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Can a blessed automobile be auctioned, why Mass stipends?

Q. A recent photo in a magazine showed Pope Francis signing a car that had been given to him. The cutline said that the pope had signed and blessed the car before putting it up for auction by Sotheby's in London, with the proceeds going to charitable work.

But I had always understood that, according to church law, blessed articles cannot be sold. Would you comment, please? (Bloomington, Ind.)

A. What you saw in the magazine did, in fact, happen. In November 2017, the Italian automaker Lamborghini donated to Pope Francis a new model sports car in the Vatican colors of white and gold, worth upwards of $200,000.

The pope autographed and blessed the vehicle, which was then consigned to Sotheby's to be auctioned off — the proceeds going to three charities close to the pope's heart: the rebuilding of homes and Christian houses of worship in Iraq that had been destroyed by the Islamic State; assistance to women who had been victimized by prostitution and human trafficking; and specialized medical care in several African nations.

It would be safe to assume that the pope would not violate canon law, and that is true here. Nowhere does the church prohibit the sale of each and every blessed object. Like most priests, I am regularly asked to bless new homes, and there are specific prayers created for such a purpose. But imagine how infrequently that would happen if such a blessing were to result in the permanent prohibition of that house's resale.

What must not be sold are blessed objects of religious devotion — crucifixes, medals, rosaries, etc. Such objects are to be blessed only after they are purchased.

The Lamborghini company, I'm quite certain, never imagined that Pope Francis would put this donated vehicle to his personal use. That would have clashed with some specific guidance already offered by the pope. In July 2013, meeting with seminarians and novices, the pontiff cautioned them against cars that were "showy."

"I tell you," he said, "it truly grieves me to see a priest or a sister with the latest model. Choose a more humble car and think of all the children who are dying of hunger." (That sensitivity is reflected in the pope's own choice for traveling around Rome — a 2008 Ford Focus.)


Q. Why does the church solicit stipends for Mass requests? It seems that we haven't learned anything from the Protestant Reformation in 1517. I wish that the church would discontinue this practice. What do you think? (Little Rock, Ark.)

A. I certainly would not mind if the church were to discontinue the present practice of Mass stipends, but let me offer some background. First, the church's Code of Canon Law uses the word "offering," not "stipend" — to highlight that this is a free-will gesture and not an obligation.

To require payment would be wrong, and in fact the code specifies that priests should "celebrate Mass for the intention of the Christian faithful, especially the needy, even if they have not received an offering" (945.2).

Next, in some developing countries, priests do not receive a regular salary but are totally dependent on Mass offerings to meet their living expenses.

Third, the code is especially concerned that "any appearance of trafficking or trading is to be excluded entirely from the offering for Masses" (947). There is no financial incentive for a priest to celebrate multiple Masses a day since he is permitted to keep for himself the offering from only one Mass (951.1).

That having been said, I would still feel more comfortable if there were another way of doing things. I cannot count how many times, in my 50-plus years of priesthood, people have asked me, "How much does a Mass cost?" I have to explain that there is no set fee, that the suggested offering is $10, but if that's a problem, you can donate something less or nothing at all, and the Mass will still be offered for the intention you desire.

Practically speaking, if there were no Mass offerings at all, I suppose some people might submit pages of intentions regularly while others might be embarrassed ever to ask. And I also think there is some merit in the present practice, when one makes a nominal financial sacrifice to request a Mass for a loved one. So I'm not sure what the ultimate solution is, and the floor is open for suggestions.

Fr. Doyle is a priest of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y. Questions may be sent to him at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, N.Y. 12203.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018