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Masses for the Faithful Departed Spacer
Introduction Spacer
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1st Motive: The Pains of Purgatory Spacer
2nd Motive: The Duration of ... Spacer
3rd Motive: The Condition of ... Spacer
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6th Motive: The Church Triumphant Spacer
7th Motive: Own Spiritual Advantage Spacer
8th Motive: Natural Affection Spacer
9th Motive: The Value of the Mass Spacer
Certain Practical Questions Spacer
Certain Practical Questions relating to Masses for the Dead

Various questions relating to Masses for the dead will present themselves to the mind of the thoughtful reader, some of which for convenience are here grouped together.


1. What relation, it may be asked, does assisting the souls in Purgatory bear to other good works? It is difficult to give a definite answer to this question; but yet I think it can be shown that aiding the poor souls is more pleasing to God than any other good work. The reader will readily understand that when I compare good works with each other there is no intention to detract from the merit of any, nor to discourage persons from the exercise of those to which the peculiar bent of their piety may incline them. What is true of prayer for any good object, it may be further premised, must be equally true of the Holy Mass. Father Faber quotes from Rosignoli, in his Wonders of God in Purgatory, an entertaining dispute between two good friars as to the respective merits of devotion for the conversion of sinners and devotion for the holy souls; and as perhaps the strongest case upon earth is that of sinners, me must conclude that if the decision is against them, it would be more easily made out against any others. Says Father Faber:


"Fra. Bertrando was the great advocate of poor sinners, constantly said Mass for them, and offered up all his prayers and penances to obtain for them the grace of conversion. 'Sinners,' he said, 'without grace are in a state of perdition. Evil spirits are continually laying snares for them, to deprive them of the Beatific Vision, and to carry them off to eternal torments. Our Blessed Lord came down from Heaven, and died a most painful death for them. What can be a higher work than to imitate Him, and to cooperate with Him in the salvation of souls? When a soul is lost, the price of its redemption is lost also. Now, the souls in Purgatory are safe. They are sure of their eternal salvation. It is most true that they are plunged into a sea of sorrows; but they are sure to come out at last. They are the friends of God; whereas sinners are His enemies, and to be God's enemy is the greatest misery in creation.

"Fra. Benedetto was an equally enthusiastic advocate of the suffering souls. He offered all his free Masses for them, as well as his prayers and penances. 'Sinners,' he said, "were bound with the chains of their own will. They could leave off sinning if they pleased. The yoke was of their own choosing. Whereas the dead were tied hand and foot, against their own will, in the most atrocious sufferings. 'Now, come, dear Fra. Bertrando, tell me -- suppose there were two beggars, one well and strong, who could use his hands, and work if he liked, but chose to suffer poverty rather than part with the sweets of idleness; and the other sick, and maimed, and helpless, who, in his piteous condition, could do nothing but supplicate help with sighs and tears, -- which of the two would deserve compassion most, especially if the sick one was suffering the most intolerable agonies? Now this is just the case between sinners and the holy souls. These last are suffering an excruciating martyrdom, and they have no means of helping themselves. It is true they have deserved these pains for their sins; but they are now already cleansed from those sins. . . . They are now most dear, inexpressibly dear to God; and surely charity, well-ordered, must follow the wise love of the Divine will, and love most what He loves most.'

"Fra. Bertrando, however, would not give way, though he could not quite see a satisfactory answer to his friend's objection. But the night following he had an apparition which, it seems, so convinced him, that from that time he changed his practice, and offered up all his Masses, prayers, and penances for the holy souls. It would appear as if the authority of St. Thomas might be quoted on the side of Fra. Benedetto, as he says: 'Prayer for the dead is more acceptable than for the living, for the dead are in the greatest need of it, and cannot help themselves as the living can.'"*

If we wish to consult for the honor and glory of God, -- the end and aim of all the works of the Creator, -- we must decide in favor of the poor souls; because His grace will bear greater and more certain fruit in souls that are His most dear friends, than it will in those who are in open rebellion against Him. In the holy souls every grace will produce its fullest effect, and this effect will be a permanent gain; while sinners are able to resist, and very frequently do resist, powerful graces, and render them of no avail. And if sinners are restored to the friendship of God, they may again forfeit it, and with it the fruit of all the graces they have before received. Besides, according to an opinion which is, as we have seen, all but absolutely certain, the holy souls can pray for sinners now, and they certainly can after their deliverance from their fiery prison. We could then assist the suffering souls and ask them in return to aid poor sinners to break the chains of their bondage. We may then safely say that it gives more honor to God, is a greater act of charity considered in itself, and is more beneficial to us to succor the souls in Purgatory than it is to aid poor sinners; and when it is said, as we have just seen, that St. Thomas is of this opinion there is little room left for doubt.

