Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Charging for the sacraments?

Pope Francis has repeatedly said that he wants annulments to be free of charge.  Recently, he put it this way:
Pope Francis on Friday warned the Vatican's top marriage judges that they should not "lock the salvation of persons within the straits of legalism" and indicated he wants the church to no longer charge for the sometimes onerous and expensive annulment process.
"This is a point I want to emphasize: the sacraments are free," Francis told jurists of the Roman Rota, the church's final court of appeals for annulments.
"The sacraments give us grace," he said. "And a marriage proceeding" -- like an annulment -- "touches on the sacrament of marriage.” 
"How I wish all marriage proceedings were free of charge!" he added.
But are the sacraments really free?

I had a discussion with several people on Facebook today about the practice--new to me--of charging for baptisms.

Okay, so technically the dioceses in question aren’t charging for the actual baptism. But there are, apparently, fees involved in bringing an infant to church for that first Sacrament of Initiation these days.

Fees for mandatory classes. Fees for materials for the classes. Fees for the materials used during the baptism...

Wait, what?

I have written before about what you might call the “optics problems” of charging various fees for a Catholic wedding.  But a wedding usually does involve an entire Mass at a time other than the regular parish Masses complete with musicians, altar servers, ushers, etc., so even though I think some of the parishes out there ask excessive amounts of money for such “mandatory” fees there is at least some excuse for them.  But for baptisms?

Oh, but the classes!  Well, yes, they’re taught by volunteers.  Well, yes, we can re-use the books and materials.  Well, no, there’s no way for a couple to “test out” of the class by proving that, yes, they do know the basics of what the Church teaches regarding baptism.  Well, no, we can’t let people take the class before the baby’s born and we don’t let babies or children attend the classes and we don’t provide child care, but gosh, why do so many people in this parish wait until their children are nearly a year old before they baptize them?  Don’t they care?

Etc. ad infinitum.

It has been a long time for us already (sigh!) but we were never charged for our daughters’ baptisms, first communions, or confirmations.  A voluntary stipend was appreciated but neither required nor expected.

Is it different now?  I’d like to hear from people whose dioceses do collect specific fees before they will celebrate various sacraments, because to me this sort of thing gets dangerously close to simony, at least in appearance if not in intention.

Does your parish “charge fees” for sacraments?


Tewkes said...

I live in North Florida, and I have to say I have never heard of charging for any sacraments. Our parish does charge parishioners a fee for renting the church hall, which I find just fine since the church has to pay the maintenance guy for setting up and breaking down all those tables and chairs, and they have to pay the cleaning crew to clean before and after the event. Whatever financial arrangements made between the organist and the engaged couple as far as music is concerned at weddings is between those parties. A fee for sacraments sounds just like a fee for indulgences.

Fr. Thomas Milota said...

The fee determined by our Lord is 10% of your income. If Catholics donated even half of this amount to the Church, there would be no need for fees of any sort for anything. No need for tuition for Catholic Schools and no need for fees to pay the organist at your wedding. By the way, musicians are not volunteers at weddings. The reality is that only about 1/3 of American Catholics give even a penny to the Church annually and those who do give something average less than 2% of their annual income. American Catholics, however, donate on average more than 15 times that amount to the U.S. Government annually or they would be put in jail. The only repercussion for not donating to the Church is the violation of a precept of the Church and having to answer on the last day. I would recommend that long before you complain about the church charging a fee (which on average is paid only 2.5 times in a lifetime) you write the President about the excessive taxation paid fact, in most places, paid every time you go to the store.

Fr. Thomas Milota said...

