THE THREE EXCELLENCIES OF MASS, PART 3
Now, pause a little—–close this book—–read no further at present, but sum up in your mind all these singular uses of holy Mass, weigh them well in silence, and then tell me, will you have again a difficulty in believing that one single Mass—–speaking of its own intrinsic worth and value—–is of such efficacy as, according to the speculation of various learned men, might have sufficed to obtain the salvation of the whole human race? Imagine the case that Our Lord Jesus Christ had not suffered anything on Calvary and, in place of His bloody sacrifice of the Cross, had solely instituted Mass for our redemption, with an express command that in all the world it should only be celebrated once. Well, then, had this been the case, that single Mass, celebrated by the poorest priest in the world, would have been sufficient, considered in itself and so far as its own share in the work is concerned, to win from God the salvation of all men. Yes; one single Mass, taking the case imagined above, might thus have been made to obtain the conversion of all Mahometans, all heretics, all schismatics, in fine, of all unbelievers, and also that of all bad Christians; closing the gates of Hell to all sinners, and emptying Purgatory of all the souls there obtaining purification. We, unhappy creatures, through our tepidity, through our little devotion, and possibly even through our scandalous improprieties committed during attendance on Mass—–oh, how we contract the limits of its vast circumference, and render ineffective its mighty worth! Would that I could climb the summits of the loftiest mountains, and thence exclaim aloud, “O nations deceived! O nations deceived! what are you about? Why run you not to the churches, there to listen with holy hearts to all the Masses in your power? Why not imitate the holy Angels, who, according to the saying of St. Chrysostom, when holy Mass is being celebrated, descend in squadrons from the empyrean, and stand before our altars, covered with the wings of reverential awe, waiting the whole of that blessed time, in order that they may intercede for us the more effectively, well knowing this to be the time most opportune, the conjuncture, above every other, propitious for obtaining favors from Heaven. Sink down, then, in confusion for having in time past so little appreciated holy Mass, for perhaps having even many times profaned an act so dread and holy; much more so if you are of the number of those who have recklessly dared to utter, “A Mass more or less is of little importance.”
XVII. And now, to end this instruction, reflect that I have not by mere chance dropped the expression that one Mass alone, so far as itself is concerned and in the sense of its own intrinsic value, is sufficient to empty Purgatory of all the Souls in process of purification, and place them in holy Paradise. For this Divine sacrifice not only avails for the Souls of the dead, as propitiatory and satisfactory of their penance (De Lug. s. 6, n. 158), but it also assists as a great act of supplication for them, conformably, you see, to the custom of the Church, which not only offers Mass for the Souls that are being purified, but prays during the sacrifice for their liberation. In order, then, that you may be stirred to compassion for the Holy Souls, know that the fire by which they are covered is one so devouring that, according to the opinion of St. Gregory, it is no less than that of Hell (Dial. 1. 4, c. 131), operating as the instrument of Divine justice with such force as to render their pains insufferable, greater than all the possible Martyrdoms that can be witnessed or felt, or even imagined, here below. Still more than all this, the pain of loss afflicts them because, deprived as they are of the Beatific Vision of God, they, as the Angelic Doctor says (in Dist. 12, art. 1), experience an intolerable passion, an intense and vivid desire to behold the Supreme Good, and this is not permitted to them. Enter here into yourself and ponder. If you should see your father or your mother on the point of being drowned, and if to save them would not cost you more than the stretching out of your hand, would not you feel bound by every law of charity and of justice to extend that hand to aid them? How then? You behold with the eyes of faith so many Poor Souls, and perhaps your nearest and dearest, in a lake of flame, and you will not endure a little inconvenience in order to attend devoutly, for their help, one single Mass! What sort of heart is yours? I do not doubt that holy Mass not only shortens their pains, but also extends great immediate relief to these Poor Souls. It has even been thought by some that while Mass is being celebrated for a soul, the fire, otherwise most devouring, suspends its rigor, and no pain is suffered by that Soul during all the time that the holy sacrifice proceeds. We may well believe, at least, that at every Mass many issue forth from Purgatory and fly to holy Paradise. Add this consideration, that the charity which you exercise toward Poor Souls under purification will all redound to your own good. Examples without end might be adduced in confirmation of this truth, but one most authentic will suffice. St. Peter Damian, when left an orphan by his parents, and yet of tender age, was placed in the house of one of his brothers, who gave him the worst of usage, to the extent of making him go barefoot and in rags; in short, causing him to endure in every way the extremest penury. He happened one day to find on the road a piece of money, I know not what. Think whether he rejoiced or not! He seemed to himself to have found a treasure; but how to spend it? His necessities suggested many ways. At last, after thinking and rethinking, he resolved to give it to a priest, that he might celebrate a Mass for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. From that time forward, the scenes of his fortune changed. He was taken home by another brother of better dispositions, who loved him as his son, clothed him with propriety, and sent him to school, whence he finally came forth that great man, and great Saint, who was the ornament of the purple and so effective a prop of the Church. Now you see how from one single Mass, obtained at a slight personal inconvenience, all this happiness originated. O blessed Mass! at once assisting the living and the dead, beneficial for time and for eternity! For you must know that the Holy Souls are so grateful to their benefactors that, when once in Heaven, they constitute themselves their advocates, nor will they ever rest till they see them also in possession of glory. It would seem that an unworthy woman in Rome experienced this. Utterly forgetful of her eternal salvation, she had no other heed than to give vent to evil passions, and to ruin youth; nor did she do any good, except that every few days she would get a Mass for Souls in Purgatory. It was they, as we may well believe, who so interceded for their benefactress that one day she was overtaken by vehement contrition for her sins. Abandoning her infamous dwelling, she sped to the feet of a zealous confessor, made her general confession, and soon after died in such good dispositions that she afforded to one and all clear signs of eternal salvation. This grace so altogether miraculous was generally attributed to the virtue of those Masses celebrated at her request, in behalf of the blessed Souls in Purgatory. Let us then awake, and heed lest we permit that publicani et meretrices praecedent nos in regnum Dei—–“lest publicans and the harlots shall go into the kingdom of God before us” (St. Matt. xxi. 31).