2. What particular Masses has the Church appointed to be offered for the dead? Any Mass whatever may be offered for the souls of the faithful departed; but there are four Masses of Requiem given in the Missal which are especially adapted to them: the Mass for All-Souls' Day; that for the day of death or interment, which may also be said on the third, seventh, and thirtieth day after; that for the anniversary; and that for any other day upon which a Mass for the Dead is permitted.

3. On what days are Masses for the Dead permitted? This depends to some extent on the general laws of the Church relating to the Holy Sacrifice, and also on the special privileges granted to particular countries, dioceses, or persons; and hence a definite answer cannot be given. It may be said, however, that there are many days upon which it is permitted to celebrate a Low Mass for the dead; that there are few upon which a High Mass is not allowed; and that upon any day of the year, with but very rare exceptions, a High Mass is permitted if the body is present. The same privilege extends to cases in which the body is not brought to the church on account of the person having died of a contagious disease. But the reader must be referred to his pastor to learn on what particular days a Low or a High Mass can be celebrated.

As regards special privileges, -- for the Church grants many special privileges in the behalf of the poor souls, -- there is one by which those priests who possess it are permitted to celebrate Low Masses for the dead in black vestments upon a certain number of days in the week, although they might not be allowed to do so by the rubrics or general laws of the Church. In certain parts of Spain, secular priests have the privilege of celebrating two Masses on All-Souls' Day, and regular priests three. A movement was set on foot some time ago by many of the Bishops of Italy, and perhaps of other European countries, to petition the Holy Father to grant to all priests of the world the privilege of celebrating two Masses on this day, the better to aid the suffering souls on the day specially set apart for their remembrance. Whether or not this privilege will eventually be granted, cannot, of course, be known at present; but it must be regarded as significant that so large a number of prelates, remarkable as well for their learning as for their piety, should unite in asking this favor from him to whom are entrusted the keys of the treasures of the Church.

4. But if a Mass for the Dead cannot be celebrated on a particular day, whether is it better to have the Mass of that day offered for the repose of the soul, or to wait for a day upon which a Mass of Requiem can be celebrated? A moment's reflection on the pains of Purgatory will suffice to answer this question. If the soul is in need of assistance at all, it is being tortured in the fires of Purgatory; and the clearest dictates of Christian charity are that me should hasten to its relief with as little delay as possible. A Mass of Requiem has, it is true, a certain efficacy not possessed by other Masses; but inasmuch as every Mass is essentially the same, and as the poor sou1 is suffering excruciating pains all the while, true charity should prompt us to have a Mass said as quickly as it could be. Many wait until they have the means of procuring a High Mass, and have it announced in the church beforehand, that friends may attend; and while I would not condemn this, both because the Mass has additional efficacy, because the prayers of friends will not be without fruit, and because custom demands it in many places, still if the soul is in need at all it is all that time burning in fire -- a consideration that should not be lost sight of by those who are not on all occasions free from the secret influences of vanity. If there is any occasion in which self and personal considerations should be entirely lost sight of, it is when we assist the poor souls in Purgatory. Perhaps the best rule to follow would be to have a Mass of whatever kind as quickly after death as possible; and then the High one as soon as convenient. The honor and glory of God, it must be carefully borne in mind, is deeply concerned in the liberation of that soul. Upon these points Father Coleridge writes:


