Monday, 6 April 2015
The Condition of the Suffering souls in Purgatory, by Rev. John A. Nageleisen. On the Means of Relieving the Suffering Souls. Part 26.
§ 42. (i) The Relative Value of One High Mass and Five Private Masses.
234. We remarked before that by a Holy Mass not the whole, but only a part of our debts or punishments is cancelled; for in its application to us the value of a Mass is limited. A well may be ever so deep and filled entirely with water, nevertheless the quantity of water we draw depends on the capacity of the vessel we use for drawing; but the oftener we draw, the more water we get. The same is true with regard to Holy Mass: the oftener we assist devoutly at Mass, the greater will become our store of merit, the more debts will be cancelled for us, and the greater will be our glory in heaven. The vessels with which water is drawn from the well may differ as to their capacity, and therefore one may hold more water than another. In like manner, the more devout and better disposed we are when assisting at Mass, and the greater in general our esteem for it is, the more fruit will we derive from the Holy Sacrifice. If we bring to the well a vessel of extraordinary capacity, One holding more water than its owner is willing that we should draw at one time, he will tell us to come oftener instead of drawing so much at once. Our Divine Savior acts similarly with regard to the Holy Sacrifice of Mass. It is His will that we should come again and again, drawing every time a new supply of grace from this inexhaustible treasury.
235. The sources from which the fruits of Holy Mass issue are manifold. They may result either from the divine efficacy of the Sacrifice itself, or from the Church as being the mystical body of Christ, or from the spiritual state of the minister who offers it. When we refer in general and without precise determination of our meaning to the fruit of the Holy Sacrifice of Mass, we refer above all to that fruit which originates solely and directly in Christ and in His infinite merits, and which is therefore the most copious, the most certain, the essential and real fruit of the Sacrifice. In the second place our attention is directed to the value and efficacy of Mass inasmuch as its celebration is an act of the entire Church; or in other words, inasmuch as the priest celebrates it in the name of and commissioned by the Church. In the third place the value and efficacy of the Mass is to be considered inasmuch as its celebration is a personal good work of the sacrificing priest and the assisting faithful.
236. In the Gospel man is likened to a tree. God, the Divine Gardener, as it were grafted into us by justification a branch of the tree of life, Christ our Lord; and thereby the supernatural life of grace was transmitted from Him to us, so that now we are capable of producing good fruits by performing virtuous and meritorious works in the service of God. He who by sanctifying grace ennobles our being, desires of us something in return, viz. 'good, supernatural, holy works, by which we merit eternal bliss, the supernatural, heavenly reward promised to us by God; hence these supernaturally good works are also called meritorious works. A servant works for his master and executes his commands; and in return he receives the wages for. his labor. We also should labor in God's service by fulfilling His will and keeping His commandments; and in return He will reward us with the joys of heaven. The will Of God is made known to us by the ten commandments and the precepts of the Church; and the spiritual and corporal works of mercy are pronounced meritorious acts of charity. To gain merits for heaven we must perform good works. We must watch, pray, labor, suffer, and strive to attain sanctity and win heaven. Eternal life is to be for us not only a heritage, a pure gift of divine mercy, but also a reward which we must earn, a crown of justice which we must win in legitimate combat. The superabundant satisfaction made by Christ does not relieve us of the duty of making satisfaction ourselves to God by works of atonement, and of gathering merit for heaven; but all our works of atonement have their quickening source in Christ, from whom they draw their efficacy and value. He offers them to His heavenly Father, and through His meditation they are accepted.
237. Among' these personal good works the celebration of Mass by the priest, and the devout assistance at it by the faithful holds the first place. When the priest celebrates Holy Mass and the faithful participate in the celebration by their assistance, by serving at the altar, by giving a stipend, etc., they undoubtedly perform the most sacred and salutary of all good, meritorious and worshipful actions. The Church herself declares that "no action performed by Christians is so holy and divine as this," namely the celebration of Holy Mass. The celebration of and assistance at Mass, as a personal action, is certainly a supremely good work; yet the value of this good .work, as we have already been informed, can only be a limited one as regards those who perform it. If the necessary conditions are fulfilled, the celebration of Mass on the part of the priest and assistance at it on the part of the faithful not only has like every other good work the power of obtaining various benefits, but also the power of cancelling punishment of sin and of meriting an increase of sanctifying grace and heavenly glory. This three-fold fruit originates in the spiritual condition and in the act of both the sacrificing priest and the assisting faithful; to obtain it they must be in the state of grace, and they must sacrifice and pray with a good intention, with faith and devotion. The greater the sanctity, piety, faith and charity of the priest and the assisting faithful, the more copious will be the fruit gained by both.
