Sunday, October 16, 2005

Mass intentions for extremely dead people?

I have a question: how long should Masses be said for the repose of the souls of people who have died?

This morning at Mass, the name announced during the usual petition for grace for our beloved dead was, we'll call her, Joan of Arc Turtlebaum.

Her real name is distinctive enough that it catches the ear and must be the same person whom I have heard memorialized at weekday Masses and Sunday Masses for a couple of years now. A fellow Mass-goer happened to mention that she had known Joan, and that she had died over twenty years ago!

These Masses aren't on the occasion of her birthday or day of her death, because I hear her name a lot, all over the map of the liturgical year. (Or every day's a holiday for the Turtlebaum family....)

The Catholic Church has always urged the offering of Votive Masses, during which the special intention is for the repose of the soul of a loved one who has died. Actually, the word "votum" merely means a "special intention" and we should always come to Mass with a very specific intention in our heart, to ponder it in the light of the glory of the Scriptures of that day and the Eucharistic Gift.

(In fact, it can be a very interesting way of "playing Bible Bingo." Instead of letting your Bible fall open to see what God has to say to you at that moment about whatever's on your mind, you wait for the Scriptures of the Mass of that day to speak to you instead!)

Masses for the Dead have their intention directed towards the soul that has gone to Final Judgment, as we implore God's Mercy on that soul. The Catholic Church teaches the beautiful doctrine of Purgatory, which for our non-Catholic readers does NOT mean a final hasty repentance for sins unrepented-for in life, but instead a final purgation or cleansing of the soul before it unites with God in Heaven, since "nothing unclean shall enter Heaven" (Rev 21), and we understand that our intercession for those souls is needed, just as we pray for our brethren still living on earth.

But if a person has been dead a really, really long time, should Masses continue to be said for his or her repose? Do they still "need" them? I know that the soul, being dead, exists in God's Time, not ours, and always needs our prayers, but since we don't yet live in God's Time, should we be directing our prayers for the behalf of others more recently deceased?

I still occasionally am moved to pray for the soul of my father, dead five years, and I ask FOR the intercession of my relatives and friends now (hopefully) in Heaven, but it doesn't jump to my mind or heart to ask the priest to make any particular Mass a special Votive Mass for any of them. Am I being neglectful, or is the family of the above-mentioned Joan just not letting go?


Unknown said...

20 years is a long time indeed! We had a special votive mass for my dad for the first 3 years that he passed away, this year we didnt do one. I'm not sure really whether after 20yrs one should be said, that's a good question!
I guess if it involves Joans family asking for one it should be done in order not to cause hurt to her family. In my Church, one has to specifically ask the priest to do one, is that how it works in yours?
Now for my dad we say a special prayer and light a candle for him, I like that.

Therese Z said...

Yes, it's the same thing at my parish. So the family must be asking, and asking, and ASKING. I'm sure the parish wouldn't want to hurt them and is continuing the Masses, but I'd love to hear someone with some doctrinal knowledge gently explain why this is beneficial or more just empty ritual.

TS said...

A good question. I had a Mass said last year for a man who died in 1913! And there are folks who have died a year ago that I've forgotten. So I'm inconsistent I guess.

Christina Martin said...

I think it seems a bit unusual, but not wrong or anything. God hears and hears and hears. And if the person in question doesn't need the prayers, I suspect He applies them toward some poor soul in purgatory.

Unknown said...

I have Mass said for my father on his death anniversary- he died in 1982.
I also have Mass said for J.R.R. Tolkien on his birthday- and he died in 1973.

Therese Z said...

Narwen, why? Really for the repose of their souls? Or in thanksgiving for their lives? I understand the second motivation, but the first one is what I struggle with a little.

But it is good to hear that people I read here in the Catholic blogworld are doing it. I am quite convinced that you guys aren't doing for superstitious reasons.

Henry Dieterich said...

Bear in mind that to God, all time is now. It is not important to Him that someone has been dead 3 days or 300 years. We speak of "time" in Purgatory because that is the only way we can understand it, but I would expect that whatever kind of time we will experience there, it will be different from the kind we experience here. In that perspective, every suffering soul is now in Purgatory and can therefore benefit from whatever spiritual help we, or the saints in heaven, can offer them. The Church commends the souls in Purgatory to our prayers, and the most perfect prayer is the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which unites us to the perfect sacrifice of Christ. The only ones she excludes are those canonized as saints, that is, those recognized as having been already perfected in life. Why God permits our prayers for the suffering souls--or for anything else--to have an effect is a mystery, although we can see hints of the answer as we come closer to Him and immerse ourselves in His Word.

Anonymous said...

May the grace and peace of our Lord be with you! This is Jeferson here. There are no speciffic how long a mass must be said for a dead person, actully it depends on how many sins that particular person commits in his or her life. If you have any question feel free to mail me at :

Thanks and God bless.
Happy Advent!

Love in Jesus and Mary,



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