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Masses for Non-Catholic Officials

ROME, MARCH 8, 2007 (Zenit) - Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I recently read in our parish bulletin that a Mass was being offered for the "Intentions of ---" (name omitted here, but published in the bulletin), a person who is still alive and who holds a high-profile public office. The individual is Christian but not Catholic and has signed laws or has taken positions which support abortion rights, embryonic stem-cell research and same-sex unions. May a Mass be offered by a priest, publicly, for the intentions of a living non-Catholic (or one whose "intentions" oppose our Church teaching?) If so, should it be? We certainly should be praying for this person's conversion -- of both their faith and their positions -- but I think offering a Mass for their intentions could lead the faithful to further confusion, and possibly may be scandalous. -- M.B., Brookfield, Connecticut

A: I think that some distinctions might be in order. Parish bulletins are not graced with magisterial authority, much less with infallibility, but all the same they should strive to be precise in their terminology. In this sense, Mass may be offered for public officials but not necessarily for their intentions.

As our reader points out, a public official's intentions may be contrary to Church teaching, and he or she might even intend to persecute the Church to some degree or other.

Catholics cannot therefore offer blanket prayers for the intentions of such officials in the same way that we can pray for the intentions of the Pope or bishop.

At the same time, the Church has always encouraged praying for public officials even through they might not be Christians and even when they persecute the Church. St. Peter tells the first Christians to honor the emperor (1 Peter 2:17) in virtue of his authority -- but not because of his moral qualities, which in the case of Nero were singularly lacking.

In later epochs there were specific prayers during the Mass for the emperor and even specific votive Mass formulas "for the King." In some eighth- and ninth-century monasteries it was a custom to pray a daily Mass for the king and kingdom.

Today's missal contains Masses for the nation, state and city, for public officials, for Congress and for a country's king or principal governing authority.

The formulas for such Masses usually plead for the monarch or ruler's health and welfare as well as the gifts of wisdom, justice and prudence so that the common good may be served.

Similar petitions are made on other occasions such as the intercessions on Good Friday, and may be included in the prayer of the faithful at all Masses. They are also frequent in the intercessions of morning prayer and evening prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours.

This form of prayer reflects more our intentions for the ruler and not so much the ruler's intentions. This form of prayer may be offered no matter what the religious faith and personal and public moral stature of the people we pray for may be.

Of course, as we believe in the power of prayer, we do trust that God will assist the ruler in making wise, just and coherent decisions, and also to become a better person.

From another point of view, a ruler of any faith could ask his people to pray for a pressing public need, and in this sense Catholics could pray for his intentions.

Likewise a Catholic ruler, as may any Catholic, can request that a Mass be celebrated for his or her private intentions. In this case, just like any prayer, God will only respond to a sincere and humble heart.


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Mass, Liturgy, Officials, McNamara, Non-Catholics

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