Monday, June 4, 2012

Praying for the Dead: Gregorian Masses

Recently, a friend of my husband’s died of cancer. He knew the end was coming, and people had a chance to “say goodbye”; he wasn’t Catholic, but he was a devout Christian. When he passed away, many of his Christian friends expressed the sentiment that they would “see him in Heaven”, and that he was now “resting with the Lord”.

But when someone dies we generally cannot know the state of the individual's soul. When someone I know dies, I think about what the Church teaches: that the deceased person most likely is now in purgatory, being purified before he is finally granted entrance into the presence of God. 

(Some of the deceased persons I knew had never expressed any belief in God, or had expressed disbelief. They may have gone to hell because of their lack of faith in God, but we must hope for the best and pray for them anyway, not assuming that we know where their immortal souls have gone. If their souls are in hell, then our prayers cannot help them, but those prayers would not be wasted – we can trust God to apply the merits where He sees fit.)

Just last week, I learned of the death of a young Nigerian priest who had served in our diocese; he had apparently been struck by a passing vehicle (in Nigeria). We know not the day nor the hour… When I hear of these things, I wonder what it is like to die and go to one’s final judgment. The thought is terrifying, and it makes me want to go to confession! (That’s a good thing.)

A book that brought home the reality of purgatory as a place of purging – purging that is not painless by any means – is Hungry Souls. If you want motivation to pray for the dead, and to strive to amend your own life now to avoid at least some of the suffering of the pains of purgatory, read this book. The photos of burned-in hand prints on clothing and prayer books, etc., are most compelling.

When someone I know dies (and sometimes, even if I don’t know the person, but a friend is deeply touched by the death), I pray a nine-day prayer from my little Blessed Be God prayer book. The belief of the Church based on the Word of God as revealed in the second Book of Maccabees, is that it is a holy and worthwhile thing to pray for the dead that they may be freed from sin. The people of God from the earliest times have acted on this conviction in various ways.

One tradition that has come down to us, as related by Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604) in his treatise on the Immortality of the Soul, is that there is special efficacy in having Mass celebrated on thirty consecutive days for a deceased person. For this reason they are known as Gregorian Masses. St. Gregory relates in his Dialogues how, when he had finished the series of thirty Masses for a departed monk, the monk appeared to tell he had thus gained entry into glory on completion of the Gregorian Masses.

The hallowed tradition has been declared a “pious and reasonable belief of the faithful” on the authority of the Sacred Roman Congregation on Indulgences.

There are strict regulations concerning the celebration of Gregorian Masses.

1. Gregorian Masses are offered for only one deceased person.

2. Gregorian Masses cannot be offered for several deceased, nor for all the faithful departed.

3. Gregorian Masses must be offered one each day for thirty consecutive days. Should the series be interrupted for any reason, it must be begun again.

In addition, though the thirty consecutive Masses in the Gregorian series need not be celebrated by the same priest, nor at the same altar, they must each be offered for the same departed person for each of the consecutive thirty days.

As you can imagine, few priests – especially pastors in busy parishes – are free and able to offer the thirty consecutive Masses of the Gregorian series without interruption. It would probably be difficult to schedule Gregorian Masses in a place where only one priest is stationed; in case he falls ill, there must be at least one other priest available, and free to continue the Masses without interruption. So extra time and effort is required to schedule and complete the Masses; this explains why a higher stipend is normally requested for the thirty Gregorian Masses.

The customary offering for the uninterrupted series of thirty daily consecutive Gregorian Masses (for one deceased person only) is a donation of $400.

There are, of course, people in my life for whom I will request Gregorian Masses, should they precede me in death. But I can’t afford to have Gregorian Masses said for everyone I know who dies! That’s why I’m telling YOU about this – to help spread the word about this spiritual work of mercy, so that more souls may enter Heaven more expeditiously.

For myself, I’ve left written instructions for my family to have the Gregorian Masses said for me at my death. I know I’ll need all the help I can get.


  1. I'm a little pessimist but I think it would be hard to find a Novus Ordo parish that's willing to offer Gregorian Masses. Probably a lot of priests don't even know what they are.

    I had the 30-day Gregorian Mass offered for the repose of the soul of my Mom with the Benedictine Monks at Clear Creek Monastery. I wish I could afford to do it again!

  2. You could be right, Elizabeth; I have no idea what percentage of NO parish priests are aware of the Gregorian Masses. I've never heard it mentioned the parishes I've attended. It would be nice to see awareness grow, and more people offering them for their loved ones. Good to know that the Clear Creek monks will offer them!


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