238. In Holy Mass it is not only the priest and the faithful who offer the sacrifice, but the whole Church unites with them in supplication. This supplication is an act of the universal Church; in other words, the priest performs the sacred act in which he is engaged at the altar in the name and by the commission of the Church as such. The Holy Sacrifice of Mass and the liturgical office of the Breviary form the principal part of the public divine service of the Church, imposed by her on her ministers specially ordained and commissioned for this purpose. For not only man individually, but religious society as such is bound in duty to do homage to God. Hence a common and public divine service is necessary; a visible cult is the essential bond of the religious communion known as the Church. The Church as a society of the faithful must worship God, as every man individually is bound to do, with all spiritual and bodily faculties; that is, she must adore, thank, implore and propitiate God not only by internal, but also by external acts. This four-fold duty she fulfils by prayer and sacrifice, both of which are intimately united, the one pervading and supplementing the other. At the altar the whole Church sacrifices and prays through her representative, the priest; there she offers to God the sacrifice of praise, thanksgiving, propitiation and impetration. To mankind the value and efficacy of this sacrifice must ever be limited, because the members of the Church never are nor can be infinitely holy. The fruit of every good work performed by an individual depends on his spiritual condition and the intrinsic value of his action. In like manner the value and efficacy of Holy Mass, as regards the application of its fruits to the souls of men, depend on the worthiness, merit and sanctity of the members of the Church; for the offering of the Sacrifice is not the act of any individual member as such, but it is the act of the universal Church.
239. Attention must here be called to the fact that the Church as such cannot merit and atone; for to do so there is need of the active or passive agency of a person in the state of grace. But such an active or passive agency, productive of merit and atonement, is not exercised by the Church in Holy Mass. The celebration of this Sacrifice by the Church can therefore draw down graces and blessings from heaven only by way of impetration; but this her supplication is always sure sooner or later to find a gracious hearing. The efficacy of the prayer of the Church is by no means dependent on the worthiness or unworthiness of the ministering priest, but obtains its effect by virtue of its own divine power. Sanctity is an essential mark of the Church which can never be wanting to her; hence her prayer is always graciously received by God and rewarded with most abundant blessings. But the efficacy of the prayer offered by the Church through her members depends on the degree of sanctity in the Church; that is, on the sanctity of her members, which is not always and unchangeably the same, but which may at different times be greater or less. And so also the sacrifice of the Church is more or less acceptable to God and salutary to mankind, according as the degree of sanctity attained by the Church in her members is higher or lower. There being divers formulas of the .Mass, the fruit of impetration to be attained by the Sacrifice offered in the name of the Church can be multiplied; and these fruits can be applied in a special manner to various particular ends. Hence not only the degree of sanctity in the Church, but the quality of the sacrificial prayers and of the entire sacrificial rite influence the measure and quality of the fruits of the Sacrifice gained by the Church; for this reason the value and efficacy of the Sacrifice offered in the name of the Church is so much greater as the rite is more solemn, the prayer more expressive; but the prayer of the Church always remains limited as to its value before God and its efficacy for the souls of men.
240. But when we consider Holy Mass in itself —namely the supreme dignity of Christ, the Priest and Victim of the Sacrifice, and the inexhaustible wealth of its fruit as the unbloody renewal of the Sacrifice of the cross,—then it becomes evident that it is a Sacrifice of infinite value. As an infinitely valuable and infinitely perfect Sacrifice it possesses also infinite power to produce those effects which are proper to it by the ordinance of Christ. The infinite price of redemption, the infinite treasure of atonement and merit contained in Holy Mass have their source in Christ, not on account of His offering Himself on the altar during Mass, but for the reason that He once offered Himself on the cross. Christ can no longer atone and merit by the Sacrifice of the Mass; He can only continue to apply to us, according to the condition of our souls and our participation in this divine Sacrifice, the atonement and merit achieved for us on the cross. Holy Mass, as a Sacrifice, is the fountain from which we draw grace ; it is the Sacrifice of the Church. In its relation to God and in itself Holy Mass is of infinite value; but for man or in man it can not produce infinite effects, as was explained in a former paragraph. The essential fruit of this Sacrifice therefore has its direct and only source in the self-immolation of Christ ; and consequently this fruit is entirely independent of the properties of the Church's prayer and of the spiritual condition of the sacrificing priest and the assisting faithful.
