Saturday, 18 April 2015

The Condition of the Suffering souls in Purgatory, by Rev. John A. Nageleisen. On the Means of Relieving the Suffering Souls. Part 35.

§ 50. What is Requisite to Have a Mass Celebrated for the Faithful Departed?

282. On Calvary the source of atonement for mankind was opened, in Holy Mass it flows anew every day. From the Sacrifice of the Mass we can and ought to draw to obtain the favor and mercy of God and the remission of our guilt and its punishment. Of this evil we can be made free by Holy Mass; for by the cleansing laver of the most Precious Blood our salvation was accomplished. In itself the effect of this most sublime Sacrifice is infinite. If we consider how wicked and culpable before God even the least venial sin and wilful inclination to sin is; if we have a true conception of our misery and weakness, by which we so easily and so often commit venial sins and thereby increase our indebtedness to God; if we remember the painful and prolonged torments of Purgatory; if we contemplate the sufferings and death of our Lord caused by our sins and renewed daily in an unbloody manner in the Holy Sacrifice of Mass— then we will, with the utmost solicitude, improve the gracious hour of this Sacrifice in order to be cleansed in the Blood of the Lamb. How ineffably merciful and good is God, since He renders it so easy for us to receive remission of sin and its punishment in this world, that we might be so much the more speedily admitted to the beatific vision of Christ in the next! Our Lord Jesus Christ suffers Himself to be immolated for you every day on the altar; He sacrifices Himself for your deceased father, mother, relatives and for all the faithful departed. How easy for you to obtain atonement for yourself and all mankind through Holy Mass offered at your request by the priest!

283. There is no doubt that a special fruit is granted to that particular soul for whom the Holy Sacrifice is especially offered. Hence it is an ancient practice of the Church to offer up the Holy Sacrifice for individual persons, living and dead. The contrary doctrine of the Synod of Pistoja was condemned by the Church. The faithful hasten to the altar to have the Holy Sacrifice offered for themselves; but the priests are not bound to celebrate a Mass gratis, even though they may have promised to do so; that is, provided the promise was not really a contract, but only the indication of a kindly disposition. However, they commit a venial sin if such a promise was made in earnest, and a mortal sin if they intended to bind themselves under pain of such a sin. But we need not hesitate to ask them for the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice, especially if we on our part are ready to obligate them by the reciprocal act of offering a stipend; because if they accept it, they are bound in justice to say the Mass according to the intention of the giver, A priest who omits to say the Mass for which he has accepted a stipend, or who does not provide for its celebration by another, is strictly obliged to make restitution. The acceptance of the stipend by a priest is therefore a sure indication that the Holy Sacrifice will be offered for the intention of the giver.

284. The custom of offering stipends dates back to the earliest centuries, yea, to the very beginning of the Christian era. St. Cyprian reprimands a wealthy woman for coming to Church without bringing an offering. St. Augustine exhorts us "to bring offerings, for whosoever is able to do so and neglects it ought to be ashamed." St. Epiphanias in the fourth century mentions a Jewish rabbi who was baptized, and after baptism gave a large sum of money to the bishop saying : "Offer up the sacrifice for me." In the fifth century the daughter of Theodosius the Great called a certain priest named Barbatian from Rome to Ravenna. As he performed many miracles soon after his arrival, the people placed great confidence in him, and many asked him to say Mass for their intention. Amongst others a man named Julian and a woman by the name of Theodora each made an offering and asked the saintly priest to say Mass for them; and they received divine help in their troubles. St. Gregory of Tours relates: Oltrogotha, consort of king Gilbert, and who died about the year 558, brought gifts early every morning for the purpose of having Masses said in honor of St. Martin. He also relates: Artallaidas, a daughter of the proconsul Lucius, in 562, offered a number of gold coins on the altar of the Church of the Blessed Virgin, in Benevento, for Masses to be said in honor of our Lord. And again he -mentions that many faithful ill of intermittent fever came to the tomb of St. Sigismund, brought gifts to the Church and had Masses said, whereupon they were restored to health. In the seventh century St. John the Almoner, who was made patriarch of Alexandria in 610, one day received a sum of money from a father with the request to say Masses for the safe return of his son from a voyage across the seas. Innumerable other examples might be cite4 in confirmation of this custom of giving alms or stipends to priests in order that they might say Mass for a certain intention.