"It is certain that our charity to God, and to the holy souls, and to ourselves, binds us, even when there is no obligation of justice, not only to assist them in all the ways in our power, but also to assist them as quickly as possible. The obligation of justice, of course, is still more serious, as binding, those who are children or heirs of the departed, those who have received benefits and kindness from them, those who have been instructed and helped, the priests who have received alms in order that they may say Masses for them, or any who have lived on the foundations which they have made. But where the obligation is strictly an obligation of Christian charity, the circumstances of the case of the holy souls plead for their help without a moment's delay. It is a very great difference indeed whether God is deprived or not of His glory by their complete deliverance even a little later or a little sooner. If it was an immense gain to one of those poor sufferers from disease or demoniac possession at Capharnaum to have been healed or set free by our Lord on the Sabbath night rather than on the next day, much more is it an incalculable gain to a soul in Purgatory if its detention in that prison be cut short even by an hour or by a minute. It is not the certainty that they will be delivered some time or other that is enough to satisfy the charity of any one who is at all enlightened as to the pains of sense and of loss which are to be undergone. We count it very poor charity indeed, in the case of human sickness or affliction of any kind, that is content with the knowledge that after an indefinite period that affliction will cease. And when we remember that our Lord has told us that me shall be dealt with by Him as we have dealt with others, we may be quite certain that, if by His merits and mercy we escape the flames of Hell, it will still be a terrible aggravation of our lot in the fires of Purgatory if we have any slowness or delay in relieving others with which to reproach ourselves."*

5. What special advantages, it may further be asked, has a High Mass over a Low one; and what advantages has a Mass of Requiem over any other one? Father Coleridge answers these questions in the following words:

"Although a Solemn Mass, with all its ceremonies and accompaniments, is in itself of no greater intrinsic merit than a simple Low Mass, still the Church encourages the practice of celebrating the former, which may cause greater devotion, and so greater benefit to the soul for which it is offered. Again, it is clear that a Mass of Requiem, in which all the prayers have a distinct reference to the relief of the dead, on that account profits them more than another Mass, although the intrinsic value of the Sacrifice is the same in each case."*

6. If all Masses are essentially the same, is it better to have two low ones than a high one, especially as the latter usually costs as much as at least five of the former? To this I would reply, that, although, as we have seen, a High Mass possesses certain advantages over a low one, yet it is unquestionably better to have two Low Masses than one High Mass.

It will not be out of place to add the following from Father Maurel:

"We should not imagine that, because of the infinite merit of the Sacrifice of the Cross, which is identically the same as that of the Altar, wherein Christ is the High Priest and Victim, it is always enough to have merely one Mass said for the repose of a certain soul in Purgatory. For though the value of the Sacrifice of Calvary is infinite, the application of it by means of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not so: rather it is His will to proportion, so to speak, this application or efficacy of the Adorable Sacrifice to the fervor and piety of our dispositions. This is the opinion of St. Thomas. Hence it is most useful to have Mass frequently celebrated for the departed."*

And in a note on the same page he gives the following from Saint Thomas:

"Although, by reason of its infinitude, this oblation would be sufficient to cover all liabilities, yet, to those for whom, or even to those by whom it is offered, it is applied only in proportion to the measure of their devotion, and not so to redeem the whole penalty (St. Thomas, 3 pars, quest. 79, art. 5)."

7. With regard to Masses which the Church has approved and which Christians are accustomed to have celebrated on certain days, Father Coleridge makes the following remarks:

"It may be useful here to add some of the reasons which are found in various writers for the Christian custom of celebrating Mass on certain days for those who are departed. Five Masses may be said to be almost prescribed by that custom, when there is nothing to prevent them: that is, on the day of burial, on the third, seventh, and thirtieth days after death, and on the anniversary. In many parts of the Church it has been the rule never to let any Christian be buried without the celebration of Mass. The Mass of the third day is mentioned in the Clementine Constitutions (Lib. VIII, c. 48), and is said to represent the Resurrection of our Lord on the third day, or the restoration in the soul of the image of the Ever-Blessed Trinity, or the three-fold purification of thoughts, words, and deeds, The Mass of the seventh day is also significant of the eternal Sabbath or rest of the holy dead. We find a connection between seven days and the length of mourning in the Old Testament, as in the case of Joseph mourning for Jacob. The thirtieth day is said to be chosen, as that was the number of days during which the Israelites mourned for Moses, or for the mystical reason that our Lord was thirty when he was baptized, or that thirty is the full-grown age of man, in which it is said, we are all to rise again. The institution of anniversaries is traced by some up to the time of the Apostles, and it is so natural and universal as to need no explanation."*