The fee determined by our Lord is 10% of your income. If Catholics donated even half of this amount to the Church, there would be no need for fees of any sort for anything. No need for tuition for Catholic Schools and no need for fees to pay the organist at your wedding. By the way, musicians are not volunteers at weddings. The reality is that only about 1/3 of American Catholics give even a penny to the Church annually and those who do average less than 2% of annual income. American Catholics, however, donate on average more than 15 times that amount to the U.S. Government annually or they would be put in jail. The only repercussion for not donating to the Church is the violation of a precept of the Church and having to answer on the last day. I would recommend that long before you complain about the church charging a fee (which on average is paid only 2.5 times in a lifetime) you write the President about the excessive taxation paid fact, in most places, every time you go to the store.

Fr. Thomas Milota said...

The fee determined by our Lord is 10% of your income. If Catholics donated even half of this amount to the Church, there would be no need for fees of any sort for anything. No need for tuition for Catholic Schools and no need for fees to pay the organist at your wedding. By the way, musicians are not volunteers at weddings. The reality is that only about 1/3 of American Catholics give even a penny to the Church annually and those who do average less than 2% of annual income. American Catholics, however, donate on average more than 15 times that amount to the U.S. Government annually or they would be put in jail. The only repercussion for not donating to the Church is the violation of a precept of the Church and having to answer on the last day. I would recommend that long before you complain about the church charging a fee (which on average is paid only 2.5 times in a lifetime) you write the President about the excessive taxation paid fact, in most places, every time you go to the store.

Resilient Tucsonian said...

Mark said...

It is absolutely wrong to charge $$ for the sacraments.

But it is also absolutely wrong to say that an annulment is a sacrament. It isn't.

Red Cardigan said...

Mark, the pope didn’t say that annulments were a sacrament. He said that if we don’t charge for one, we shouldn’t charge for the other.

Red Cardigan said...

Fr. Milota, the precepts of the Church do include contributing to the support of the Church--but I have never seen a Catholic source for a 10% tithe as binding on all Catholics. Can you share a source for that, if you have one?

On the Fence said...

At my parish it cost $300 to baptize a baby in a private service & $150 for a group service. It was also 3k for my husband and I to get married there. It's a well off parish so most ppl don't complain about it. It is annoying to have to pay another $300 of our second baby's baptism, though.

PrinceOfTheWest said...

I deeply respect and appreciate Fr. Milota's comments, and have heard them echoed by other priests. What does it say when a family is willing to drop $20,000 on a wedding but assumes the use of the church, and the priest's time, for nothing?

That being said, when these parish policies are implemented, is there any provision made to accommodate families who do tithe? We do. If we belonged to a parish that charged $150 to baptize a baby, on the excuse that Catholics are such paltry givers, would our higher level of giving be in any way recognized, or would we be charged the same?

Anneg said...

I'm past the age of enrolling in sacraments, but I looked up the fees. They run $50 to $75 per child with a reduction per family. But, our parish makes it very plain that if that is a hardship, the fee can be reduced or waived.
Weddings are a different matter. The music coordinator runs things and she charges a lot. Plus, she is not helpful and downright rude and immovable if you would like to be married on other than Saturday afternoon. It is ridiculous.
That said, the front office is pretty nice but the education office is rude, obnoxious and I feel badly for anyone who comes to my parish, trying to fit back into the Church. Too many bureaucratic women.
I am at the parish a lot as I have some rather unusual talents, so I see these things.

UnanimousConsent said...

The fee determined by our Lord is 10% of your income.

When Christ freed us from the old law and instituted the new, he freed us from the 10% tithe.

Review your Dogmatics manual, Father.

Yes, one of the precepts is to contribute.

Let's review it though:

Baltimore Catechism: "To help to provide for the needs of the Church according to one's abilities and station in life "

Catechism of the Catholic Church: "The faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his abilities. "

Further to that, I donate approximately 12% of my income voluntarily, while raising 7 children, and I have been told that there is no waiver of fees for CCD classes (which I have refused to let my kids take as they are weak on Church teaching), and was presented a bill anyway.

When it came to my wedding, I had a schola of 14 men who wanted to chant it for free, and the Pastor absolutely forbid it and insisted I pay his organist and said I couldn't have the Propers chanted.