241. We must therefore distinguish between the essential fruit of Holy Mass originating in Christ, and the incidental fruit originating in the liturgical prayers and in the spiritual condition of the faithful. This latter is added to the essential fruit for the immediate benefit of him for whom the Sacrifice is offered. If a person desires to receive special graces by means of the celebration of Mass, he can attain this effect by the performance of good works, because God rewards every good work performed by man; and the Holy Sacrifice in this respect is intended to be a help for us, to attain sanctification and the salvation of our souls. The most efficacious means of participating in the fruits of Holy Mass is the giving of alms for the purpose of causing its celebration. The greater a person's esteem is for this august Sacrifice the more his heart will be inclined to self-denial for the purpose of having it celebrated, and the greater will be his share in the Sacrifice when offered for him or according to his intention. There is a most intimate relation between the internal and external acts of man; springing from one and the same motive, they influence and supplement each other. Whatever affects the soul—joy and sorrow, love and hatred, hope and fear—expresses itself exteriorly. This applies also to the interior acts of worship. Or should the abundant wealth of internal affections, the ardent devotion and love of a godly soul not be manifested exteriorly, when the whole man is animated with these sentiments? No; he can not confine in his soul his worship of God during the Holy Sacrifice, but gives vent to it in psalms and hymns and spiritual canticles. He folds his hands, bends his knees and prostrates himself in the presence of his Maker and Redeemer. In a spirit of self-sacrifice he even denies himself in some things in order to assist in causing the full ceremonial of ecclesiastical functions to be performed at the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice.—The interior acts of divine worship are rendered more valuable, permanent and steadfast, when they find expression in the body, taking to themselves as it were flesh and blood. On the other hand, where the forms of exterior worship are despised and neglected, the internal worship also languishes and dies away.
242. The devout disposition of the sacrificing priest and the assisting faithful is not the source of the sacrificial fruit of Holy Mass, but a condition necessarily to be fulfilled in order to gain a more abundant measure of this fruit. The faithful assisting at Mass or causing it to be celebrated thereby gain a special sacrificial fruit, more or less abundant according to the greater or less degree of their co-operation, piety and devotion. God demands our co-operation when granting His favors; the better we are prepared and disposed, the more liberal He is as a rule in dispensing His graces. The learned theologian Sporer says, "The better disposed and the holier a person is, the more zealous and devout is his prayer for himself and and others during Holy Mass; and so he will gain for himself and others richer gifts of grace and merit, and make greater atonement for his sins." But even though we were willing to abandon all things in order to receive immediately the grace we implore, and if for this same purpose we would live most holily, nevertheless our prayer through this Sacrifice is not always heard at once. The all-wise Providence of God, who disposes everything according to the designs of His omnipotence ; the will of our merciful Highpriest Jesus Christ, who offers on the altar the price of His Blood to produce a determinate effect of greater or less amplitude—both demand that the Sacrifice be offered not only with increased fervor and devotion, but also that it be offered repeatedly. This is confirmed by the practice of the Church who repeatedly offers this most sublime Sacrifice to obtain divine favors.
243. To participate the more efficiently in the sacrificial fruits of Mass, the faithful are zealously intent on offering up themselves and all their possessions to God. With Holy Scripture, the Fathers and the Church theologians divide works of satisfaction into three groups; and St. Thomas very appropriately explains how these three kinds of goods are adapted to their different purposes. Man possesses three kinds of goods: goods of the soul, goods of the body, and goods of fortune; and it is not more than right that we should apply all three in rendering satisfaction to God for our offences against Him. Every good work that we perform is available for this purpose. By alms-deeds we deprive ourselves of a portion of our goods of fortune; by fasting we deny ourselves a bodily gratification; and by prayer we dedicate and subject to God our whole soul with all its faculties. Again, concupiscence which is the root of all evil is three-fold. Fasting is directed against the lust of the flesh and the sins proceeding therefrom; alms-deeds against concupiscence of the eyes; the humble supplication of prayer against the pride of life. Finally, every sin is an offense against God, against our neighbor, or against ourselves. By prayer we make reparation of our sin against God; by alms-deeds, for that against our neighbor; and by fasting, for the injury done to ourselves. By this means the honor of which God was deprived by sin is restored; and man is punished by the withdrawal of a lawful pleasure, in reparation of the offense committed by unlawful indulgence.