And again:

"The thirty continuous Masses which are recommended by St. Gregory the Great to the abbot of the monastery of St. Andrew in Rome for the soul of one of the monks, seem to have become the foundation of the custom of celebrating thirty Masses for the Dead on thirty continuous days, though, of course, it would not always be possible that such Masses should be of Requiem. At one time, there was a custom according to which these thirty Masses were necessarily votive Masses of certain fixed kinds, but this custom appears to have died away since a decree of the Congregation of Rites in 1628. The custom of the thirty Masses still remains, and it would be well if this holy devotion were revived among us, as far as is possible, at least as to the number of Masses which those who are able should procure for their own relatives and friends. Some writers would prefer that they should be said at once, and not one by one for thirty days, A kindred question would be another, whether it is better to found anniversary Masses for the dead for perpetuity, or to procure a great number of Masses to be said at once,


As to this it must be remembered that although there can be no doubt that many souls in Purgatory are best benefited by procuring them the relief of the Adorable Sacrifice as soon and as plentifully as possible, there are still many circumstances about pious foundations which make them great acts of devotion and charity, by contributing to enhance the splendor of the Church, by supporting her ministers, and the like. If the souls for whom such Masses are sung or said are already in Heaven, they may still profit by them in the way of fresh joy or accidental glory. In the last place, it is well that we should remember the custom that prevails among the faithful in many countries, of having Masses celebrated, or celebrating them, for their own souls, the satisfaction of which Masses is to be applied to their deliverance when they come to Purgatory. In some respects this also is a great act of devotion, inasmuch as it costs us much more to do this now, than to arrange that it shall be done after our death by those who represent us."*

8. Besides deceased relatives and friends who have a special claim upon us, it is well to have a Mass celebrated from time to time for the repose of the souls of the faithful departed in general; it is the custom of many pious Christian, and it will also be a means of assisting those who may have no one in particular to pray for them, and who for that reason are left to languish in the fiery prison and to burn out unaided the term of their purgation. But it is for each one to determine at what intervals he will have such a Mass celebrated. There are some persons who have a Mass every year for the living and one for the deceased members of their respective families, and another for all the souls in Purgatory. Others again have a Mass for the suffering souls every month. It will depend both on the means and the piety of each one to establish the rule that is to guide him. There could be no better investment of a part of our worldly means; and it will derive additional value from the regularity with which it is performed.

9. In the selection of the priest who shall say the Masses, or the place where they shall be celebrated, everyone is free. But while this is true, it is equally undeniable that there is a certain propriety and fitness that should not be wholly lost sight of. The pastor of the congregation to one belongs is the person who attends him in sickness, ministers to him in all his spiritual necessities, looks after the religious training of his family, and bears all the burden attending the care and management of the church and the spiritual welfare of its members; in a word, spends his days and nights, his youth and old age, for their benefit. Does it not, then, seem very fitting to say the least, that he should have the celebration of such Masses as they may wish to have said for the poor souls? I leave the reader to draw his own conclusion.

10. The relation which a privileged altar bears to the souls in Purgatory renders it necessary to inquire briefly into what is meant by such an altar. Father Maurel says:

"A privileged altar is one to which, by a special favor, our Holy Father annexes a Plenary Indulgence applicable only to the departed, and obtainable by a priest saying Mass for them at that altar."*

From this we learn that it is for the benefit of the dead, and not of the living. But a Plenary Indulgence is the remission of all the temporal punishment due from the soul that has gained it; hence, if such an Indulgence is gained for a soul in Purgatory, that soul should be immediately admitted into Heaven. And this is in conformity as well with the nature of a Plenary Indulgence as with the words of Pope Pius VI, who in his Brief of August. 30,1779, as quoted by Father Maurel (p. 290, 291), says:

"Every time a priest, secular or regular, shall celebrate at this altar, we grant a Plenary Indulgence, by way of suffrage, to that one of the faithful departed for whom the Holy Sacrifice shall have been offered, so that in virtue of the treasures of the Church, that is, of the merits of Christ, the Blessed Virgin, and the Saints, this soul may be delivered from the pains of Purgatory."

