There are two blocks of fascinating information that very, very few Catholics are aware of. The first is some seldom explained theological information regarding the benefits of Masses offered for deceased persons. The second block of information includes some rarely explained benefits that the living can obtain for themselves by devout attendance at Mass.
As you read this, don’t be surprised to find yourself surprised…
But first—not too surprising is the fact that through the centuries there have been literally thousands of earthly apparitions of souls in purgatory; their most common and urgent plea is for prayer for them, but especially to arrange to have Masses offered for them to diminish the duration and intensity of their suffering—which is an extremely intense but frustrated mystical love-hunger for the vision of God—an incandescent love-hunger ignited at the moment of death and described biblically in the Song of Songs, 8:6. This consoling appraisal of Mass for the dead is supported, not just by private revelations, but also by sacred tradition, by pristine Church teaching, and is alluded to, even in ancient catacomb inscriptions.
Any prayer, but especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, when offered for any or all souls in purgatory, is appreciated far, far more than a starving person appreciates a banquet of delicious food. It exceeds our imagining!
But here’s the rub: In spite of countless private revelations to visionaries, and even many apparitions of souls in purgatory about the value of Masses for the dead—supported by centuries of Church teaching—some further revelations and Church teachings are even more significant—namely, Masses offered for still-living persons (including yourself) are more beneficial than Masses offered for deceased persons.
Masses for the dead will provide for them a God-assigned “indulgence” (a curtailing of the duration and/ or intensity of purgatorial suffering). But if Mass is offered as intercession for persons while still alive and in the state of grace—i.e., no unrepented serious sin (1 John 5:16), these living persons receive three added benefits not available to the dead, namely:
1) Increase of merit (assigned heavenly joy and glory) forever—CCC 2010).
2) Added sanctifying grace (a deeper sharing in the life of God—2 Pet. 1:4).
3) Actual graces (conscience-nudges to do good and avoid evil—CCC 2000),
The dead cannot “grow spiritually” Their level of holiness and resultant reward can be increased only before death: “Wherever the tree falls, there it will lie,” as Solomon proverbialized. The state of one’s soul at death “decides its ultimate destiny, as the Catechism (1013) reminds us, for that’s when individual judgment occurs (Heb. 9:27), to be reaffirmed publicly at the Last global Judgment (Matt. 25:46).
Hence, while a Mass offered for a deceased person can provide great relief, a Mass offered for a living person can provide great growth. Both ways of applying the Mass are high-level acts of the virtue of charity. Often the Lord lets me see the spiritual benefits in many of my friends who ask me to celebrate Mass for their loved ones, living and dead. (Furthermore, their stipend offering is used to help the poor of our missions overseas.)
A great Doctor of the Church, St. Anselm, conjectured that a single Mass offered for a person while alive may be worth more than a thousand offered for that person after death—although it is true that even one Mass for a deceased person is enormously helpful to that soul.
St. Leonard of Port Maurice supports this conjecture of St. Anselm, saying that one Mass offered for a living person is more profitable than many Masses offered for that same person post mortem.
Finally, a papal pronouncement formulates the opinion of these saints more definitively: Pope Benedict XV (not to be confused with Pope Benedict XVI) proclaimed, “The holy Mass is of greater profit if offered for a person during their lifetime, than when celebrated for that soul’s relief after death.”
The second block of seldom-known truths has to do with the manner of attending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Jesus himself revealed to St. Gertrude that for each Mass that we attend, not routinely or casually, but with fervent devotion, at least one saint will be sent from heaven to comfort and support us spiritually at the hour of our death.
St. John Vianney affirmed that if we could see the spiritual value available to us from even one Mass fervently attended we would die of joy.
Blessed Pope Paul VI declared that “the Mass is the most perfect form of prayer.” He added that attending Mass without devoutly receiving Communion is like having a beautiful ring without the diamond in its setting. St. Padre Pio, the stigmatist priest, said that the world could exist more easily without the sun than the kingdom of God could exist without the Mass.
On one occasion, when St. Theresa of Avila was in deep contemplation and overwhelmed with the most profound spiritual peace and joy, she asked the Lord, “How can anyone possibly thank you for your infinite goodness?” Jesus replied, “By attending even one Mass with deepest love and fervor”; (The Greek word for “Eucharist” connotes “thanksgiving for a ‘Good Gift’”).
Let us revel in these beautiful but seldom proclaimed and seldom appreciated truths regarding the celebration of the Eucharist. But don’t stop at the point of fascination; let your fascination be ennobled with implementation.
We are all victims of routinism in our regular activities, especially regular liturgical prayer. Even priests (perhaps especially priests?) frequently slip into a mechanical way of practicing their sacred ministry; they may lose their fervor in performing even the most sacred actions, such as giving confessional absolution or blessing objects, but especially in celebrating Mass. It would help them if they were graciously reminded of the consoling truths mentioned above—perhaps if and when you arrange to have Masses offered for them. Remember all living and deceased priests who have baptized, absolved, or counseled you or your family members, and those who or performed your wedding. Place them all in the Heart of Jesus, in his Eucharistic Presence.
Never miss a Sunday Mass without a truly serious reason. Learn to appreciate and “live” the Mass more and more each time you attend one. You’ll soon find that every Mass will bless you out of your socks.
Claretian Teaching Ministry