§ 40. What Amount of Punishment is Remitted by a Holy Mass?
218. It has been repeatedly stated in the course of these treatises, that the efficacy and value, that is, the internal efficiency of Holy Mass as a Sacrifice of propitiation and impetration, is infinite. The full price of our redemption, the inexhaustible treasure of atonement and merit gained for us by Christ on the cross are offered by Him continually to His Divine Father for the purpose of applying them to mankind. The Holy Sacrifice of Mass therefore contains in itself superabundant atonement for the cancellation of all sins and punishments, an all-sufficient price for obtaining innumerable graces^ and spiritual favors. Hence the atoning value of Holy Mass is. infinite. Nevertheless the efficacy of Holy Mass in its application to man is not unlimited, since even the efficacy of the sacrifice of the cross is limited to a certain extent, as the learned Suarez declares. The fruits of Holy Mass, in their application to man, are always limited as to their measure. Hence St. Thomas observes, "Although the power of Christ in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is infinite, yet the effect for which this sacrament is ordained is limited. For this reason the entire punishment of those detained in Purgatory is not remitted by one Mass, and the priest offering this Sacrifice is not absolved from all debt of atonement which he owes for his sins. Consequently it may sometimes happen that several Masses are required before full satisfaction is made for a sin."
219. Moreover the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass does not always produce so manifold nor so powerful an effect as the person for whom it is offered is capable of receiving. Its efficacy is restricted to a certain measure, though in particular cases the effects may be greater or less. This is demonstrated by the fact that the Church usually offers the Holy Sacrifice repeatedly to obtain a favor, for instance the release of a soul from Purgatory, the conversion of a sinner, or bodily health. If Holy Mass would produce its full effect in every case, one single application of this august Sacrifice would be sufficient to obtain the desired grace. The blessings derived from Holy Mass do not result entirely from its essence, nor from the spiritual disposition of the person for whom it is celebrated, although the latter considerably influences the measure of the blessings: the reason of this limited efficacy of Holy Mass—mark it well, Christian soul,—is to be found in the will of Christ. And why did He so ordain? The renowned theologian Sporer answers, "Christ, the Son of God, willed and ordained that a Sacrifice should be offered to Him, and that it should produce a certain and limited effect of atonement and intercession, to be determined by Him and applied according to the capacity of those offering it, in order that this sacrifice might be offered more frequently and more zealously."
220. St. Gregory relates that thirty Masses had to be said for a religious who had without permission retained a few gold coins. Constantia, a daughter of St. Elisabeth of Portugal, died soon after her marriage to the king of Castile. As soon as her mother was informed of her death, she hastened to join her husband who was in Cantarem. Presently a hermit asked for an audience; and he told them that their daughter Constantia had repeatedly appeared to him, stating that she had been sentenced to a long and painful Purgatory. But it had been promised to her that she would be released after a year, if Holy Mass was celebrated for her every day. The queen conferred with her husband, and he deemed it advisable to do what had been asked of them in so extraordinary a manner. Besides the king considered it not more than proper that a Christian father should have Masses said for his deceased daughter. Hence they resolved to act on the suggestion of the pious permit, and entrusted a saintly priest by the name of Mendez with the celebration of these Masses. At the close of the year, when the last Mass had been said, Constantia appeared to her mother, and told her that she had that day been released in consequence of these Masses, and that she was about to enter heaven.
221. The faithful who take a personal and active part in the celebration of the Sacrifice, who assist at it with devotion and thus share in its celebration, thereby gain a special and particular fruit, either through the action and qualification of the ministering agent, or through the Sacrifice itself in virtue of its divine efficacy. It is generally held by theologians that this special and particular fruit of the Sacrifice is granted without restriction or diminution to all persons present during the offering of it, without regard to their number ; every one individually receives the full and whole fruit of grace equivalent to his co-operation, his manner of offering, his piety and devotion.
222. But the case is different when we regard Holy Mass as a Sacrifice of impetration offered by the priest as Christ's agent. Here -the question presents itself: Does the Sacrifice, when offered for many, procure for every one individually the full and whole fruit; that is, does it procure just so much fruit as it would if it were offered for him alone ? or is the fruit distributed in such a manner among those for whom it is offered, that their part becomes less in proportion to the number of those who share in it ? The majority 4 of theologians are of the opinion—and this opinion is sustained by interior and exterior reasons—, that the fruits of the Sacrifice are distributed individually; and that they are therefore lessened in proportion as the number of participants increases to whom the priest by special intention applies them. This should not be forgotten when we cause the Holy Sacrifice to Be offered for one or more souls in Purgatory.
223. The Holy Souls, helplessly suffering in Purgatory, are greatly in need of Holy Mass, thereby to receive from divine justice a lessening of the duration and intensity of their torments. The Church teaches that Holy Mass aids the deceased in a special manner, more so than all other suffrages. Holy Mass aids them more than prayers and indulgences, more than fasting, alms-deeds and night-watches, more than works of charity and piety offered for them by virtue of the communion of saints. Holy Mass offered for them is never ineffectual. To what extent the Sacrifice of the Mass aids the Suffering Souls is beyond our cognition; for it has not been revealed to us what measure of benefit the Suffering Souls receive from this Sacrifice. Whether a soul is to be released more or less speedily from Purgatory is decided by Him whose justice and mercy are equally inscrutable. For this reason it is not superfluous, but rather necessary to cause the Holy Sacrifice to be celebrated repeatedly for one and the same soul, to render its admission to heavenly glory so much the surer. This applies even to the so-called privileged Mass by which besides the usual fruit of the Sacrifice a plenary indulgence is gained for the departed soul in virtue of a personal or local privilege of the altar; for even the application of such an indulgence, being granted for the deceased only by way of suffrage, is left wholly to the disposal of divine mercy.