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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 Ninth Motive — The Inestimable Value and Efficacy of the Mass

These are they who are come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and have made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.-- Apocalypse 7:14

 

One motive alone remains to be urged, and this, the most powerful of all, is the inestimable value of the Adorable Sacrifice of the Mass, I have said that whatever motives could induce us to pray for the dead receive a thousand fold weight when urged in favor of having Masses celebrated for the repose of their souls; and however strong this expression may at first sight appear, its truth will be clear as day upon a moment's reflection. What is the prayer of a creature? What are creatures? How little in the sight of God! How far are we, for example, beneath the saints, and how immeasurably much are they inferior to the ever-blessed Mary? Yet Mary, the splendor of whose glory we grow dizzy in contemplating, is separated from God not by a distance that can be measured or computed -- she is infinitely beneath Him. He is the Creator; she is but a creature. Now, if the distance between Mary and God is infinite, and that between the saints and her all but immeasurable, and if we, so far from being saints, must confess ourselves sinners more or less displeasing to God, how little weight must our prayers have when compared with those of the Mother of Jesus Christ! God never despises the prayer of the contrite and humble heart, and the beggar can at any moment obtain an audience with the King of Heaven and have his petition heard and granted. But, speaking by way of comparison, as I do at present, must we not exclaim with the royal prophet: "What is man that Thou art mindful of him?" God in His goodness accepts his homage and encourages him to pray with confidence, trusting in the promises of Jesus Christ; but what are the prayers of Heaven and earth united, when compared with one single Mass, although offered under the shadow of a tree in the wilds of Africa? In prayer, man petitions for man; in the Mass, Jesus Christ, who is God, equal to the Father, presents the petition.

 

Hear St. Alphonsus Liguori on the excellence of the Mass:

As the Passion of Jesus Christ was sufficient to save the whole world, so is a single Mass sufficient to save it."*

 

And again (page 62),

 

In every Mass is renewed the work of redemption, so that if Jesus had never died on the cross, the celebration of a single Mass would obtain for the world the same benefits as were obtained by the death of our Redeemer.

 

And finally (page 65),

 

A single Mass gives more honor to God than can ever be given to Him by all the prayers and austerities of the saints, all the labors and fatigues of the Apostles, all the torments of the martyrs, and all the adoration's of the Seraphim, and of the Mother of God.

 

Could language be stronger than this? Could those who mourn the death of a dear one have a greater consolation than to know that it, is in their power to apply to the relief of that loved one the mystic Sacrifice of Jesus Christ to His Eternal Father?

 

In his excellent work, The Hidden Treasure, which should be in the hands of every Catholic and should be attentively studied, Saint, Leonard of Port Maurice says of the Mass:

 

Imagine the case, that our Lord Jesus Christ had not suffered anything on Calvary, and in place of His bloody Sacrifice of the Cross, had solely instituted Mass for our redemption, with an express command that in all the world it should only be celebrated once. Well, then, had this been the case, that single Mass, celebrated by the poorest priest in the world, would have been sufficient, considered in Itself, and so far as Its own share in the work is concerned, to win from God the salvation of all men. Yes; one single Mass, taking the case imagined above, might thus have been made to obtain the conversion of all Mahometans, all heretics, all schismatics -- in fine, of all unbelievers, and also that of all bad Christians; closing the gates of Hell, and emptying Purgatory of all the souls there obtaining purification."*

 

These extracts, and many others of a like tenor that might be adduced, although expressed in strong language, yet breathe the spirit of the Church, and are in perfect harmony with her sacred decrees upon these subjects, as the following from the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent will show:

 

"And forasmuch as, in this divine Sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass," say the Fathers, "that same Christ is contained and immolated in an unbloody manner, who once offered Himself in a bloody manner on the altar of the Cross: the holy synod teaches that this Sacrifice is truly propitiatory. . . . For the Lord, appeased by the oblation, thereof, and granting the gift of penitence, forgives even heinous crimes and sins. For the Victim is one and the same -- the same now offering by the ministry of priests, who then offered Himself on the Cross, the manner alone of offering being different. The fruits indeed of which oblation, of the bloody one to wit, are received most plentifully through this unbloody one. . . . Wherefore, not only for the sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities of the faithful who are living, but also for those who are departed in Christ, and who are not as yet fully purified, is it rightly offered, agreeably to a tradition of the Apostles."*