285. As every well instructed Catholic knows the inestimable value of the fruits of Holy Mass, there are many devout and zealous persons who frequently give the stipend to have it celebrated. Once in a while it happens that a person requests the priest to offer the Holy Sacrifice without proffering the customary stipend. For such persons as these the fourth Council of Lateran decreed : "Although the sacraments according to the spirit of Christianity are ministered gratis, the faithful must nevertheless be requested to give whatever is sanctioned by custom for such services ; and if they refuse to do so, the bishops must enforce this rule by disciplinary correction." But the Church was also careful to preclude all pecuniary speculation by means of the Holy Sacrifice on the part of both the people and the priests; she wished to prevent the former from giving little or nothing on account of avarice, and the latter from making themselves guilty of the crime of simony by reason of the same vice. Hence the bishops were enjoined by the fourth Council of Lateran and by the Council of Trent to fix the amount of alms to be given as a stipend for the services of the priest. If therefore the faithful have occasion to engage the services of a priest, they ought not to ask for instance, "What does a Mass cost?" but, "What should I contribute for the service?" or, "What is the customary alms for the service?" To ask the price or cost of spiritual things indicates a want of religious education; spiritual things are not sold and are not for sale.

286. The alms for the celebration of a Mass, also called a stipend or honorarium, is moreover a contribution towards the support of the priest, and is pronounced as such by St. Thomas Aquinas. And St. Augustine writes, "The priests, by whose ministration the faithful receive spiritual benefit, are to receive their support from those whom they serve; but their reward they receive from the Lord." "Know you not," says St. Paul, "that those who work in the holy place, eat the things that are of the holy place; and they who serve the altar, partake with the altar?" (I. Cor. iv. 13.) If therefore one of the faithful requests that the Holy Sacrifice be offered exclusively for his intention, it is but meet and just that he act according to the injunctions of Holy Scripture and of the Church.

If a priest accepts the stipend for a Mass he pledges himself by this very act to see that the Holy Sacrifice will be offered for the intention of the giver. The stipend must not be regarded as the price or equivalent of Holy Mass; this would be reducing the Holy Sacrifice to a commercial commodity, and would draw down the curse which came upon the sorcerer Simon : "Keep thy money to thyself to perish with thee : because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money." (Acts vii. 20.) Finally the stipend may be regarded as a partial return for the time and care given to the faithful by the priest, not only in ministering to their present spiritual wants, but also for years of study in order to be enabled to render them his services. Hence the stipend or alms for Masses should be given by the faithful to the pastors of their own congregation.

287. If, then, you are earnestly desirous of sharing in this, infinite treasury of divine grace, you will see from the preceding remarks that access to it is easy and open to all. God's mercy is ever ready to fill us with heavenly gifts and blessings; would that we also were always anxious and ready to receive them ! If we but made use of these graces conferred for our benefit, how rich in merit we soon would be I We could thereby release from their torments innumerable souls in Purgatory. But our hearts are attached to the transitory things of this world; we prefer them to things heavenly. We are deplorably negligent in the service of Christ, despite the fact that He is our only hope of salvation, our Sanctifier and Redeemer, the consolation of all wayfarers on earth and of the Blessed in heaven. How dreadful to think that so many have no regard for this saving mystery, which is the joy of Heaven, the hope of Purgatory, and the salvation of the world! Incomprehensible blindness and callousness of the human heart, to slight so ineffable a gift, and to be led by its daily occurrence to regard it with indifference!