Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga welcomed the new guidelines issued by the Vatican urging priests and bishops to make sacraments more accessible to people.
“It is a very good move of the Vatican, making sacraments accessible to our people,” he said, adding that people should feel that they are all equal in the Church.
The prelate said the Church should “focus more on spiritual matters, not preoccupied with material, secular matters.”
“The Diocese of Balanga is already doing that, our funeral blessings and Holy Mass are free,” said Bishop Santos.
For weddings, he said, couples pay for documentation as municipal license fees, for the choir, and for the flowers.
It April 2019, Bishop Santos ordered the removal of fees for funeral masses and blessings in his diocese.
“We should not obliged them either for the ‘arancel,’ but we can be open for their free will to give or donate for the Church,” he said at that time.
The “arancel” system in the Church refers to the practice of giving stipends to priests for specific church services.
He said then that they will start removing “arancel” on baptism, weddings, confirmation, and Masses in the coming years.
In 2015, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan scrapped the system of charging fixed rates for sacraments and sacramentals in his archdiocese.
Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao, meanwhile, explained that what people contribute is “offering or donation” to help sustain the operational expenses of the church.
“We do not pay for the sacraments or for the grace of God. And so ‘love offerings’ are welcome as a help,” he said.
The Vatican last week reminded the clergy “not to commercialize” Masses or “give the impression that the celebration of the Sacraments … are subject to tariffs.”
In new guidelines released on July 20, the Holy See urged priests not to fix prices for celebrating weddings and funerals.
“An offering, by its very nature, must be a free act on the part of the one offering… not a ‘price to pay’ or a ‘fee to exact,’ as if dealing with a sort of ‘tax,’” said the Vatican.
The guidelines added that although in some countries Mass offerings are the only source of income for priests, they should celebrate Mass “even if they have not received an offering.”
The 22-page document from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy aims to guide parishes “in the service of the evangelizing mission of the Church.”
The congregation clarified that the new document does not introduce new legislation on pastoral care.
It describes the parish as “a house among houses” and stressed the importance of a missionary renewal of parish structures.
The document said every baptized faithful must be an active participant in evangelization and the priest must be at the service of the parish and his role “involves the full care of souls.”
The document also specified the role of deacons, consecrated people, and the laity.
The Vatican reminder came in the midst of the financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic that has affected the Catholic Church.
In May, the Vatican’s finance minister warned that the closure of museums and the cancellation of fundraising events would see up to a 45-percent drop in the city state’s income.
The guidelines follow Pope Francis’s admission in 2013 that “the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people.”
The Vatican said best practice would have one priest care for one parish, but “because a shortage of priests or other circumstances, the care of a number of neighboring parishes can be entrusted to a single parish priest.”
The new Vatican instructions follows an earlier one released in 1997 and the Instruction of 2002, published by the Congregation for the Clergy on “The Priest, Pastor, and Guide of the Parish Community.”