I ended up having to go through the Cardinal Archbishop of DC to be allowed the schola, and even then I had to pay for an organist who was not used, and who tried to lock the schola out of the choir loft the day of the wedding.

Half of the problem with the Church is the Pastors are so damn bureaucratic about what they demand, they create great resentment.

Maybe there's a reason Baptists tend to give about 10% of their income. My wife was raised Southern Baptist (though she was converting when I met her). Her brother is a Southern Baptist Minister. They make their Churches centers of activity and central to the families. They never charge for their classes, and they are always welcoming. It's the inverse of what I have experienced in the vast majority of parishes over my lifetime.

Why do I stay Catholic, because Christ's Church IS (and subsists in) the Catholic Church.

Just putting up with attitudes like Father Milota's is penance enough for me.

John InEastTX said...

Thank you for writing about this, Erin.

Sheila said...

When my husband died, I was prepared to pay the priest a stipend, as well as the organist and cantor; however, I was shocked to have to pay for the use of the church, $150, which was my parish! To use the parish hall for a reception after the service was $300 for about an hour and a half. I went to my senior community and used one of their rooms with the only charge being $20 for set up of tables and chairs, and the removal of said tables and chairs.

Fr. Jay Finelli said...

I agree with Fr. Milota. The only reason there are fees is that we have to pay people to clean the church, shovel the snow, heat, lights, electricity. Someone has to pay for all of this. If we were in the perfect world where the churches were full and people tithed, there would be no need to have fees or donations for anything.

James P. Vaughn, SFO said...

10% tithing can be a sum of one's time, talent and treasure. Many Pastor's are grateful for having a plumber, carpenter,

Robin Handy said...

For Baptism I was not asked for any money for my 5 children, in Texas. Now in New York the Parish requires a $100 for 1st Communion and $100 for each of the 2 years preparing for Confirmation. This year it was a big hit, and I believe a bit out of line - I have on preparing for Confirmation and one making 1st Communion. My family puts a $100 a week for first collection and a nominal $20+ for additional collections. I can understand how families are turned off by the church when you need to give a 100 here and a 100 there. I have 5 children...

Liz said...

3K to get married at church? Is that a typo?
I used to work at a parish in Brooklyn when I was a teen (this was about 15 yrs ago), and there was a $150 requested fee for a nuptial mass at the Church. $100 went to paying the organist, and the other $50 was divided up among the altar servers whom the pastor called upon on an as-needed basis (usually 3 or 4 boys). Not a penny went into the parish coffers.
When I got married in 2005, we didn't have to pay anything....though I suppose, in a sense, we DID, because we got married at the Church at our alma mater. They only waive the fee for alumni because we've already given so much of our $ to the university, haha.
You know what else I find interesting, though? If you ever watch the 1950 movie Father of the Bride with Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor, the characters make much of the fact that a church wedding is "so expensive." Getting married in a Church instead of in the parlor of the family home was perceived as a luxury only for the wealthy, even though the home/parlor weddings seemed to involve significant expenditure on things like flowers as well. It sort of made me wonder if the Church really HAS had a long-standing reputation for charging a lot for Her services, and perhaps I was just previously unaware of this...

Red Cardigan said...

Sheila, I’m shocked! I have NEVER heard of a parish charging for the use of a church for a FUNERAL Mass!! I’m truly appalled, and would like to know if this has become common.

Deirdre Mundy said...

I understand that churches need to keep the lights on and the heat going. However, they need to do this even if there are no baptisms/first communions/weddings/etc. going on.

So, if you can't afford to have the church open outside of regular Mass Times, perhaps you need to just limit all sacraments to regular Mass Times. If you can't afford to have the church open at all without charging for sacraments, you're probably going to be one of the next parishes the diocese closes, and with good cause.

If a priest charged for Confession, would it be sacrilegious? What about if you had to put in a quarter to receive the Eucharist? (After all, those wafers cost money!)