 

And again,

 

"If any one saith that the Sacrifice of the Mass is only a Sacrifice of praise and of thanksgiving; or that it is a bare commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the Cross, but not a propitiatory Sacrifice; or, . . . that it ought not to be offered for the living and the dead, for sins, pains, satisfactions, and other necessities: let him be anathema.*

 

The Catechism prepared by order of the Council for the use of pastors in instructing their people, and which embodies the doctrine of that august assembly, expresses the same doctrine in yet plainer language:

 

"We therefore confess," says the Catechism, "that the Sacrifice of the Mass is one and the same Sacrifice with that of the Cross; the Victim is one and the same, Christ Jesus, who offered Himself once only a bloody Sacrifice on the altar of the Cross. The bloody and unbloody Victim is still one and the same, and the oblation of the Cross is still renewed in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, in obedience to the command of our Lord: 'This do for a commemoration of Me.' The Priest is also the same, Christ our Lord; the ministers who offer this Sacrifice consecrate the holy mysteries not in their own, but in the person of Christ. This the words of consecration declare; the priest does not say: 'This is the Body of Christ,' but, 'This is My Body': and thus invested with the character of Christ, he changes the substance of the bread and wine into the substance of His real Body and Blood."*

 

The Mass itself expresses the same idea, and carries the whole authority of the Church with it, which has prepared her sacred formulas and has enjoined their strict observance on all in virtue of holy obedience. Let us enter a Church; no matter how humble, it will still not be so lowly as the stable at Bethlehem, though about to be honored by the same stupendous mystery. The priest clad in the sacred vestments approaches the Altar and proceeds with the celebration of Mass. Soon the bread and wine are presented on the altar, and the priest, offering the host, says: "Accept, O holy Father, Almighty, Eternal God, this immaculate Host . . . for all faithful Christians, both living and dead, that it may be profitable for my own and their salvation." In offering the chalice, he says: "We offer unto Thee, O Lord, the chalice of salvation, beseeching Thy clemency that it may ascend . . . for our salvation and that of the whole world." In these words we learn the greatness of this divine Sacrifice; it is for the priest's salvation and for that of the whole world. But, remembering the words of the Saints already quoted, let us await the awful moment of Consecration; that moment for which, as St. John l tells us, the angels themselves anxiously await. Here we perceive the true character of the priest. In imitation of his divine Master, whose command, "Do this in commemoration of Me," he has received, he takes bread into his hands, raises his eyes to Heaven, and having returned thanks to the Eternal Father, pronounces the words of consecration, words to which Jesus Christ renders obedience by descending upon the altar, and concealing His Divinity and Humanity under the humble form of the Sacred Host. The bread and wine have become the Body and Blood of Christ, not only to be the food of man, but also to be his advocate before the throne of God the Father. From this we learn that all the words of Saints, of Councils, and of Popes must ever fall short of expressing the infinite greatness and value of the Sacrifice of the Mass. None but God can tell its worth. A God is the real priest, a God is the victim, a God is man's intercessor. Can the Father refuse any grace, either for the living or the dead, to the prayer of that beloved Son in whom He is always well pleased?

 

Having said so much of the value and dignity of the adorable Sacrifice of the Mass considered in itself, we shall now consider its efficacy as a means of relieving our dear suffering brethren in Purgatory. On this point St. Leonard of Port Maurice has the following:

 

"I have not by mere chance dropped the expression, that one Mass alone, so far as itself is concerned, and in the sense of its own intrinsic value, is sufficient to empty Purgatory of all the souls in process of purification, and place them in holy Paradise. For this Divine Sacrifice not only avails for the souls of the dead, as a propitiatory and satisfactory of their penance, but it also assists as a great act of supplication for them, conformably, you see, to the custom of the Church, which not only offers Mass for the souls that are being purified, but prays during the Sacrifice for their liberation."*

 

Although I have already dwelt at considerable length on some of the principal motives and considerations that should induce Christians to pray, and especially to have the Holy Sacrifice offered for the poor souls, I shall make no apology for adding the words of our Saint which immediately follow the passage above quoted; and should the same idea, or even the same words be repeated, it will not be in vain, if a deeper and more lasting impression is made on the mind of the reader. The words of a Saint carry with them a force and a blessing all their own, and should be read with respect, and attentively pondered.

