By Msgr. Jonas Achacoso, JCD
My encounter with the widow with four eggs early on in my priesthood has taught me a great lesson in my ministry. That happened way back when I was sent to a mission area on an island in the tropics. The people living there are mainly fishermen or those whose livelihood depends on the sea. For instance, the seaweed plantation is very significant in this little paradise.
There are many details of that encounter already relegated to obscurity, but my memory vividly recalls when the poor widow approached me. She immediately showed me the four eggs she held in her right hand. “Please take these eggs as my Mass offering,” she said to me, seemingly embarrassed. I recognized right away that the offering of four eggs is a very generous gesture on her part. She lived alone, and most probably, the four eggs were all she had to offer.
She gestured that I should accept her offering of the four eggs for her Mass intention. I dared to take one of them and told her that it was enough. But she continued insisting that I take the other three. So I had to repeat to her, this time firmly, “No. It is not necessary to offer all the eggs. One is enough.” I’ll cut the story right here, and let’s save the exciting part for later.
The generosity of the widow touched me. She is part of the immense majority of Catholics who understand the great importance of offering Mass intentions, a practice since the church’s beginnings. Ever since people have been genuinely generous and cognizant that their offering is not the price of the priceless celebration of the Holy Eucharist. On the other hand, I have also met people who would push your patience to the limits with questions like, “How much is the Mass?” One can never pay the inestimable value of the Mass.
The Code of Canon Law recognizes the generosity of the faithful to make offerings so that Mass can be celebrated for their intentions. In their generosity, they contribute to the good of the Church and the sustenance of its ministers and its activities (canon 946). On the part of the church, care must be taken with due diligence that there would not even be a semblance of trafficking or business in the institution of Mass offerings (canon 947). And, as a matter of justice, the church binds by obligation the celebration of the Mass applied for every intention (canon 948), even if the offering received is lost through no fault (canon 949). In many ecclesiastical jurisdictions, the standard Mass offering is $15.
Going back to our story, the widow disagreed with me that one egg is enough. She grabbed my hand and put in it all the eggs. Then she said, “Father, you have to accept the four eggs!” So I asked why the insistence. Then, she told me that it is because the Mass intention is for the souls of her four dead husbands.
The institution of Mass offering is a sacred matter for the people, and they want to be very particular in their offerings. They want to be specific in their Mass intentions for thanksgiving, especially on birthdays and anniversaries, primarily for the souls in purgatory. As a result of this exigency, there have been many complaints because their intention was not read, or was not published in the bulletin, or was misspelled, or was mispronounced. Those of us working in parishes know the big troubles when these things happen.
Hence, on the part of the church, there is a need to correspond to the sacredness of the institution of Mass offerings. Correspondingly, the church has to apply care and due diligence that the intention will be read correctly on the intended date.
Msgr. Achacoso is the author of ‘Due Process in Church Administration’ (2018), recipient of the Arcangelo Ranaudo Award (Vatican City), and Administrator of Corpus Christi Church in Woodside, N.Y.