘The laborers deserves his food'” (CCC 2122).
In the very words of Socrates Villegas, archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan and President of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), he admonised the laborers of Christ’s vineyard: “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.“
Absolutely, the Church remains faithful to her Groom, our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, she does what He says: “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:8).