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Priests told by archbishop not to solicit or accept payment for sacraments

As the nation marks Undas (All Saints' and All Souls' Days) next week, a prominent archbishop has reminded the clergy not to "commercialize" the sacraments. Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas reminded the faithful that sacraments are not to be celebrated in exchange for money. Some priests have been known to solicit payment in exchange for their services, and many accept donations from the faithful. “The trafficking for money in spiritual things is simony. It is a sin,” Villegas said in a circular issued to priests, excerpts of which were posted Friday afternoon on the CBCP news site. Villegas said the sacraments are not celebrated for the convenience of priests but for making the spiritual goods of the Church more available to the faithful “without undue difficulties.” On the other hand, he warned priests under his archdiocese not to seek donations for the blessing of graves. “It is prohibited to collect any donations for the individual blessing of graves. It is prohibited to conduct ‘special blessings of graves’ for friends of priests and benefactors of the Church within the October 31 to November 2 period,” he said. He added that copies of the “Order of Family Prayers on Visiting the Cemetery” must be reproduced by the parishes and distributed to the faithful before the Mass “free of charge.” “It is prohibited to sell the copies of the prayer,” said Villegas, who is the vice president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). Mass in cemeteries Also, he reminded his priests that sacraments must be made available to the people "within the bounds and parameters of liturgical theology." There should be no “prejudiced distinctions” between the rich and poor or between those “close” to the priests and those who are not, he said. During Undas, Villegas said the Mass must be celebrated in all Catholic cemeteries, and when pastorally possible in memorial parks and public cemeteries, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, “at the time when most of the people can participate." But Villegas said lay ministers or Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHC) and seminarians are not allowed to officiate at blessings of graves. “Violation of this rule may be meted with penalty including perpetual disqualification from being an EMHC or being considered irregular candidates for ordination,” said Villegas. “The annual commemoration of the faithful departed is a loved and cherished Filipino Catholic tradition. Let us allow this pious tradition to lead us and our flock to the path of holiness,” he added. Business in God's name? The Catholic Church allows minimal "fees" or "offering" for Masses and other sacraments that priests perform, including weddings, christening, and prayers for the dead. These charges are meant for the maintenance of the parish, and the living allowance of parish workers. The 1983 revised code of Canon Law espouses the term “offering” – which better conveys the freewill, gratuitous nature of a gift, rather than the old term "stipend" as it meant wage paid to soldiers in the Roman times. Canon 946: “The faithful who will make an offering so that Mass can be celebrated for intention, contribute to the good of the Church, and that by their offering they share in the Church’s concern for the support of its ministers and its activities.” Some parishioners, however, give more than the "minimum fees" in the form of donations to the Church. The ailing business tycoon Danding Cojuanco, for instance, donated hectares of land to "The Healing Priest" Fr. Fernando Suarez in 2010 for the priest's Monte Maria project. Fr. Suarez is a Batangas-born priest who founded the Mary Mother of the Poor Foundation, a congregation which supports poor Filipinos through various projects like feeding programs, scholarships, and medical missions. But the healing priest has not been spared criticism. A number of dioceses in the Philippines and in Canada have already banned him for selling healing ministry items such as DVDs and T-shirts. Meanwhile, GMA News Online reported on a Catholic Church survey indicating that roughly half of Filipino Catholic couples did not have a church wedding because the sacrament is considered expensive. Fake priests During Undas (All Souls' Day), Catholic Church authorities usually warn people against fake priests offering to "bless their departed loved ones" in exchange for a "donation". Impostors in priest's garb stroll through many cemeteries every Undas, often with phony sacristans in tow, raking in cash from loved ones of the dead eager for a dash of holy water on the final resting place.  — with a report by Shai Panela /LBG/HS, GMA News