If it's wrong to charge for these things, how can it be OK to charge for Baptism?

"They can afford it and ought to give more" isn't a good excuse. By charging for sacraments, you're putting a price on salvation AND causing grave scandal.

Father Paul D. Williams, Jr. said...

A lot of this is cultural. My parish is 90% working class immigrants. I have a staff of 3 full-timers, and 4 part-timers (and now 2 vicars). Up to 7000 people come to Mass every Sunday (11 Masses), and the collection averages less than $2/person. I'm OK with that: they have large families, make hourly wages, and until recently were paying a lot in gas just to bring their kids to Mass and Catechesis. Their culture, however, *loves* celebrations, sacraments and sacramentals, and on those occasions, they are accustomed to spending for the church and the cultural festivities. So we charge for baptism classes and Quincia├▒era preparation and marriage prep, all well in a range easily affordable by working class people. This supplements our offertory to the tune of maybe the yearly salary of one part-timer. We charge no fees for First Communions or Confirmations, and certainly not funerals. I rarely receive a stipend for weddings and almost never for funerals. (Don't get me started on local funeral homes that charge a "clergy contact fee" of upwards of $600 that they mislabel so people think it goes to the church, instead of the pocket of the funeral home director.)

Oh, did I mention that we did about 550 baptisms and 550 First Communions last year? Private baptisms? Ha! We do 20-30 at a time, each week, for most of the year. And we've got a Catechesis program of 1500+ kids run by two of my part-timers and 150 volunteer catechists.

Wealthy parishes tend to have a different problem, especially if the church is a multi-million dollar beauty. Wedding shoppers, looking for a pretty background for their wedding photos, routinely register, come to Mass once, put a twenty in the basket, spend tens of thousands on the rest of the wedding, and expect to get the "parishioner" discount for use of the church (and tip the priest $20). I don't envy the pastors: some have moderately effective procedures in place so genuine "faithful" can have their wedding affordably, and some just charge the market rates up front (only so many wedding slots each year, after all), but allow for special circumstances. Their offertory is 10-times what ours is, they have 10-times the employees, but we have 10-times as many baptisms and FHCs. Pope Francis didn't need to tell us to be a poor Church for the poor.

Sorry for rambling and ranting a bit. These discussions usually neglect cultural and demographic context.

Dominic McManus, OP said...

I respect both Father Milota and Father Finelli a great deal, and in principle they are absolutely right: if everyone gave what they ought to then we wouldn't "have" to charge fees. And UnanimousConsent is right: the obligation of the tithe has, strictly speaking, been abrogated. But that's no excuse not to give, which is why we don't say it so often.

I've known a lot of priests, many of whom were genuinely jersk, but I genuinely can't think of one that would turn down a devout and poor couple for a wedding, or a poor mother for a baptism, or less still a funeral for some dead pauper, because of a lack of means. The problem is, of course, that there's a whole string of people they have to get through before they get to the priest: secretaries, DREs, organists, liturgy coordinators, sometimes even the janitor. And if their first line of contact is a secretary who hands them a prefabbed pamplhet that says it costs $300 to get married in the Church then they will presume that it costs $300. Only the bold will stick around long enough to demand their rights; the rest we risk losing, and in my opinion, that risk is too great.

I don't think this happens at Fr. Milota's parish. I've been there. He has an excellent staff and a number of well-formed parishoners. But most of the places I help out in...not so much. I've probably celebrated two dozen weddings in side chapels and the like for genuinely poor couples, laborers or grad students, often converts whose families have abandoned them, and a couple of times I've even paid for the drinks afterwards.

Weddings easily make us cynical, and with good reason, but it's important to celebrate at least one REALLY good wedding a year to put things in perspective.

Witness to Life said...

