Sr. Louise Zdunich


February 23, 2015

QuestionA Catholic friend of mine recently asked me why a priest at his parish would announce a message such as the following: "Today's Mass is being offered for the intention of Mrs. So-and-So, as requested by her family."

My friend was perplexed because a Sunday Mass is a collective liturgical worship by and for everyone attending. It should not be celebrated just for the intention of a particular person. Isn't the Mass a memorial of the death of Christ that brings grace to all, in fact to the whole world?


AnswerYou are justified in wondering whether this practice is common. I will use the Old Testament to help answer your question because the Hebrews understood the meaning of being one people.

According to their understanding, the people have a corporate personality. They are one people, the people of God. The individual has a meaning and destiny only inasmuch as that person is involved with the people of God. Israel understood itself as the people of God by God's own call.

The call to peoplehood is linked to the covenant: "I will take you as my people and I will be your God" (Exodus 6.7). This is how the people saw themselves, and the idea is repeated over and over.

This call as people of God is linked to the covenant. God tells them: "I will look with favour upon you and I will maintain my covenant with you. I will place my dwelling in you. . . . And I will walk among you in your midst and I will be your God and you shall be my people."

This same connection is found in Leviticus 26.9-12, as well as in the major prophets.

After its rift with Judaism, the early Church appropriated this imagery to itself: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people in order that you might proclaim the mighty acts of God when you were called into God's marvellous light. Once you were not a people but now, you are God's people" (1 Peter 2.9-10).

Allusions to the Old Testament, especially Isaiah 43.20-21 and Exodus 19.6, suggest that the Church is the new people of God purchased by the redemptive work of Christ. The text "I will take you as my people and I will be your God" suggests that Church is the new people of God.


The fundamental text from the Old Testament: "I will take you as my people and I will be your God" is frequently cited in the New Testament and applied to the Church. Paul quotes it in 2 Corinthians 6.16 from Ezekiel 37.27.

This formula appears in Hebrews 8.10 in the text from Jeremiah 31.31-34 to show the great prophecy is fulfilled in the new covenant. This formula of the Church appears finally in the Book of Revelation 21.3 in its vision of the future Jerusalem.

Nowhere in the New Testament is the Church spoken of as the new People of God. However, there is explicit mention of the new covenant in Luke 22.20; 1 Corinthians 11.25; 2 Corinthians 3.6; Hebrews 8.13, 9.15 and 12.24. There, the covenant is connected, at least implicitly, to a new community.

Where the link is made, it is no longer because of believing Israel's circumcision but because of faith in Jesus Christ.

Thus, tension arose between the early Church, which considered itself the people of God, and the Hebrew people of God.

After Christ's death and resurrection, Christians changed their day of worship from the Jewish Sabbath to Sunday to focus on Christ's triumph over death. Sunday became the special day of prayer and worship for a united people.


The Sunday liturgy is offered for the whole people of God. No one can say, "I paid for this Mass so my special intentions are the ones that count."

Individuals may pray for their own needs but the Mass is always a community-oriented action. Sunday Mass is a united community act of worship. Christians worship as one in the Sunday liturgy for they are the people of God and of Christ who offers himself at every Mass. No one can appropriate it as his or her own.


It is clear from this discussion that the people of God can't be split. We are one in our belief in and worship of Christ. Sunday liturgy is offered by all the people with the priest presiding and the whole congregation joining with him. It can't be considered as one's own act of worship.

If one wants to make an offering for a Mass, one can do so on weekdays. But one does not "pay" for a Mass. One can only offer a stipend to help pay for the material elements such as the bread and wine.

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