CHAPTER the FIFTEENTH.
MASS FOR THE DEAD.
MASS for the Dead ranks amongst Votive Masses.
A Votive Mass does not correspond with the Office
of the day; it is said by the choice of the priest, hence its name (votum). A Votive
Mass may be said on all days except Sundays, feasts of double and more than double rank, and certain other days specially
Mass for the Dead may be said on a double provided
the body be present. High Mass for the Dead is forbidden even in the presence of the body during the last three days of Holy
Week and on all the great feasts of the Church.
Mass for the Dead is said (with the exception noted)
first, when the person dies, or as the Latin phrase has it, Die obitus sen depositionis,
which means any day that intervenes from the day of death to burial (Depositio
the putting away); secondly, on the third day after death, in memory, as has been suggested, of our Lord’s Resurrection
after three days; thirdly, on the seventh day, in memory of the mourning of the Israelites seven days for Joseph; fourthly,
on the thirtieth day (Month’s Mind), in memory of Aaron, for whom the Israelites mourned thirty days (Numbers xx. 30);
and finally, at the end of a year, or on the anniversary.
Special Masses for the Dead (said in black vestments)
are provided by the Church in her Missal.
The rubrics of Mass for the Dead differ from the
rubrics for the Mass of the living chiefly by way of omission which we proceed to show.
I. THE BEGINNING TO THE OFFERTORY.
Judica is omitted. Writers on the Mass often assign the reason of the omission of the Psalm to its joyful character, out
of place in a Mass where the Church mourns for the Dead. It may perhaps be more correctly stated that here as in other portions
of the Mass we see a vestige of ancient usage for during the first seven hundred years, if not more, the Judica was not said
And the Church saw no reason for its insertion in a Mass for the Faithful Departed. She left things as they were.
At the Introit the celebrant makes the sign of the
Cross over the Missal, which is thought by some to extend to the Holy Souls, expressive of the Church’s desire that
the fullness of the Sacrifice of the Cross should, as far as possible, be applied to them. The Introit for the Holy Souls
is Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. A Hymn, O God, becometh Thee in Sion; and
a vow shall be paid to Thee in Jerusalem; O hear my prayer;
all flesh shall come to Thee.
This Psalm in the mouth of the Holy Souls expresses
their ardent desire to chant the canticle of praise in the Heavenly Jerusalem. God will grant their prayer more willingly,
because it is His wish that "all flesh," all mankind, should be with Him in His Kingdom.
Next follow the Kyrie
Eleison, Collects, Epistle, Tract, Sequence, and Gospel, all specially selected by the Church for a Requiem Mass. In that
Mass the Jube, Domine, benedicere pray,
Sir, bless me is omitted, as also the following prayer before the Gospel said by the priest at Low, and also by the deacon
at High Mass "The Lord be in my heart and on my lips that I may worthily and in a becoming manner announce His holy Gospel.
Amen." The book is not kissed at the end nor is the prayer said, "By the words of the Gospel may our sins be blotted out."
The thoughts of the Church turn solely to her dead. She omits all signs of joy and gladness. Since the Christian’s holy
death is a motive for joy and thanksgiving, Alleluia was formerly sung in the Roman Mass for the dead; and, as St. Jerome tells us, even at funerals. She even robs her High Mass of a portion of its solemnity
by forbidding the deacon before singing the Gospel to ask the celebrant’s blessing. She will not even allow a short
prayer like the per evangelica dicta ddeantuv nostra delicta, because it refers
more to the living than to the dead.
II. THE OFFERTORY.
The Offertory in the Requiem Mass deserves special
mention, for there is much difference of opinion amongst learned writers as to its meaning. This Offertory is the only one
which still retains its primitive form. It is composed of an antiphon, a versicle, and of the concluding words of the antiphon
Jesu Christe, Rex gloriae, libera animas omnium fidelium defunctorum de poenis inferni, et de profundo lacu: libera eas de
ore leonis, ne absorbeat eas tartarus, ne cadant in obscurum; sed signifer sanctus Michael re praesentet eas in lucem sanctam:
Quam olim Abrahae promisisti et semini ejus.
et preces tibi, Dom ine, laudis offerimus: tu suscipe pro animabus illis quarum hodie memoriam facimus: fac eas, Domine, de
morte transire ad vitam: Quam olim Abrahae promisisti et semini ejus.
Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory, deliver
the souls of all the faithful departed from the pains of Hell and the deep lake; deliver them from the mouth of the lion:
let not Hell swallow them up, nor let them fall into darkness; but let the Standard-bearer St. Michael guide them into the
holy light which of old Thou didst promise to Abraham and his seed. We offer Thee victims, O Lord, and prayers of praise:
mercifully receive them for the souls whose memory we are keeping to-day: grant them to pass, O Lord, from death to life:
which of old Thou didst promise to Abraham and his seed.
It might seem at first sight from certain expressions
in this Offertory that the Church means to pray for the salvation even of lost souls. Deliver the souls of all the faithful
departed from the pains of Hell and the deep lake; and the mouth of the lion. Let not Hell swallow them up. But the Church’s
doctrine is clear and distinct in inferno null a est redemptio, in Hell there is
no redemption. Nor is it the present usage of the Church to pray even for a mitigation of the pains of the lost. The damned
have no share whatever in the prayers or penances of the faithful, nor do they derive the least benefit from the Mass. Theologians
of note like Valentia and Sporer understand the above words to refer to the Holy Souls. Such an interpretation is contrary
to the plain meaning of the words. The Church is most cautious in her use of terms. She has a language of her own with a fixed
and definite meaning. From her prayers we learn her creed. The Church in speaking of Purgatory does not use the word Infernus, which means the Hell of the damned. We find Hell used of three different places: (1) of the abode of
the lost in everlasting torments, (2) of the Limbo of the Fathers, called Paradise by our Lord in the pardon granted to the
penitent thief: " This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise" (Luke xxiii. 43); (3) of Limbo, where the souls of babes dying
without Baptism find a happy and eternal home. The Limbo of the Fathers was emptied of its prisoners by our Lord on Ascension
Day, and therefore exists no longer. The place of merciful expiation by fire is not called Hell the recognized name is Purgatory.
Nor does the Church usually speak of Purgatory as death, in contrast to Heaven which is life. Grant them to pass from death
to life does not, except by a forced interpretation, mean let them pass from Purgatory to Heaven. The state of the souls in
Purgatory confirmed in grace, dearer to God than many of the blessed in Heaven, cannot be fittingly described as death. In
the language of Scripture and of the Church, death and life are opposed, as are Hell and Heaven. Nor is it likely that the
Church would apply to Purgatory the very word Tartarus, which St. Peter applies
to Hell in the well-known passage of the Second Epistle, where he speaks of the fallen angels: " For if God spared not the
angels which sinned but delivered them drawn down by infernal ropes to the lower Hell unto torments to be reserved unto judgment
"rudentibus inferni detractos in TARTARUM tradidit cmciandos.
Without violence to language we can easily interpret
the Church’s words in the Offertory of the Requiem Mass in strict accordance with her doctrine.
Cardinal Wiseman, following distinguished modern
writers, reminds us that the Services of the Church are eminently dramatic. In her hands the past becomes the present. In
her Office for Advent and Christmas she places the manger at Bethlehem
before our eyes as if the Divine Babe had just been born, and in Holy Week she speaks of each incident in the Passion as if
it were enacted that moment before us. The Church kneels in spirit, so thinks this great man, beside the dying beds of her
children, and mindful of the tremendous risk, pours forth her earnest supplications for the souls whose fate for eternity
is soon to be fixed; or to follow Father Suarez, more dramatic still, the Church represents souls at the moment of their departure
from the body on their road to Judgment and begs for them the mercy of God. Deliver the souls of all the faithful departed
from the pains of Hell and the deep lake; deliver them from the mouth of the lion: let not Hell swallow them up. The concluding
words of the versicle fac eas, Domine, de morte transire ad vitam, can be explained,
without strain, to mean, let them pass from temporal death, O Lord, to the glory of that existence which alone deserves the
name of life. (Suarez in III. D. 83. s. i. n. 29, quoted by Gihr on the Mass.)