The question then arose: Are we to hold that the soul for which a Mass is celebrated at a privileged altar is immediately set free, and admitted into Heaven? When this question was proposed to the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences at Rome, the answer was, that, if we regard the intention of the Pope in granting the privilege and the power of binding and loosing confided to him, it is to be understood that the Indulgence is such as to free the soul immediately from all temporal punishment due from it; but that, if we look at the application of the effects of the Indulgence to the soul, the measure of it will be such as the mercy and good pleasure of God shall determine. (Maurel, p. 291, note). The reason of this is that the Indulgence is not applied by way of absolution, since the Church has no jurisdiction over the souls in Purgatory, but only by way of suffrage; and hence

"as we can never know whether the Indulgence of a privileged altar bas been communicated in its entire extent to the soul for which the Holy Sacrifice is offered, it would be very laudable and beneficial to have several Masses said for it, even at a privileged altar. Besides, that soul may not be in Purgatory at all, in which case the Indulgence will, doubtless, be applied, through the goodness of God, to the parents or friends of the person who has the Masses offered, particularly if the priest, in offering them, had added this secondary intention to his primary and direct one."*

There are both local privileged altars and personal privileged altars. A local privileged altar, as the name implies, is one that is located in a certain church or oratory. As a rule, admitting of very few exceptions, there can be but one privileged altar in the same church. The privilege is obtained directly from the Pope, or it can, in certain missionary countries, be conferred by the Bishop.* The altar is privileged for a specified number of years, or in perpetuity. There are many other questions relating to privileged altars that are omitted here, as not being of interest to the general reader. I may remark, however, that on All-Souls' Day (November 2) every altar is privileged; and the same is true of all the altars in a church while the Forty Hours' Exposition is being celebrated in it.

"A personal privileged altar: In this case the favor of the Indulgence is attached, not to a given altar in such or such a church, but, to the person of the priest himself. The Pope ordinarily grants it for two, three, or four days in each week; he accords it forever or for a time. A priest enjoying this sort of prerogative may obtain a Plenary Indulgence for the dead at whatever altar he celebrates."*

Priests who have made "The heroic Act of Charity," -- of which presently, -- enjoy the favor of a personal privileged altar every day in the year.*


11. A brief explanation of the Heroic Act of Charity, although it refers but indirectly to Masses for the dead, will not be out of place here; and the more so as I may be permitted to hope that these pages will fall under the eye of some generous souls who will not shrink from doing so much for the holy souls and for the honor and glory of Him who so loved the world as to send His only-begotten Son for its salvation.

"The Heroic Act of Charity"; or, An offering of all works of satisfaction and atonement in behalf the souls in Purgatory. This heroic act of charity in behalf of the souls in Purgatory consists in a voluntary offering made to them, by any one of the faithful, of all the works of satisfaction done by him in this life, as well as of all those which shall be offered for him after death; placing them in the hands of the Blessed Virgin, that she may distribute them in behalf of those souls whom it is her good pleasure to deliver from the pains of Purgatory. By this offering he foregoes in their behalf only that special fruit which belongs to himself; so that a priest is not hindered thereby from applying the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the intention of those who give him alms to that end.

"This heroic act of charity, called also a vow or obligation, was enriched with many Indulgences, first by Pope Benedict XIII., in a decree, August 23, 1728; and by other Popes, the last decree being dated September 30, 1852. The following are the Indulgences granted:


I. The Indult of a Privileged Altar, personally, every day in the year, to all priests who shall have made this offering.

II. A Plenary Indulgence, applicable only to the departed, to all the faithful who shall have made this offering, whenever they go to Holy Communion, provided they visit a church or public oratory, and pray there for some time, for the intention of his Holiness.

III. A Plenary Indulgence every Monday, to all who hear Mass in aid of the souls in Purgatory, provided they fulfil the other conditions mentioned above.