Feb. 5th...I absolutely agree with Pope Francis. A donation is acceptable but no fees should be charged. Has Pope Francis spoken to the Bishops in Germany - Cardinal Kasper's Bishops - where fees and fines are charged? I hope so. I have never heard of any fees being charged for Baptisms - I think they are charged for weddings and funerals though. What is the thought about that? I'm sure if a poor couple wanted to get married in the Church, no fee would be charged.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Witness- Benedict spoke to the Germans too... didn't do any good!

Brent Bowen said...

Just a thought - my parish does not "charge" for the sacraments. However the use of the Church facility is costly - electricity, HVAC, maintenance, personnel (musicians, for example). All of these things cost money.

Not to mention, it is very common practice for priests to receive a stipend if they are filling in for Mass somewhere (sometimes called "stole fees"). I do not think it is all that unreasonable to do something similar for a priest who is celebrating a wedding, for example. After all, homily preparation takes time - sometimes up to 3-4 hours.

I guess the distinction I am making is this: No one is charging for the sacraments. But it isn't unreasonable for parishes to ask for a donation to cover the costs associated with doing so.

David M said...

There's no need to "charge a fee" when you can almost certainly bring in pretty much the same cash-flow by "recommending a donation." As for costly sacramental prep programs, it is not just the fee that should be recommended and free-will, participation should be too. As far as I'm aware (please, someone, correct me if I'm wrong about this), there is no canonical justification for most of the arbitrary requirements that are imposed on people who want their kids to receive the sacraments. Telling people they have to do this and that arbitrarily stipulated thing (having no direct foundation in the law or doctrine of the Church) before they will be allowed to receive the sacraments is bad old clericalism, and way too pervasive in the Church.

Father Paul D. Williams, Jr. said...

David M, if the sacrament were denied because the fee was not paid, you would have a point. But I don't see that happening. Exemptions should always be granted on a case-by-case basis, as most people are perfectly happy to pay the fee, knowing it goes to support the upkeep of the church. We do the same even for Catechesis fees.

Canonical justification?

"Can. 222 §1. The Christian faithful are obliged to assist with the needs of the Church so that the Church has what is necessary for divine worship, for the works of the apostolate and of charity, and for the decent support of ministers."

"Can. 1261 §1. The Christian faithful are free to give temporal goods for the benefit of the Church. §2. The diocesan bishop is bound to admonish the faithful of the obligation mentioned in ⇒ can. 222, §1 and in an appropriate manner to urge its observance."

"Can. 848 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."

Even in the case of the big beautiful churches with a waiting list for weddings, an exception can be granted, usually happily.

People do have a right to the sacraments. However, some misunderstand the theology of charity underpinning the above cited Canons. If such a person comes demanding a wedding with no fees, yet is obviously capable of paying (as evidenced by the rest of the wedding plans), the priest is within his rights to disallow the use of the church and ask the couple to come to the rectory on a Friday at 5:30pm with two witnesses for a simple exchange of vows in private. I've not ever had occasion to do that, but I imagine it would clear things up real quick.

David M said...

Father Paul, you imply that given your arguments, I have no point. Given the non-relevance of your arguments, I don't see how it is reasonable for you to imply such a thing. I never suggested that the Christian faithful have no canonical obligation to support the needs of the Church. Of course they do. My point is that some of the programs imposed by the Church indeed cost money and are presented to people who approach the Church, wanting to receive the sacraments, as required, when in fact there is no canonical justification for requiring that any such hoops be jumped through before one has a right to receive the sacraments. The costs of such programs are thus presented as pertaining to "the needs of the Church," when in fact they are not at all actually necessary and are, unfortunately, often a waste of time as well as money.

Father Paul D. Williams, Jr. said...

David M, you've now twice asserted that "there is no canonical justification" for "arbitrary requirements" or "programs imposed". The first time, you asked to be corrected "if I am wrong about this."

In my response, I replied to the main question at hand here, namely associated fees, giving you a basic canonical introduction to the topic. But, perhaps I misunderstood: is your problem with the fees or with the "arbitrary requirements"/"programs imposed"?

