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Masses for the Faithful Departed Spacer
Introduction Spacer
General Remarks Spacer
1st Motive: The Pains of Purgatory Spacer
2nd Motive: The Duration of ... Spacer
3rd Motive: The Condition of ... Spacer
4th Motive: The Number of Souls Spacer
5th Motive: The Honor/Glory of God Spacer
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
General Remarks

Before entering upon the subject which is properly to engage our attention, it will not be out of place to give the reader a general outline of the manner in which we are enabled to exercise the precept of fraternal charity towards the members of the Suffering Church, the poor souls in Purgatory.*


From childhood, we have all been taught that Purgatory is "a place of punishment in the other life, where some souls suffer for a time, before they can go to Heaven." We have also learned that those only are condemned to Purgatory who die guilty of venial sin, or who have not fully satisfied the temporal punishment due to mortal sin, the eternal punishment of which had been forgiven before death.


Of the location of Purgatory, nothing is or can be known with certainty. It may not, however, be uninteresting to the reader to give the following from Cardinal Bellarmine, one of the ablest theologians of the Church in any age; and the more so as it will afford an idea, to be developed further on, of the pains to which the poor souls are subjected.


"It was the common opinion of the scholastics," says Bellarmine, "that Purgatory is in the bowels of the earth, and near to Hell itself. They hold that there are within the earth four abodes, or one in four parts; of which one part (Hell) is for the damned; another (Purgatory), for those souls that are undergoing purification; a third, for unbaptized infants; and the fourth (Limbo), for the souls of the just who died before Christ." Bellarmine himself embraces this opinion.*


The punishment due from the holy souls is expiated in two ways:

  •  either by the patient suffering of the poor prisoners themselves, or

  • by the good works of the faithful in their behalf

"That there is such a place (as Purgatory), and that the souls detained there can be assisted and relieved in their sufferings by the prayers or suffrages of the living, by their fasting, almsdeeds, and other good works, particularly by the oblation of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, is an article of faith founded on the Sacred Scripture, the tradition of the Fathers, the teaching of Councils, notably on that of the Council of Trent."* "In this the mercy and goodness of God shine conspicuous and demand our grateful acknowledgments, that He has granted to our frailty the privilege that one may satisfy for another. . . . Those who are gifted with divine grace may pay through others what is due to the divine justice, and thus we may be said in some measure to bear each other's burdens."*


The assistance which the living offer the dead, by whatever means it is obtained, falls under the general name of suffrages, Suffrages are divided into common and private. Common suffrages are those which are offered in behalf of the faithful, whether living or dead, by priests, or others in holy orders, as ministers of the Church; such as, celebrating Mass, saying the Divine Office, whether in choir or in private, leading processions, etc., in which they act in the person and name of the Church, and not as individual Christians. Private suffrages, on the other hand, are such as are performed by Christians as private individuals, whether alone or in company with others; as, prayers, fasting, almsdeeds, or any other meritorious work. There is this great difference between private and common suffrages, that, while the former derive their value from the holiness and devotion of the person performing them, the latter have their value from the dignity of the Church, in whose name and by whose authority they are offered.* As an evidence of this. we have the following from St. Liguori, in which he quotes the words of another saint in support of his own: "Many private prayers," says the saint, "do not equal in value only one prayer of the Divine Office, as being offered to God in the name of the whole Church, and in His own appointed words. Hence St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi says that in comparison with the Divine Office all other prayers and devotions are but of little merit and efficacy with God."*


With regard to the manner in which their effects are produced, suffrages are divided into three kinds:


  • the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,
  • prayers, and
  • works of penance -- as fasting, almsdeeds, pious pilgrimages, etc.


Prayer, although of such a nature as to satisfy for temporal punishment, is yet to be distinguished from other satisfactory works; for while the latter are satisfactory only, prayer assists the souls as a penitential exercise, and also as a work of impetration by which it supplicates God for the release of His holy prisoners. Supplication, or petition, is the proper object of prayer.