 

"In order, then," continues the saintly writer, "that you may be stirred to compassion for the holy souls, know that the fire by which they are covered is one so devouring that, according to the opinion of Saint Gregory, it is no less so than that of Hell (Dial., 1. I, c. 131) operating as the instrument of divine justice with such force as to render their pains insupportable, greater than all the possible martyrdoms that can be witnessed or felt, or even imagined here below. Still more than all this, the pain of loss afflicts them, because, deprived as they are of the beautiful vision of God, they, as the Angelic Doctor says (in Dist. 12, article I), experience an intolerable passion, an intense and vivid desire to behold the Supreme Good, and this is not permitted to them. Enter here into yourself and ponder. If you should see your father or your mother on the point of being drowned, and if to save them would not cost you more than the stretching out of your hand, would not you feel bound by every law of charity and of justice to extend that hand to aid them? How then? You behold with the eye of faith so many poor souls, and, perhaps, your nearest and dearest in a lake of flame, and you will not endure a little inconvenience in order to attend devoutly, for their help, one single Mass! What sort of a heart is yours? I do not doubt that Holy Mass not only shortens their pains, but also extends great immediate relief to these poor souls. It has been thought by some, that while Mass is being celebrated for a soul, the fire, otherwise most devouring, suspends its rigor, and no pain is suffered by that soul during all the time that the Holy Sacrifice proceeds. We may well believe, at least, that at every Mass many souls issue forth from Purgatory, and fly to holy Paradise. Add to this consideration, that the charity which you exercise towards the poor souls under purification will all redound to your own good."*

 

To these remarks I shall add the following from Father Coleridge:

 

"Very few words," he writes, "will be enough to remind us of the efficacy of this Sacrifice for the relief of the holy souls. All Catholics know that in that Sacrifice the merits of the Sacrifice of the Cross are offered to the Eternal Father, and that it thus presents to Him a satisfaction in itself infinitely greater than any debt which those souls can owe to His divine justice. These holy souls are a part of the Church, and when her priests are ordained they receive the power of offering the Sacrifice for the living and the dead. St. Anthony or Padua in his sermon 'In Caena Domini', -- on the Last Supper, -- tells us that the division of the Sacred Host into three parts, which is made by the priest before his Communion, signifies the three parts of the Church, the blessed in Heaven, the living on earth, and the dead; and St. Thomas adds that the Mass has a threefold effect:

  1. forgiving sins in this world,
  2. alleviating pain in Purgatory, and
  3. increasing glory in Heaven.

Many texts and figures in Holy Scripture are applied in this meaning by the Fathers and Saints. Theologians tell us that the temporal punishment due to sin is directly remitted by the Holy Sacrifice, and that this is the tradition of the Apostles. They tell us that this Sacrifice is the most powerful means of all that we possess for satisfaction, as the Council of Trent lays down that the souls in Purgatory are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but chiefly by the acceptable Sacrifice of the Altar. Indeed, the chief fruit of the Holy Sacrifice is said to be that of satisfaction: 'for, as sacrifice, especially that of the Cross, has the power given it of satisfying for the punishment due to our sins, so this unbloody Sacrifice, which is a living image of that bloody Sacrifice, is properly and directly instituted for the application to us "ex opere operato" [that' is, by its own inherent power, independently of the ho1iness of the minister who offers it] of the fruit of satisfaction, so that, as they say in the schools, what is done in that first Sacrifice by way of sufficiency, is wrought in this other by way of efficiency.' Again, some great theologians hold that the application which is derived from this Sacrifice benefits the holy dead "ex opere operato", and by a law of justice, while other things, such as Indulgences, and the application of our good works, benefit them by way of suffrage, that is, out of the mercy and liberality of God, who accepts them for that purpose, An argument for this opinion is based on the words of ordination, above mentioned, and on the statements of Councils and Fathers, that the Adorable Sacrifice is to be offered for the dead in the same way as for the living."*

 

It is unnecessary to adduce further evidence to prove the excellence of the Mass when applied to the relief of the souls in Purgatory. It has the same power when offered for the dead as when offered for the living; and its effects are more certain to follow, for the holy souls, being confirmed in the grace and friendship of God, can place no obstacle to the workings of His grace, as the living can and unhappily too often do. Let the following authoritative teaching of the Church on this point suffice.

