Helpers of the Holy Souls Home banner
Helpers of the Holy Souls God's guest of Tomorrow:
Heaven can't wait!
Home Page Our Patron Purgatory Q&A Why we should Help Ways to Help Purgatory Corner Start your own
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
Introduction

Of the books that are offered to the public, not a few are the result of accident, or what appears to be accident; and this is especially true of the following unpretending Essay. Distressed at seeing the costly funerals and other needless expenses with which Catholics of even the poorer class honor the bodies of their deceased friends, while they almost wholly neglect their souls, I published a few articles in THE AVE MARIA, at the close of last year, on Masses for the Dead. Thinking little further of them, I was surprised by the receipt of a letter from a priest in one of our largest Eastern cities informing me that he purposed having them printed in pamphlet form for distribution among his people. Upon further inquiry, I found that the articles were better received than I had thought they deserved to be; and believing they might be made of still further benefit to the poor neglected prisoners of Jesus Christ, if printed in such a form as would bring them within the reach of a yet larger number of readers, I determined to rewrite the whole, with such alterations and additions as seemed expedient.

 

I need not enter in this place into the question of the surpassing excellence of the Adorable Sacrifice as a means of relieving our brethren of the Suffering Church, nor of the propriety of those who believe in the immortality of the soul, and the existence and nature of Purgatory, spending something for the relief both of the souls of those who have a special claim upon them, and also of the souls of the faithful departed in general. Did people spend one-fifth -- I might safely say one-tenth -- as much in Masses for the immortal souls as they do in empty pomp for the corruptible bodies of their dead, how much would not God be honored, the souls in Purgatory relieved, and those charitable Christians themselves benefited?

 

To induce Catholics to devote themselves more earnestly to this most excellent work, and that too in the most effective manner, I have here collected together, and briefly commented upon, the principal motives that should prompt them to have Masses, or at least more Masses, celebrated for the suffering souls in Purgatory.

 

Much of what is contained in the following pages is taken verbatim from other approved writers, and this is for two reasons.

 

First, because in a matter in which so much is involved in mystery, and in which the decrees of the Church are of so little assistance as a guide, I prefer to give the opinions of the learned, in their own words, rather than to attempt giving them in mine. All the authors quoted are such only as are entitled to the reader's entire confidence: St, Leonard of Port Maurice, St. Alphonsus Liguori, Cardinal Bellarmine, as well as Fathers Faber, Maurel, and Coleridge, have a reputation for precise and extensive erudition which time, so far from weakening, has tended rather to confirm.

 

Secondly, because I hope that the extracts here presented may so please some, at least, of my readers as to induce them to procure and read the works entire from which they are taken.

 

The reader must not be dissatisfied with the apparently little that can be stated with absolute certainty in regard to Purgatory; for, on the one hand, he will find upon reflection that this little contains very much; and on the other, he should remember the words of Cardinal Manning: "The mind of the Church is known not only by Pontiff's and Councils, but by the mind of the saints, by traditions of piety, and by customs of approved or permitted devotions."*

 

The aim of the present Essay is fully expressed in the title. It is not doctrinal, much less controversial: nor does it profess to treat of devotion to the souls in Purgatory in general; it is strictly confined to a statement and explanation of such motives as are calculated by their nature to impress upon the mind of the pious reader the importance, if not the necessity and the advantage, if not the duty, of having Masses, or at least more Masses, celebrated for the repose of the souls of our brethren of the Church Suffering. Much will doubtless be said which it is hoped will tend not only to foster devotion to the souls in general, but also to excite the faithful to particular practices in their behalf; but this will proceed rather from necessity than from the intention of the writer. Explanations and commentaries upon the teaching of the Church will be introduced in so far only as they are necessary to a proper understanding of the subject.

 

The question will naturally be asked: Why have I confined myself exclusively to Masses, and have not spoken of other devotions? And it will be the more pertinent, as devotion to the holy souls is so noble in itself, so pleasing to God, and so appropriate for Christians, that it should be urged by every consideration; yet Masses, although certainly the best means, are not within the reach of everyone.

 

I have confined myself to Masses, for various reasons, of which the following are the most cogent:

 

In the first place, books are not wanting which treat more or less fully of devotion to the souls in Purgatory, and which name many Indulgences that may be applied to them. Indeed, almost every prayer-book contains something on the subject. The faithful are also frequently instructed from the pulpit or in the confessional on devotion to the souls in Purgatory, and have some of the means pointed out by which they may be assisted; and, altogether, it is impossible for them to lose sight of the condition of the poor souls, or forget their duty of assisting them. And it is much to be regretted that Christians do not apply more of their good works to our dear suffering brethren, and especially that they do not gain more Indulgences applicable to them.

 

In the second place, the Mass, although incomparably the most efficacious means of assisting the suffering souls, is not, it is to be feared, sufficiently valued by the faithful in general; and, as a natural consequence, they do not have it celebrated as often as they should. This may appear to come from poverty, or a want of the means to pay the stipend, which is usually fixed in each diocese, to be given to the priest who celebrates the Mass. But I venture to say, and I hope to prove in the course of the following pages, that this excuse has not sufficient foundation in fact. That poverty is not the cause of this forgetfulness or neglect is clear from the fact that many of those who have Masses celebrated are as little blessed with worldly means as those are who do not; and also from this, that not a few of those who would urge the plea of poverty expend as much uselessly, or it may be sinfully, as would suffice to have a few Masses celebrated every year; and this spending is especially noticeable at funerals, when they prefer the honor of the perishable body to the relief of the immortal soul. And if they had but one Mass celebrated in the year, it would be productive of incalculable fruit for the honor and glory of God, the relief of the poor neglected souls, and for those who performed this act of Christian charity.

 

The real cause why more Masses are not celebrated, and why the Holy Sacrifice is not more highly valued as a means of relieving the holy souls; and, at the same time, the last and most cogent reason why I have written these pages and have confined myself strictly to Masses, is because pastors of souls do not, as a rule, sufficiently explain the value of Masses for the dead, nor urge upon their people with sufficient force and frequency the advantage and duty of having them celebrated more often for the repose of the souls of the faithful departed. Far would I be from criticizing or finding fault. These zealous priests are influenced by a good motive, -- although not the best, -- and in the secret of their own hearts they long to see their people come more promptly to the relief of the dear prisoners of Jesus Christ. Witness their own conduct. It is a rule all but universal that their daily Masses which are not celebrated for particular intentions are applied to the relief of the souls in Purgatory. But while they willingly offer their own free Masses, they hesitate to recommend to others the frequent celebration of the Holy Sacrifice for the same purpose, because, on the one hand, there is nothing for which the good priest feels greater repugnance than he does for uttering a word that might be understood to mean that he is fond of money. On the other hand, he knows that too many of even the more pious class of Christians permit the impression to fix itself on their minds, that, when he speaks of money at all, -- as he must at times, -- it is entirely for his own benefit. He feels that if he should speak of Masses for the dead, some one must of course say them, and he well knows how too many people will imagine, and perhaps state openly, that he wants to replenish his own treasury under the plea of succoring the souls in Purgatory; and the more so, as there is but one priest in the greater number of congregations. Hence pastors are for the most part content to speak in general terms of helping the suffering souls, leaving it to their hearers to interpret their remarks as piety or indifference may suggest. This Essay, it is hoped, will speak for therm, and plead, as they would wish to do, the cause of the poor neglected prisoners of Jesus Christ. Should it procure the release of but one soul, the author will feel that he has been only too amply rewarded for his labor.

 

1. Temporal Mission of the Holy Ghost, p 335.

 

Back to where I left offnext chapter