All the Indulgences granted, or to be granted, which are to be gained by the faithful who have made this offering, may be applied to the souls in Purgatory."*


This "Act," although called a vow, does not bind under pain of sin, nor is any set form of words required in making it; a heartfelt act of the will is sufficient. While this act will commend itself to the pious reader, he should not make it without due reflection; yet he should not, on the other hand, be pusillanimous, but should remember that God is not outdone in generosity. The more we do for Him and for His dear suffering prisoners, the more immeasurably will He do for us in return. But mind it is only the special personal fruit redounding to us from these satisfactions and suffrages we thus forego in behalf of the suffering souls. . . . It is only the satisfactory portion, so to speak, of the works done that is applied or given over by this vow to the holy souls. Accordingly, the fruits of merit, propitiation and impetration always remain with the doer of the acts, since they cannot be communicated to others."*


In drawing these pages to a close, in which I have endeavored to present the reader with such a picture of Purgatory as would be true, and with such motives for assisting the poor prisoners there detained as would act most powerfully on his pity and charity, I am reminded of the following words of Father Faber, with which I shall conclude.


"Some persons turn in anger from the thought of Purgatory, as it were not to be endured, that after trying all our lives long to serve God, we should accomplish the tremendous feat of a good death, only to pass from the agonies of the death-bed into fire, long, keen, searching, triumphant, incomparable fire. Alas! my dear friends, your anger will not help you nor alter facts. But have you thought sufficiently about God? Have you tried to realize His holiness and purity in assiduous meditation? Is there a real divorce between you and the world, which you know is the enemy of God? Do you take God's side? Have you wedded His interests? Do you long for His glory? Have you put sin alongside of our dear Saviour's Passion? Oh, if you had, Purgatory would seem to you the last, unexpected, and inexpressibly tender invention of an obstinate love, which was mercifully determined to save you in spite of yourself! It would be a perpetual wonder to you, a joyous wonder, fresh every morning, a wonder that would be meat and drink to your soul, that you, being what you are, what you know yourself to be, what you may conceive God knows you to be, should be saved eternally."*


May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, Rest in peace. Amen.


1. All for Jesus, pp. 372-374

2. The Prisoners of the King, pp. 73, 74

3. The Prisoners of the King, p. 222.

4. Maurel on Indulgences, p. 47.

5. The Prisoners of the King, p. 221-222.

6. The Prisoners of the King, p. 223, 224.

7. Maurel on Indulgences, p. 290.

8. Maurel on Indulgences, p. 295.

9. Facultates Extraordinariae, C. No. 8. Konig's Theol. Mor., p. LXXIII.

10. Maurel on Indulgences, p. 295, 296.

11. Maurel on Indulgences, p. 184. Raccolta, p. 442.

12. Raccolta, pp. 442, 443

13. Maurel on Indulgences, p. 183, 184.
14. All for Jesus, pp. 398, 399


Back to where I left off


Definition: Raccolta:

"The Raccolta; or, Collection of Prayers and Good Works, to which the Sovereign Pontiffs have attached Indulgences, published by order of his Holiness Pope Pius IX," is a prayer-book with which the faithful in general are not sufficiently acquainted. All the prayers and devotional exercises contained in it are indulgenced, and an abstract of the decree granting the Indulgence is appended to each different prayer, etc. These prayers and devotions are arranged under different heads, which enable the faithful to select the devout exercises they prefer. It is a mine of inestimable wealth: and so great is the authority of the Raccolta that we read as follows in the decree found on the first pages of the book:

"This collection, compiled with all care and accuracy, according to the orders of his Holiness, and published by the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda, has been approved by the Sovereign Pontiff; in virtue of his apostolic authority, and by his order is to be received by all the faithful as the genuine and authentic collection of the Indulgences which have been hitherto granted. His Holiness has also wished it to be expressly declared that in all cases of doubt or discussion about the existence of any Indulgence whatever, or about the manner of gaining it, this present collection, alone, shall be considered as having authority." (p. XI.)


The Raccolta, originally printed in Italian, has been translated into English, with the permission of the Holy Father, by the Jesuit Fathers of Woodstock College, Maryland, and the "Sacred Congregation of Indulgences and Holy Relics guarantees the fidelity of the said translation."


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