Gavin - The Sacrifice of the Mass - Mass for the Dead

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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 excepted.


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.




The Psalm 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 at Mass. 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.






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 repeated.


Domine, 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.


Hostias 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.




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.




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.





  • CHAPTER THE FIRST. The Doctrine of the Sacrifice of the Mass 
  • CHAPTER THE SECOND. The Essence of the Mass 
  • CHAPTER THE THIRD. The Consecration of the Altar 
  • CHAPTER THE FOURTH. The Vestments 
  • CHAPTER THE FIFTH. The Asperges
  • CHAPTER THE SIXTH. The Ordinary of the Mass. Part the First: From the Beginning to the Offertory                                    
  • CHAPTER THE SEVENTH. The Introit, Kyrie, and Gloria in excelsis
  • CHAPTER THE EIGHTH. The Dominus vobiscum, Collect, Epistle                                   
  • CHAPTER THE NINTH. The Gradual, Alleluia, Tract, and Sequence   
  • CHAPTER THE TENTH. The Gospel and the Creed                               
  • CHAPTER THE ELEVENTH. Part the Second: The Offertory to the Canon                                   
  • CHAPTER THE TWELFTH. Part the Third: The Canon of the Mass                                   
  • CHAPTER THE THIRTEENTH. Part the Fourth: From the Pater Noster to the end of Mass                                    
  • CHAPTER THE FOURTEENTH. The Ceremonies of High Mass                                   
  • CHAPTER THE FIFTEENTH. Mass for the Dead                                    
  • APPENDIX: The Language of the Mass