Instances might easily be quoted to show that this
interpretation is in keeping with the Church’s prayers for the departed in her Office, and in her funeral service at
the grave. This method of prayer, as it has been well remarked, helps the dead and benefits the living by reminding them to
prepare for death.
THE OFFERTORY TO THE AGNUS DEI.
From the Offertory to the Agnus Dei the Requiem Mass, save in the Collects, does not differ from an ordinary Mass. Since the eleventh or twelfth century the Agnus
Dei in a Requiem Mass is slightly different. Instead of Miserere nobis after
the first and second Agnus Dei, Dona eis requiem is said, and for Dona nobis pacem the Church ordains Dona eis requiem sempiternam. In
the Ambrosian rite, which still holds in the Cathedral at Milan,
after sempiternam the celebrant adds et
locum indulgentiae cum sanctis tuis in gloria (and an abode of mercy with Thy saints in glory). Why this alteration in
the Roman rite? St. Thomas teaches that the Church in her
prayers for the dead begs for rest and not peace. Peace is the effect of rest, and before we ask peace for the Holy Souls
we must first secure their everlasting rest. "The Sacrifice is offered not for the present peace of the dead but for their
rest." (S. Th. III. q. 83. ad. i.) For the same reason the prayer for peace is omitted. The kiss of peace, or the Pax as it is called, is forbidden at the Requiem Mass, because, as some think, the kiss of peace is a sign of
joy, and as such is out of place in a Mass where the thoughts of the Church are full of sorrow and pain for the souls yearning
for God. A better reason is that the Pax was closely connected with the .receiving
of Holy Communion by the faithful. The Pax was, in a certain sense, a preparation
for Communion. For centuries Communion was not given at Masses for the Dead. During that long period the kiss of peace was
considered out of place. Permission for Holy Communion in Masses for the Dead is of comparatively recent introduction; and
the Church, clinging as usual to ancient practice, omits the kiss of peace.
IV. FROM THE AGNUS DEI TO THE END.
From the Agnus
Dei to the last Gospel the rubrics are the same in Masses for the Dead as for the living; with these two exceptions instead
of Ite Missa Est, Requiescant in pace
is prescribed, and the priest’s blessing is not given. Ite Missa Est is not
said because, says Benedict XIV. on the Mass (Bk. ii.), the intention in Masses for the Dead is to obtain their everlasting
rest, or because it was not usual at this point to dismiss the congregation. Many remained to pray beside the body or to join
in the Church’s Office for the Dead.
Formerly it was customary for the priest to give
his blessing in Masses for the Dead. This custom has now disappeared. Benedict XIV. quotes approvingly Le Brun on the Mass
(Vol. i. p. 588), who maintains that the reason of the omission of the priest’s blessing is the Church’s desire
to deprive the Requiem Mass of all unnecessary solemnity.
Our knowledge of Purgatory is extremely limited.
No Pope or Council has by authoritative utterance told us where it is, or how long the soul may suffer there, or has described
to us the nature of its agony. The Council of Florence teaches that the souls in Purgatory are cleansed by pains; and the
Council of Trent adds (Sess. xxv.) "that the souls detained there are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, and especially
by the acceptable Sacrifice of the Altar." Mass, and especially Requiem Mass, is that "acceptable Sacrifice." It is the most
precious gift we can offer on behalf of the holy souls. So far as the essence of the Sacrifice is concerned, all Masses are
equal, but we should never forget that the prayers of the Requiem Mass are said in the Church’s name and by the Church’s
order, and consequently secure special graces for the departed. The piety and devotion of the priest in any Mass may compensate,
says St. Thomas, for the loss of this special grace.
JESU DOMINE, DONA EIS REQUIEM. AMEN.
LORD JESUS, GRANT THEM REST. AMEN.