Before or after?
Some years ago, a wise old priest was asked how many people had attended the early morning Mass on a particular day, and he replied, “There were thousands but I only saw eight of them.” So in addition to those eight who got up in time to attend the early Mass, God had allowed thousands of souls in Purgatory to attend that Mass, as He does at ever Mass, along with Our Lady, St Joseph, St Michael and myriads of angels and saints. We don’t see everything that actually happens at Mass, and if we did we would be utterly amazed and overwhelmed.
During November particularly, we celebrate Masses for the Holy Souls in Purgatory which is one of the great Spiritual Works of Mercy, but which is more profitable – to have Masses celebrated for us during life or after our death? The following points I have taken from the book ‘Charity for the Suffering Souls’ by Fr John Nageleisen.
Many Catholics leave funds in their Will to have Masses celebrated for them after their death, and this is a very praiseworthy thing to do and no one should be dissuaded from doing so. However, St Leonard of Port Maurice (1676-1751) says it is more profitable and meritorious to have these Masses celebrated for us while we are still alive as opposed to having many celebrated for us after our death. Here are some of the reasons:
- If we have a Mass celebrated for us during our lifetime, we have been the cause of it and can assist at it, which after death is not possible.
- If a Mass is celebrated for us during life and we are perhaps in a state of sin, by virtue of the Mass, we could well receive from God’s mercy the grace to recognise our sinful state, be moved to contrition, and then to reconcile ourselves with God by making a good, humble confession. This grace cannot be obtained after death, and if we die in a state of mortal sin, many thousands of Masses would not put us into a state of grace. We would remain cut off from God for eternity.
- A Mass offered for us during life can obtain for us the grace of a happy death, because it will move God to assist us in triumphing over the enemy in that decisive hour.
- If Masses are said for us before our death, we will increase in merit and therefore spend a shorter time in Purgatory, especially if we attend them with real devotion. If they are celebrated only after our death, we could be a long time in Purgatory awaiting their celebration which could be very painful. Thus it is better to accumulate these benefits in advance than to wait for them in the cleansing fires of Purgatory.
- By asking for a Mass to be said during life, we make an offering to God, thereby depriving ourselves of some earthly gratification. After death we deprive ourselves of nothing because our earthly joys have now ended. Therefore it must be more meritorious and pleasing to God to make this offering during our lifetime.
- When we perform a good act in a state of grace, we receive a double reward: the remission of part of the punishment due to our sins, thus meriting a higher degree of glory in Heaven. When the Mass is offered only after our death, even though it pays part of our debt of sin, our glory is not increased in Heaven. Even if thousands of Masses were celebrated for us after our death, our heavenly glory would not be increased one iota.
Therefore, as St Anselm (1033-1109) said, “To hear one Holy Mass devoutly in life is more profitable than to bequeath so much that thousands can be said after death.”
Fr Paul Gillham, IC