 

"The pastor will teach that such is the efficacy of this Sacrifice that its benefits extend not only to the celebrant and communicant, but also to all the faithful, whether living, or numbered amongst those who have died in the Lord, but whose sins have not yet been fully expiated. According to Apostolic tradition the most authentic, it is not less available when offered for them than when offered in atonement for the sins, in alleviation of the punishments, the satisfactions, the calamities, or for the relief of the necessities of the living."*

 

The decrees of the same General Council are still more explicit. Say the Fathers:

 

"The Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Ghost, has, from the sacred writings, and the ancient tradition of the Fathers, taught in sacred Councils, and very recently in this Ecumenical Synod, that there is a Purgatory, and that the souls there detained are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but principally by the acceptable Sacrifice of the Altar."*

 

Two important questions here present themselves, in the answer to which the reader cannot but be deeply interested:

 

What, precisely, are the sources of the fruits of the Mass? and
How are these fruits applied to the relief of the souls of the faithful departed?

 

In reply to the first of these questions we may state that the fruits of the Holy Sacrifice proceed from two sources: from the Mass considered in itself, and from it considered in its minister. As regards the first: the Mass, as a Sacrifice, by the power which Christ gave it as the supreme act of religion and worship of God, entirely independent of the dignity or holiness of the minister by whom it is offered, is infinitely pleasing to God. For inasmuch as Christ is the real Priest and Victim, who offers Himself to His Eternal Father, the Holy Sacrifice has a power and efficacy inherent in it over which the celebrant has no control; it must produce certain effects by the very force of its institution, which no power can hinder, and which infallibly follow its celebration. This it is necessary for us to remember; for however clear may be the teaching of our holy Faith, and however firmly we may believe it, there is yet reason to fear that in many cases familiarity may have tended to lessen our practical esteem and appreciation of this tremendous Sacrifice. The celebrant has, it is true, much to do with certain fruits of the Mass, but not with this one. But of that presently. You enter a church, no matter where -- for the Catholic is always at home in the house of his God; Mass begins; it matters not by whom it is celebrated, nor whether it is a Low, or High, or Pontifical Mass, nor whether it is celebrated in black vestments or in one of the other colors; as a Mass, it is always essentially the same, although in certain ceremonies another minor particulars, of which we have yet to speak, one Mass may differ from another.

 

We may go further and say, although not without a shudder and a feeling of pain, that, so far as the essence of the Mass is concerned, it matters not whether the celebrant is in the state of grace or in the state of sin; should he approach the altar with the foul stain of sin upon his soul, his sacrilege would be such as to make angels weep; but just as the rays of the sun fall upon the foulest morass without themselves being effected by its foulness, so does the Adorable Victim remain undefiled by the unworthiness of His minister. The natural respect of persons that we find it almost impossible to conceal, renders it necessary for us to be told that. the validity of the consecration, and consequently that of the Sacrifice itself, does not in any way depend on the worthiness or unworthiness of the celebrant; provided he does what the Church requires him to do, his Sacrifice is in itself perfect, although he receives his condemnation instead of an inestimable blessing in its celebration. This effect which the Holy Sacrifice produces of itself, and independently of the dignity or holiness of the celebrant, proceeds, as theologians say, "ex opere operato", or, from that which is done.

 

But it will be of advantage to us to consider this fruit or effect of the Mass a little more closely. Many theologians hold that neither the priest in so far as he offers the Holy Sacrifice, nor the people in so far as they unite with him in offering it, partake of this fruit; but in so far only as it is offered for them. The Mass was instituted to be offered for men, and is an application to them of the fruits of the great Sacrifice of the Cross; hence its fruits, as a Sacrifice, are received by those only for whom it is offered.