Indulgences are placed in the third class of these good works, with this very great difference, however, that while by fasting, almsdeeds, etc., we offer the merit of our own poor works in behalf of the souls, by Indulgences the merits of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin, and the Saints are applied by the Church herself to their relief.*


A word on each of these. Inasmuch as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the subject of this Essay, 1 shall say nothing of it in this place. Of prayer I may be equally silent; for every Christian is familiar with the many passages of Holy Writ in which our Divine Redeemer Himself has been pleased not only to extol its excellence, and promise it an infallible hearing, but also to enjoin it upon us as a duty; as, for example, when He says: "Amen, amen, I say to you: if you ask the Father anything in My Name, He will give it you. Hitherto, you have asked nothing in My Name. Ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full."*


In another place the Sacred Scripture sums up the advantages of good works in these comprehensive words:

"8 Prayer is good with fasting and alms more than to lay up treasures of gold: 9 For alms delivers from death, and the same is that which purges away sins, and makes finding mercy and life everlasting.."*

The following, from Fr. Maurel, will be sufficient for our present purpose to show the great value of' Indulgences, and the correct doctrine of their application to the holy souls in Purgatory: "These holy souls," says this learned divine, "can be aided and succored in, as well as totally released from, their pains by means of Indulgences. . . . If our prayers and good works, taken separately in themselves, are beneficial to the souls in Purgatory, are we not warranted in the belief that Indulgences, which are an application of the satisfaction of Christ, of the Blessed Virgin and Saints, will be much more profitable to them, since the Church herself makes this application? . . . The Church, however, does not apply Indulgences to the dead by way of judgment or absolution, as it does in the case of the living, but by way of suffrage, or intercession, or succor, or offering. Being no longer under her jurisdiction, as they are not subjects of her realm, but belong only to the empire of the Eternal King, she cannot release or deliver them directly from their pains, but only indirectly, that is to say, in consequence of an Indulgence gained by the living, and applied by there to the departed, the Church takes out of her Treasure a portion of the merits and satisfactions which may correspond to that Indulgence, and presenting it to God, supplicates Him to vouchsafe so much relief to the suffering souls. If, then, the Almighty accept the offering thus presented to Him by Holy Church, the souls in Purgatory, to whom the Indulgence shall have been applied, will receive either a total or partial remission of the temporal punishment which they would otherwise be obliged to undergo. And we have every reason to believe that He really does accept it. Is not the dogma of the Communion of Saints a guarantee for this belief? . . . Nevertheless, our Lord is not bound by any formal express promise to accept the offered price, and hence this acceptation depends altogether on His adorable will, and perhaps, also, on the amount of care which the dead may have taken during life to render themselves worthy of such relief. On the other hand, the person desirous to gain the Indulgence for the souls, may, through ignorance or forgetfulness, omit one or more of the prescribed conditions, or fulfil them negligently. Therefore, we have no absolute certainty that an Indulgence applied by us to such or such a soul in Purgatory has had its full effect."* The same author remarks that several distinguished theologians are of a different opinion, and maintain that the effect of Indulgences in regard to the souls in Purgatory is infallibly certain. Bellarmine styles this opinion a very pious one; but the other, set forth in the foregoing extracts, a well-grounded opinion.


In view of the great value of Indulgences and the fact that many of the prayers daily recited by pious Christians have been enriched with them, and especially with such as may be applied to the souls in Purgatory, it is advisable for all persons to make with the morning prayers of each day a general intention of gaining all the Indulgences they can during that day. It is we11 to apply them at the same time, if such should be the person's charity, to the souls in Purgatory, or to such of the souls as the piety of each person may prompt him to relieve. I regard this as very important, because great treasures might be laid up in this manner without additional tax upon Christians. The intention might be put in the form of a prayer, in words like these: O my God, I desire to gain all the Indulgences that are granted to the prayers and other pious exercises that I may perform this day, and to apply them to the souls in Purgatory, particularly to . . .


Another powerful means of assisting the souls in Purgatory is that of receiving Holy Communion in their behalf, of which Fr. Coleridge says:


"No act of religion can be imagined more fruitful of benefit to the soul, or of delight and joy to our Lord, than that of Holy Communion. It is the highest act of faith that me can perform; it expresses and embodies hope in its most perfect aspirations; it is the consummation and crown of charity, of personal devotion and love to our Lord, and to all who belong to Him in Heaven, on earth, and under the earth. . . . It cannot then be imagined, but that this act of Communion, so full of acts on our part which give pleasure to God, and so rich in the spiritual benefits which it brings home to the soul, must be an act which, if offered like any other act of religion, for the holy souls in Purgatory, must turn upon them very powerfully the streams of divine mercy and compassion. The histories of the saints contain more than a few instances in which the holy souls themselves have made it known that they are helped in a special manner by the devout Communions which are thus offered for them. It may be that, in many cases, they are conscious that a part of their detention in the prison of God's justice is owing to their coldness in receiving Holy Communion, or to their neglect to receive It as often as they might. Those then who help them in this way may use this thought as an additional motive for great fervor in preparation and devotion in reception, as well as for the frequency of the act of Communion itself."*