I've already dealt with the former (fees), but there are indeed canonical justifications for the educational/preparation requirements for receiving the sacraments. Are they perfectly implemented everywhere every time? Of course not, but one cannot go to the opposite extreme and assert that they are not permitted by canon law.

Since I cannot tell on the Internet if you are just being argumentative or are genuinely interested in deepening your understanding of the issue, I refer you to the esteemed blogger and canon lawyer Dr. Edward Peters:

He'll answer all your canonical questions.

While canon law allows for all such preparation programs (and associated fees with due concern for the needy), it all comes down to the bishop and his pastors, and we are allowed discretion (by canon law).

Here's a good example from my parish, 25 kids I confirmed on Pentecost (of 226 last year), and I can assure you, not a dime was asked for and all education requirements were waved (hope the link works):

Red Cardigan said...

I think that perhaps Fr. Williams and David are speaking past each other just a bit (so hard to have these conversations online, isn’t it?).

Yes, the Church has the authority to set requirements for the reception of the sacraments, and bishops and pastors can at their discretion override some of those requirements. Nobody would forbid a child who has severe neurological damage--for example--to be confirmed simply because he is unable to read the catechetical materials or attend a “mandatory” overnight or weekend co-ed retreat, which I think is Fr. Williams’ point here.

But I think that David’s point is simply that *some* of today’s “mandatory requirements” for some of the sacraments seem whimsical, counterproductive, and amount to mere “hoop-jumping.” Let’s take those mandatory overnight co-ed retreats some parishes require for Confirmation. Are they really a good idea? Are they really necessary? Isn’t there a better way to instruct sixteen-year-olds? Isn’t it, in fact, a bad idea to force teens to spend a night in mixed company (and, yes, I know that the boys and the girls don’t actually room together, but when is it ever a terrific idea to take a bunch of kids in the midst of puberty and put them all under one roof for a night or, in some cases, a whole weekend?).

Some of us have gone to great lengths to find understanding pastors who will not make us attend dozens of “mandatory” meetings (scheduled early on weeknights and requiring both parents’ attendance, which is pretty hard these days for anyone who is actually employed) for our childrens’ First Holy Communions, or do the co-ed retreats or the hours of “service projects” which make kids think that Confirmation is a sort of badge you get when you’ve knitted enough Mittens for the Starving, and so on. Some of those arbitrary and burdensome requirements actually keep young Catholics from the sacraments altogether, and that is a shame.

And instead of restoring the order of the sacraments of initiation, as several popes have called for us to do, the US bishops and pastors seem determined to push confirmation later and later to “keep kids going to Mass” or whatever the justification is these days. The unintended consequence is this: I know some devout, practicing Catholics who have decided to let their kids wait until age 18 to be confirmed, because at 18 the young adult only has to do (in many places) a year of RCIA classes, where to be confirmed at 16 requires two full years prior to that age of weekly “mandatory religious education” classes most of which have nothing to do with learning the faith and everything to do with silly craft projects and other nonsense. I have heard from fellow homeschoolers whose kids have taken these “mandatory” classes, and what it involved was two years worth of “If you were God, what new commandments would you invent?” writing assignments and lots of busywork, but nobody ever cracked open the Catechism, taught the actual commandments or discussed moral law, or did anything that would amount to actual religious instruction--oh, but everybody got to make individual banners for the Confirmation Mass...

And I’ve heard some horror stories, too, of parents whose child was nearly finished with this “preparation” and then got sick and missed a couple of classes and was told, “No confirmation for you this year--you’ll have to repeat the class next year...” and so forth. Pastors often refuse to override the DRE’s rulings on things like this, which doesn’t help matters any.

The point in all of this is simple: the more a parish lists “mandatory” this and “mandatory” that for a sacrament, the more people believe that those things are non-negotiable and that they just might as well not bother.

Pat said...

I have a question about "the material needs of the church."