 

It has ever been the constant belief of Catholics that the Mass has these infallible and determined effects: the remission of the temporal punishment due for sins already forgiven, or the grace to obtain the remission of sins committed; unless the person for whom it is offered opposes an obstacle to the application of these fruits. And here we are reminded of the advantage of having the Holy Sacrifice offered for the souls in Purgatory -- who, being the friends of God, and unlike sinners on earth, can place no obstacle in the way of the most perfect operation of the fruits of the Mass.

 

But as regards the impetratory, or supplicatory power of the Mass, daily experience proves that it is not infallible; for man does not receive all the favors for which he asks. This arises out of the very nature of a petition, which necessarily presupposes the freedom of the one petitioned to grant or withhold the desired favor. With his limited knowledge man frequently asks for what would conduce neither to the honor and glory of God nor to his own good; instead of which God grants some other favor that is more expedient. Here again we see the advantage of Masses for the dead, for we can be absolutely certain that the liberation of these holy souls will redound to the honor and glory of God and their own good.

 

As regards the second source of the fruits or efficacy of the Mass: although in the Holy Sacrifice our divine Redeemer is both the Priest and the Victim, it has pleased Him to institute the Mass in such a manner that the ministry of man is necessary for its celebration. It is also accompanied with certain prayers which the celebrant addresses to God in the same manner as other prayers are addressed to Him; and which besides the value they have from their connection with the Holy Sacrifice, derive, like other prayers, a force or efficacy from the habitual holiness of the celebrant, and the actual devotion with which he recites them. This is what theologians call the effect of the Sacrifice "ex opere operantis", or that which proceeds from the person who officiates. From this point of view it may be truly said -- although we must understand well in what sense we say it -- that the Mass of one priest may be more efficacious than that of another.

 

In answering our second question, the application of the fruits of the Holy Sacrifice to the relief of the souls in Purgatory, we must remember on the one hand the uncertainty that shrouds all things relating to the land beyond the grave; and, on the other, the very limited extent to which positive decrees of the Church serve as a guide. The Church has no jurisdiction over the souls in Purgatory, and hence whatever she does for their relief, whether it be by works of satisfaction or of impetration, is applied by way of suffrage or petition, leaving it to an A1l-just and All-merciful God to determine to what precise extent our good works, of whatever kind, shall afford relief. Nor could our relation with the holy souls be placed in more favorable circumstances, for the whole history of God's dealings with man is but an accumulation of evidence that His mercies are above all His works. Indeed all that we do is in some measure conditional; for we do not know with certainty whether the soul that we wish to assist is in Purgatory at all or not; it may be in Heaven, or it may, unhappily, be lost.

 

But if the Mass is a Sacrifice of infinite value, should it not obtain unlimited favors? This is a question of great importance in its relation to our subject, and I shall endeavor to answer it as clearly as the technical terms necessary to be used will permit.

 

Although many theologians are of opinion that the Mass has a value or efficacy intensively infinite, because it is substantially the same Sacrifice as that of the Cross -- the Body and Blood of Christ being the same, and being of infinite value, and the same Christ, the principal Priest, being a Person of infinite dignity -- yet the more certain and common opinion is that it is of but finite efficacy, The principal argument in support of this opinion is deduced from the will of our divine Saviour, who in instituting the Holy Sacrifice was not pleased to give it an unlimited efficacy or power of satisfying the justice of God for the debts due His divine Majesty. Another argument is founded on this, that in order to have a Sacrifice of infinite efficacy it is necessary that not only the Victim and the principal Priest, Jesus Christ, should be infinite, but also that the celebrant, through whose immediate instrumentality the Mass is offered, should also be gifted with infinity. But the priest is a finite being: hence his Sacrifice, as far as regards its actual efficacy, is also limited. In this particular the Mass differs from the Sacrifice of the Cross, which was offered by Christ without the mediation of a finite priest. Another argument for this opinion is the common consent of the faithful, who are accustomed to have the Holy Sacrifice offered more than once for the same object, which would be unnecessary if the Mass was of unlimited application. We must then conclude that the fruit of the Mass as applied to us, or by us to the souls in Purgatory, is of only limited efficacy. All this, however, is to be understood as applying to the Mass only as a means of satisfying the debts due from man to the divine Justice.

