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Preface: An Essay on Masses ...
Introduction
General Remarks
1st Motive: The Pains of Purgatory
2nd Motive: The Duration of ...
3rd Motive: The Condition of ...
4th Motive: The Number of Souls
5th Motive: The Honor/Glory of God
6th Motive: The Church Triumphant
7th Motive: Own Spiritual Advantage
8th Motive: Natural Affection
9th Motive: The Value of the Mass
Certain Practical Questions
The Eighth Motive — Natural Affection

Have pity on me, have pity on me, at least you my friends, because the hand of the Lord hath touched me -- Job 29:21

 

Although the arguments that have been brought forward in the course of the foregoing pages should be more than sufficient to prompt us to have Masses, or at least more Masses, celebrated for the repose of the souls in Purgatory, they do not imply that we should disregard the claims of natural affection. There are some souls who are bound to us by closer ties of affection, who have a stronger claim than others upon us, or to whom we are under greater obligations; and these are naturally entitled to our particular attention. Parents, children, brothers, sisters, spiritual guides, or other benefactors, have a special claim of their own on our suffrages; and the law of charity, so far from disregarding that claim, rather enforces it. Beyond this, we are free to assist those upon whom our charity or the bent of our devotion may prompt us to look with the greatest compassion. It would be impossible to state, much less to comment upon, the varieties of this natural or devotional inclination. Suffice it to say that so long as we act from motives of Christian charity and with a view of promoting the honor and glory of God, we are in danger of making no mistake, at least no serious mistake.

 

But let us reflect on the course commonly pursued by those who act from the promptings of natural affection in regard to the dying and the dead. There are three objects upon which their affection may centre: the life, the body, and the soul of the beloved one.

The life, however precious, must terminate at some not distant day; for "it is appointed unto men once to die." The body, though gifted with beauty of countenance, symmetry of form, and strength of limb, is destined to moulder in the tomb; 'for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return." But

 

"The soul, secured in her existence, smiles;
At the drawn dagger, and defies its point.
The stars shall fade away, the sun himself
Grow dim with age, and nature sink in years,
But thou shalt flourish in immortal youth,
Unhurt amidst the war of elements,
The wreck of matter, and the crush of worlds."

 

We cannot fail to perceive at a glance that while taking proper care of the life and the body, the soul should be the object of our most tender solicitude. Why then do we so often neglect the souls of our friends to minister to their bodies? Alas, we too often neglect our own souls to minister to the gratification of our bodies! Let me draw a picture, familiar indeed to all, but still worth drawing.

A person is taken sick, and although all is done that love and medical skill can suggest to prolong the precious life, it is to no purpose -- death claims the loved one for his own. Tears flow, and no one would be so heartless as to forbid this tribute of natural affection. A coffin or casket is provided, as costly as, and perhaps more costly than, the family can afford; notice of the funeral, with an invitation to the friends of the deceased to attend, appears in the daily papers; and when the time approaches a goodly train of carriages is drawn up in front of the house. Let us suppose there is a High Mass. An eligible spot has been secured in the cemetery, and the cortege moves from the church to the city of the dead.

What are those who occupy this long train of carriages doing, as they are borne to the cemetery and back? Are they reciting the Rosary for the repose of the departed soul, -- to every bead of which, when properly blessed, an Indulgence of one hundred days is attached, -- or are they talking of the last ball, or the next picnic or excursion? Reader, what are you accustomed to do on such occasions?

 

There is no greater folly than the costly funerals of the present day. It is a custom that exercises a tyranny over rich and poor alike. People will spend their money for a senseless display that cannot be abolished too soon, while they will often refuse the merest trifle for a Mass for the repose of the poor, tortured soul. I remember a poor widow coming to me one evening, four or five years ago, to beg a few cents to buy a loaf of bread for her starving children, "because," she said, "I gave the last dollar I had for a seat in a carriage at the funeral this afternoon." Had she neglected that act of vanity she would have been guilty of an unpardonable crime against a senseless custom; but had she given the dollar to have a Mass celebrated for the repose of the lately departed soul, the friends would, most probably, have failed to appreciate the charitable act. It is pride, not prayers, that please most people.

 

I have said that funerals, as they are generally conducted, are a meaningless folly; but they are worse. Few souls, as we have seen, enter Heaven without having spent a time in Purgatory. Now, let us suppose, for the sake of illustration, that a soul in Purgatory is permitted to see the pomp which surrounds the interment of its former body on earth: the costly casket, the long train of carriages filled with thoughtless occupants, the funeral discourse so framed as not to hint even remotely at his faults, perhaps his scandalous negligences or crimes, the eligible site in the cemetery, the self-gratulation of friends on the large funeral, and the prospective monument to mark the spot where the food of worms is buried deep to prevent it from infecting the air. What a sight for the burning, tortured soul! And we call this a fitting expression of our affection for the deceased!

 

Christian reader, reflect! A11 this is done for the perishable body, made from the slime of the earth; while the immortal spirit, the breath of the living God, is forced to look up from its lake of fire and contemplate the picture. This is but a supposition; for, in the mercy of God, the soul is ignorant of what transpires on earth, as St. Catharine of Genoa assures us, and is thus spared the additional torment which the folly and vanity of its weeping friends would inflict.

 

What has been done for the immortal soul? Death cannot relieve it; what has been done? Perhaps there was a High Mass; but I fear it will often prove a slender act of charity on the part of those who had it celebrated, if we deduct the part which they intended it should play in adding to the funeral pomp. Else, why do not people have a Low Mass on such occasions, when they cannot afford a High one? for all Masses are essentially the same. Could mockery be more painful than this? Were it done by the heathen, who have no knowledge of God and a future state, it might have a meaning, it might be pardoned; but among Christians, if they were what they should be, it would be totally inexplicable.

 

Considering the expense with which the funerals of even the poorest are usually attended, the plea of poverty cannot be urged in extenuation of our neglect of the dead. It is not unusual to see a funeral cost, even among the poorer class, from seventy-five to two hundred dollars, and frequently far more; and, at most, but five or ten of this, perhaps not one, has gone to the benefit of the soul. Custom has so enslaved people that those whose conscience upbraids them with their errors have not the moral courage to depart from the general usage. Yet, should it not be more consoling to bereaved relations to know that a Mass had been celebrated for the repose of the soul of their dear departed, than to know that one more person had sat in a carriage and talked nonsense in the funeral cortege? The reader must pardon me for using strong and plain language. I write to be understood, and to show the folly as well as the real uncharitableness of this abuse. If he is displeased on the first reading, let him reflect calmly and he will probably find that his feelings of displeasure arise, not from the over-drawing of a picture, but rather from the very truth of a narration which he is conscious he cannot deny. We are frequently displeased with the truth simply because it is the truth; and I feel confident that such will be the case here. To the true Christian, faith and not fashion must ever point out the line of duty. And, supposing that a person bears no relationship to the deceased, but is only a friend, I think I have furnished him with sufficient motives, judged by their own intrinsic weight, for having a Mass or more celebrated for the repose of the departed soul.

 

We must conclude that there is always means for having more Masses, and that there is never a fear of mistake or misapplication. But I have pursued this motive so far that I am loth to go further. The pious may wonder at me, and the indifferent may not read.

 

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