I regularly practice my faith in 2 parishes, one Roman Catholic, the other Episcopal. In the Episcopal parish, they print and distribute to all parishioners annual audited financial statements that show all costs (including the amount the parish must pay up to the diocese - NO money flows from the diocese down to the parish), and all income which comes largely from the parishioners' pockets. These costs are then discussed at the annual meeting and an operating budget is determined for the following year. Parishioners are then asked to make a confidential, non-binding pledge for the year so that the pastor has some clue as to how close he will be to meeting his budget. We are given other valuable information as well, such as the number of registered parishioners, the number of registered parishioners who do not pledge any amount, and a really useful chart that shows the # of parishioners in each pledge category (e.g., # pledged over $10,000, # pledged between $5,000 - $10,000 and # pledged below $5,000) .

This greatly informs my decision about how much to contribute to the operation of the parish. The parish charges no fee to perform any sacrament.

When I asked for similar financial information from my Roman Catholic parish, I was told to mind my own business. Accordingly, I am unable to determine the material needs of that parish.

So my question is, how do you determine the material needs of your church? Thx

John Henry Lamming said...

Very interesting discussion. When I first became interested in the Church, my then-friend (and now-wife) asked the priest who baptized her if he could give us some instruction. He had us go out and get catechisms and Bibles, and invited us into his parish office every Monday night at 8 PM. There we read and discussed the catechism and the Bible, and within about six months, I was baptized and my friend and I were married. No RCIA. A one-day marriage prep class offered by the archdiocese. When we were confirmed a couple of years later, there was a class offered by the archdiocese - it was short, and didn't teach us much we didn't already know. I don't remember any fees being charged, but I do remember a couple of nominal donations, and a payment to the organist at our wedding.

I've since seen a wide variety of different parishes and Church groups operating in San Francisco and Colorado Springs, and I've made a few observations:

1. As a convert from atheism and paganism (well, raised atheist, pagan from about age 15) I was blown away by the Faith, as presented and lived out by certain priests and religious, in the catechism and the Bible, and (to some extent) on EWTN and in the NC Register. The love of the Living God, as proclaimed and passed on by the Son and his apostles is incredibly audacious. It's a mighty feat to turn the weekly reception of the body and blood of God and the study of his revolutionary teachings into something dull and pedestrian. The parishes that really still seem to "get" this are the traditionalists and the charismatics, and it's in the traditionalist and charismatic Masses that I really perceive the Spirit at work. There are risks involved in both "movements" - the risks of being either too hot or too cold, I suppose - but not so dire as the risk of bathing in the lukewarm waters of the average middle class American parish life.

2. If I had had to jump through the hoops most catechumens have to in order to join the Church, I don't know that it would have stopped me, but it would have been a huge turnoff. Some of these hoops are financial (and the appearance of simony is a huge turnoff in itself, whether that's what's technically happening or not) but the procedural hoops are at least as bad for most of us. By the way, I know annulment isn't a sacrament, but it's the gate through which some people have to pass in order to access the sacrament of marriage; put up roadblocks to a (valid) annulment, and you're effectively putting up roadblocks to a marriage.

3. The Church is at its best when it's personal, and at its worst when it's institutional. I suppose it's necessary to institutionalize some things, but that's not the way God operates, and it's not the way the Spirit is handed on. The sacraments are personal because Christ is personal and spiritual realities are personal. My initial catechism, my baptism, my marriage, my kids' baptisms, the bulk of my confessions and reception of communion have been personal as well - and that's been all to my benefit. When we lose sight of that, when parishes get too bureaucratic or laypeople get too mechanical and impersonal in our worship and charity, we undermine the Church's mission.

David M said...