 

For, as regards the impetrative or supplicatory power of the Mass, it is acknowledged by all to be infinite, because this consists in the intrinsic excellence of the Mass itself as a means of moving God to grant favors asked; and if He does not always grant them, that does not follow from a defect of the Mass, but from the inexpediency of that which is asked. This unlimited power is expressed in the Mass itself, which the priest is required, in the words of the offering of the chalice, to celebrate "for his own salvation, and for that of the whole world." The whole question regarding the efficacy of the Holy Sacrifice is expressed more briefly and clearly in this formula: The Mass is of infinite value considered in itself, but is of only limited application to man.

 

Still another question here presents itself: Has the Mass an infinite value or efficacy in the sense that if it is offered for many, each will receive as plentifully of its fruits as if it were offered for but one? Or, as theologians say, is the value or efficacy of the Mass of infinite extension? In order to answer this question it is necessary to distinguish between the different fruits of the Mass. Of these there are three :the general, the special, and the intermediate fruit.

 

The first, or general fruit, is shared in by all the living and dead, because the Mass is offered in general for all the living and dead, as is expressed in the Canon, in which the celebrant is required to make a general commemoration for all, besides the special commemoration for the person or object in whose behalf the Mass is offered. But whether this fruit is one of satisfaction or only of impetration is a disputed question among theologians. The second, or special fruit, is that which the celebrant receives as a public minister of the Church, and which he cannot, even if he wished, communicate to anyone else. The third, or intermediate fruit, is that which the person receives for whom the Mass is offered. This is the fruit which especially concerns us here; for it is that over which those have control who procure a Mass for themselves or others, and which they can apply according to their intention, although that intention may not be known even to the celebrant. It is enough for a person to form an intention and then request the priest to celebrate a Mass according to that intention, without it being necessary to tell him what it is. The existence and the application of this fruit is deduced from the very nature of the Holy Sacrifice, which is instituted to be offered for men, and which consequently benefits those especially for whom especially it is offered. But it is the common opinion of theologians that this fruit is not of infinite extension, and that, consequently, if the Mass is offered for many, each will receive less of its fruits than if it were offered for but one or a few.

 

To sum up, then, we have learned that the Holy Sacrifice produces certain fruits of itself as a Sacrifice, independently of the dignity, holiness and devotion of the celebrant; and that it produces certain other fruits that result from the disposition of him who offers it. These fruits, or this effective power of the Mass, is of such a nature as both to satisfy for temporal punishment and to supplicate for graces; or, more briefly, it is both satisfactory and impetratory. It is, moreover, of three kinds: general, or for the whole Church in this world and in the next; special, or for the celebrant alone; and intermediate, or for those, whether living or dead, for whom it is especially offered. Finally, since the Church has no jurisdiction over Purgatory, the fruits of the Mass, whether satisfactory or impetratory, are applied to the souls detained there by way of suffrage; that is, the faithful have the Holy Sacrifice offered for such of the dead as they wish to assist, and leave it to the good pleasure of God to apply its fruits to the poor souls in the measure it shall please His infinite mercy and justice. But if the reader inquires after the exact measure of the assistance afforded to the dear souls by the Holy Sacrifice, I can only refer him to the words of the Saints and Doctors of the Church already quoted, and add that this assistance, although not absolutely infinite, is yet far beyond the reach of human comprehension or calculation.

 

It is but just to state that much of what is contained in the last few pages is taken from the excellent summary of the fruits, etc., of the Mass found in the Manuale Ordinandorum, pp. 135 and following.


1. Sacerdos Sanctificatus, p. 7.

2. The Hidden Treasure, p. 60.

3. Council of Trent, Session 22, Chap. 2.

4. Council of Trent, Session 22, Canon 3.

5. Catechism of the Council of Trent, pp. 232, 233.

6. The Hidden Treasure, p. 61-62.

7. The Hidden Treasure, p. 61, 62.

8. The Prisoners of the King, pp 219-221.

9. Catechism of the Council of Trent, pp. 233.

10. Council of Trent, Session 25, Decree concerning Purgatory.

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