Speaking of the thousands whom our Divine Redeemer fed by the miraculous multiplication of the loaves, as related in the 15th chapter of St. Matthew, the same writer remarks as follows on a beautiful devotion in behalf of the faithful departed; which if it could not be practiced by whole cities or congregations, -- a work which does not indeed belong to the people to organize, -- it might at least be done by the communicants of separate families at the request of the heads of the families. Says Fr. Coleridge:


"No acts of our religion are more naturally accompanied by this circumstance of the union of large numbers for the purpose of devotion than the celebration of the Holy Mass and Holy Communion. The first is the celebration of the one Sacrifice offered on the Cross for the living and the dead. The second is the appointed symbol and testimony of our union through our Lord, with one another, the unity of heart and faith and visible government which is the mark of the Catholic Church, the representation to the world of the charity which unites all parts of that Church in Heaven, on earth, and in Purgatory. It seems therefore very right and seemly that the holy souls, as well as the angels and saints, should have their share in these solemnities of charity and unity. Now, we find that the Holy See has specially encouraged the devout practice of general Communions for the benefit of the holy departed by granting Indulgences to such Communions, and in other ways. It is the custom in some Catholic countries, or cities, to celebrate these general Communions once a month for this special intention. It cannot be questioned that a great act of such devotion on the part of large numbers of people is in itself very pleasing and honorable to God, who delights in seeing His children join together in worship and adoration, in prayer and praise and thanksgiving, that there is a special blessing in the Church on united and public devotion, and that very great graces are often attached to such acts, greater than might have been obtained if each person had performed the same devotion privately. . . . It would therefore be a devotion very much to the honor of God and to the consolation of the holy souls, as well as to the promotion of piety among the faithful on earth, to receive some such holy practices as are here spoken of, as, for instance, if the monthly general Communion for the relief of the sufferers in Purgatory were to be made a common practice in all large churches in great towns and elsewhere."*


Nor should we omit to call the reader's attention to the great relief that may be afforded to the holy souls by hearing Mass in their behalf, although there is no Indulgence attached to this pious exercise.* Father Coleridge, in the work above quoted, encourages the pious reader to this holy exercise in these words:


"It may also be well to remember that to hear Mass for the holy dead is an act of religion and devotion which is certain to benefit them very much. This is a great incentive to the hearing of as many Masses as possible, and with the special intention of hearing them for the holy souls. In this way those who are not priests may in some sort share their power as to helping those in Purgatory, and those who are too poor to be able to procure Masses for them may be able to supply the effect of their poverty by hearing many Masses for them. It is certain that to hear Mass is a very high act of religion, next to that of saying Mass; and that those who hear Mass do in truth offer it, according to their power, to the Eternal Father, which is the most excellent act of worship that can be performed. The priest in the Mass, when he turns to the people at the "Orate, fratres", calls it 'my and your Sacrifice,' and the hearers therefore honor God by offering that Holy Sacrifice, as well as the priest. . . . A Mass heard every day for the special intention of relieving the holy souls, may be in many cases not only a daily alms of immense value to the sufferers who are so dear to our Lord, but a source of immense benefits and great protection to ourselves, not only from its own intrinsic efficacy, but also on account of the numberless prayers which we may thus win from those for whom we perform this most blessed act of religion."*


But whatever may be said in praise of these various means of assisting the poor souls in Purgatory, -- and we cannot esteem them too highly, both on account of their intrinsic value and of the earnestness with which the Church recommends them to us, -- we must yet confess that they fall so far below the adorable Sacrifice of the Mass as not to be capable of entering into a comparison with it. St. Bonaventure says of the Mass:

"It is a memorial of all the love of God for man, and, as it were, a compendium of all His benefits."*

St. Leonard of Port Maurice says:

"That Sacrifice is the sum of Christianity, the soul of faith, the centre of the Catholic religion, wherein are beheld all her rites, all her ceremonies, and all her Sacraments; in fine, it is the compendium of all the good and beautiful to be found in the Church of God."*