Fr. Paul,
It's very interesting that your link to the thoughts of the estimable Ed Peters was exactly what I had in mind in making my comments. To quote that most eloquent of canon lawyers: "It is, of course, wholly within the authority of dioceses and parishes to offer opportunities for things like Christian service and retreat experiences to those preparing for various sacraments. That does not change the fact, however, that the primary requirements for valid and licit sacramental participation are set forth in the Code of Canon Law, whose provisions control in case of conflict. As long as the voluntary nature of any additional activities is made clear, and there is recognition that young people's eligibility to participate in the sacramental life of the Church is not based on their decision to take part or to refrain from taking part in such activities, things can progress very well."

Red Cardigan,
I must say, based on your comments, that we are on exactly the same wavelength here. (Not to mention that of Ed Peters, so I'm still not sure what point Fr. Paul thinks I have made, against which he takes himself to be arguing.) All of the concerns you mention are ones that I share.

And of course, Fr. Paul, these are general concerns. They certainly don't indicate a blanket criticism of every pastor or program out there. If your own programs and policies are immune to these general criticisms, then God bless you for it!

Deirdre Mundy said...

The big issue is that often these 'extras' AREN'T optional. It's 'jump through the hoops and pay the fees, or leave.'

And..... it seems like people are MORE eager to stick it to the marginally attached Catholics-- but they're the ones that we should be trying to be hospitable and welcoming to!

I mean, sure, if my parish said "You need to pay x$ in First Communion fees, I'd grumble, but I'd suck it up and pay, because I'm attached to the parish and think sacraments are really important and hate picking unnecessary fights.

However, a marginally attached Catholic might just decide to stop attending Mass. Suddenly, you've scandalized someone to the point where they are leaving the church. That's a HUGE problem.

I know several people who left the church over baptism issues. Look, it's all fine to say , "Well, if they cared, they wouldn't have left', but after two generations (or more) of abysmal catechesis, the burden is on the church to HELP these people stay!

Sheila said...

I had three kids baptized in the church and never paid. Nothing for the class, nothing for the candles, nothing for the priest's time. In one of these churches we weren't even parishioners.

Our wedding though? We paid for marriage prep, required. NFP class, required. Use of the church. Hiring the organist. It was kind of a hardship for us, our whole wedding was done on a shoestring, but we wouldn't have dreamed of trying to ask for an exemption. I guess we're that class that is sometimes poor, but always ashamed to admit it.

When you put upfront "the fee is x" people don't think "oh, I can't afford that so I will ask for an exemption." They think, "I can't afford that, so I won't have it." Our culture is just that way. You don't bargain; it's rude to ask for a discount. (The people who do are always the ones who don't need the discount!)

Why not say "the recommended donation for a wedding is about what you are paying for flowers" or some such? Point out that it does cost money for the church to hold a wedding for you, but scale it to the kind of wedding they're having. Don't give a dollar amount, because in our culture dollar amounts are non-negotiable.

Just my two cents.

Gwee Doe said...

Dear Fr. Jay -

The problem in our Parish is that the Pastor complains that only 840 of the 2600 families give regularly. Instead of explaining during his homily that parishioners have a moral obligation to give according to their abilities, he basically said that those that give have to give 10% more to cover costs. So instead of being concerned about the souls of those who fail in fulfilling their moral obligation he opts to just squeeze those of us that give regularly, more. Then we have to pay fees for Sacramental Preparation when we do our own preparation? That doesn't pass my smell test. It just like in Italy where they charge everyone $25 for a autostrad toll (slight exaggeration), because so many don't pay their taxes. Same with gasoline (in Italy). It seems a few appropriate homilies on the subject are called for ... Certainly in our parish.

Gwee Doe said...

Bravo! You nailed it. But it gets worse. If parents tighe and things are extremely tight, then any 'mandatory' fees can be back breakers. So, they are then forced to make their financial situation known to someone in the parish office and I know of too many instances where the gossip starts to fly as a result of this. I know victims of this and it hurt them! It is very difficult to just tell the pastor. There is a barrage of folks you have to go through to get to the pastor. Pretty soon they may become as unapproachable as the Bishop.