Q. My son and his fiancee will be married later this year and are wondering what the average stipend would be for the priest who does their wedding ceremony. They are assuming that there is no set fee but want to give what is reasonable. (Logansport, Indiana)
A. Some parishes establish suggested fees for the use of a church for a wedding. Sometimes this is referred to as a “facility fee.” It helps to cover the costs for heat, electricity, cleaning, etc. Such fees may range from $100 for a smaller church to several hundred dollars for a large church or cathedral.
Often the amount is reduced for parishioners, since they help to maintain the parish by their weekly offerings. The parish where I serve has no such fee, and I would feel uncomfortable having one. But I recognize that another parish might be struggling financially and need this income.
A stipend is something different: In this case, it would be a freewill offering given to the priest (or deacon) who officiated at the wedding ceremony. Never should it be indicated that this offering is fixed, or even expected, since it is purely voluntary.
Where does that stipend go? Well, the church’s Code of Canon Law stipulates (in No. 1267) that, unless the contrary is indicated, that money goes into the general parish fund. As a diocesan priest responsible for my own support, my rule of thumb is this: If a couple following the wedding gives me a check made out in my name, or cash, in a thank you note written to me, I honor what seems to be the intent of the donor and keep the gift.
But if the check, as often happens, is made out to the parish, that gift of course belongs to the church. And following the baseball rule that “a tie goes to the runner,” if money is simply handed to me in a plain envelope, I deposit it in the parish’s account.
To answer your question more specifically, in my experience, a freewill offering for a wedding most commonly turns out to be $100 or $150. When couples realize that they are spending upward of $20,000 on the wedding clothes, flowers and reception, they tend to treat the celebrant generously.
In all of this, the overarching rule is set in Canon No. 848, which mandates that the minister take special care to see “that the needy are not deprived of the assistance of the sacraments because of poverty.” Because of this, and because people have a natural reluctance to tell you that they are poor, I have strong misgivings about suggesting any specific amount for fees or for stipends.
Q. I am a non-Catholic Christian but for years have been wondering if I should “convert” to Catholicism. Spiritual things have always been of utmost importance to me, and one might say that the seeking of truth has been my life’s purpose.
I have come to have great respect for the Roman Catholic Church, and I believe that Pope Francis is truly a man of God. I have come close several times to becoming a Catholic but want to be sure that it is the right thing for me to do.
And so my question is this: How can I know for certain that the Catholic Church is the one true church? Is there anything that I can do (prayers, fasting, etc.) to get some kind of confirmation from God that the Catholic Church is the true one? And how certain do I need to be before converting to Catholicism? (Clio, Michigan)
A. It strikes me that you are perhaps looking for more certainty than you need. The journey of faith does not normally produce the sort of mathematical certainty that results from a theorem in geometry. Faith comes essentially as a gift, and even the holiest of saints speak of an admixture of doubt woven into the fabric of their belief.
For you to become a Catholic, you need to be comfortable with the basic teachings of the church. You need also the conviction that, for all its human frailties, the Catholic Church approximates most closely the faith community Jesus came to establish.
In my experience, believers from other Christian religions often feel attracted by the papacy – with the conviction that Jesus meant to give special authority to Peter as the leader of the apostles – and with a greater comfort from having a final arbiter of doctrine than from having 20,000 different Protestant denominations.
What I think you should do is seek out a priest experienced in working with those who would like to become Catholics and sort out with him your feelings and misgivings. Most of all, continue to pray that the Lord will guide you in your search and lead you to inner peace.
(Questions may be sent to Fr. Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.)