We shall see further on what the same saint has to say of the Holy Sacrifice as a means of aiding the souls in Purgatory. The profound theologian and Doctor of the Church, St. Alphonsus Liguori, whose writings have received the special approbation of the Holy See, declares that "God Himself could not enable a man to perform anything greater than the celebration of Mass. . . . All the honor that angels by their adorations, and men by their good works, austerities, and even martyrdoms, have ever rendered or will ever render to God, never could, and never will, give Him so much glory as one single Mass; for, while the honor of all creatures is only finite, that which accrues to God from the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar is infinite, inasmuch as the Victim which is offered is of infinite value. The Mass, therefore, offers to God the greatest honor that can be given Him; subdues most triumphantly the power of Hell; affords the greatest relief to the suffering souls in Purgatory; appeases most efficaciously the wrath of God against sinners, and brings down the greatest blessings on mankind.*


But not to burden our pages with too many quotations, let the following extract from the decrees of the Council of Trent suffice, which, while it breathes the same spirit as those already given, serves also to confirm then:


"We must needs confess," say the Fathers, "that no other work can be performed by the faithful so holy and divine as this same tremendous mystery, wherein the life-giving Victim, by which we were reconciled to the Father, is daily immolated on the altar by the priests."*


The Mass contains in itself all the other works of mercy, and that too in their highest perfection. If there is question of prayers, what prayers can be equal to those of the Mass? if of alms, what alms could be greater than the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, which are here presented to the Eternal Father in behalf of His suffering children? if of Indulgences, by this Adorable sacrifice all the merits of our Divine Redeemer are laid before the throne of the Most High; if of Holy Communion, we have in the Mass a Communion offered in the name and by the authority of the Church; if of hearing Mass, it is certainly more profitable to have It celebrated: in fine, it is not in the power of mind to conceive nor tongue to declare the surpassing excellence of this Divine Sacrifice; God alone can tell its worth.


Such being the excellence of the Mass, I do not hesitate to say that it is the will of God not only that we should pray and perform other meritorious works in behalf of the dead, but also that, according to our ability, we should have Masses celebrated for the repose of their souls. Our Divine Redeemer has commanded us under the severest penalty -- that of not being numbered among His followers -- to love one another as He has loved us. Now, this love, it is needless to insist, is not to be confined to mere sentiment, but must find expression in works of charity in behalf of those in need. The poor souls in Purgatory languish for years in a lake of fire, suffering excruciating pain, and burning still more ardently with the desire of being united to God; and while it is a disputed question whether they can assist others or not by their prayers, it is certain they cannot help themselves. Can we then feel that we are fulfilling the whole will of a God whose charity was such that, being God, He yet died in torments for us while we were His enemies, in rebellion against Him, if we do not at least occasionally apply to the relief of our poor suffering brethren so powerful a remedy as the mystic Sacrifice of Jesus Christ to his Eternal Father, and the more especially as this can so easily be done? Or should we use only the less efficacious means, to the neglect of the more efficacious? I leave the reader to draw his own conclusion, and to form his resolution for the future accordingly.


Having given this general outline, I shall now pass on to a consideration of the principal motives which should influence every Christian to have as many Masses as possible celebrated for the repose of the souls of our suffering brethren, whether they are bound to him by the ties of relationship or only by those of a common faith.


1. All for Jesus, p. 385: It is remarked by Maineri, in his Life of St. Catharine of Genoa, as a curious coincidence, that the name Purgatory was first authoritatively given to the Intermediate State in 1254, by Innocent IV., who was of the house of Fieschi, the family of our Saint.

2. De Purgatorio L. II, cap. vi.

3. Maurel on Indulgences, p. 42.

4. Catechism of the Council of Trent, p. 272

5. Cursus Completus, vol. xvii, pp. 109, 110; vol. xviii, p. 1430

6. Sacerdos Sanctificatus, p. 128.

7. Cursus Completus, vol. xviii, p. 352.

8. John 16:23, 24

9. Tobias, 12:8,9.

10. Maurel on Indulgences, p. 44, 47.

11. The Prisoners of the King, pp 255-257.

12. The Prisoners of the King, pp 259-260.

13. Maurel on Indulgences, p. 139, 141.

14. The Prisoners of the King, pp 224-225.

15. De Instit., pars I, cap. xi.

16. The Hidden Treasure, p 23.

17. Sacerdos Sanctificatus, pp. 5,6.

18. Council of Trent, Session xxii.


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