XVIII. If I thought there was a chance of your being one of those so sunk in avarice, as not only to fail in charity by neglecting prayer for their friends departed, never hearing a single Mass for their poor suffering Souls, but even trampling on every dictate of justice, by refusing to fulfill the pious legacies of their predecessors, or who, being priests, accumulate obligations to offer Masses, without ever doing so; oh, that I could take fire to cast at you, saying to your face—–Away with you, worse than devil! after all, devils only torment reprobate souls, but you torment the spirits of the elect; devils are only cruel to those foreknown by God as lost, but you to the predestined, the loved of God. No; for you there is neither confession that avails, nor absolution that is valid, nor confessor that can absolve, unless you do great penance for so great a sin, and accurately satisfy all your obligations toward the departed. “But, my father, I cannot; I have not the means.” Cannot? have not the means? For all this external show there seems to be means; for extravagance of luxury you have means; for so much parade there are means; for the cost of parties, and of feasts, for filling country-houses with company, for haunts of dissipation and even of vice, it would seem that you both have and can. And to satisfy positive debts not only to the living, but what is more, to the poor departed, how dare you say you have not, and cannot? Well, then, I understand you: but hearken, though there is none on earth who sees these accounts, you have yet to settle them with God. Give yourself up, if you will, to devouring the legacies of the dead, the pious destinations for Masses and for charities, but know that for you there stands registered in the oracle of the prophet a threatening of woe, malediction, misfortune, and ruin irreparable, in property, life, and reputation. It is the voice of God, and cannot fail: Comederunt sacrificia mortuorum, et multiplicata est in eis ruina (Ps. cv. 28, 29). Yes, ruin, misfortune, downfall irrecoverable to that house which does not satisfy its obligations to the dead! Take a turn through Rome, and behold the many families scattered, houses gone to decay, warehouses closed, enterprises suspended, trades at a stand—–what failures, calamities, and miseries! O poor ruined Rome! you say. But what is the cause of so much decay? If you scrutinize exactly these disasters, you will find, among many sins, one chief cause to be this very cruelty to the departed, this refusal of the help due to them, this negligence in satisfying pious destinations of property; and, further, because thus there have come to be committed infinite sacrileges; the holy sacrifice profaned, and the temple of God, as the Redeemer said, turned into a den of thieves. What wonder, if Heaven rain lightnings, and seem to threaten wars, earthquakes, and extermination—–for behold, comederunt sacrificia mortuorum, et multiplicata est in eis ruina. Most justly were such ungrateful men declared by the fourth Council of Carthage to be excommunicate, as true murderers of their kin, and by the Valensian Council to be practically infidels, that must be driven out from the Church. But this is far from the greatest chastisement inflicted by Almighty God on hearts grown cold to departed friends. Ah, the flood of woe reserved for them in the other life! According to the declaration of St. James, such souls shall be judged by God without pity, since they exercised none: judicium sine misericordia illi qui non fecit misericordiam (St. James, ii. 13). God will permit them in their turn to be paid in their own coin; no last wishes of theirs shall be fulfilled, no Masses celebrated for their souls, though provided for in their testaments; or if celebrated, they will not be accepted by God, but will be applied by Him to other Souls in need, who in life had compassion on the poor departed. Thus we read in the chronicles of our Order, of a friar who, after death, appeared to one of his companions, and manifested to him the bitter pain he was enduring in Purgatory, particularly for having been very negligent toward the other departed brothers, and how, up to that time, all that had been done in his behalf, the Masses themselves that had been celebrated, had all availed him nothing; because Almighty God, in punishment of his neglect, had applied them to other Souls, who, in life, had acted well by those under purification; this said, he disappeared (Cron. Fratr. Min. part 2).
XIX. Before concluding the present instruction, permit me, with knees bent to the earth and with joined hands, to supplicate you who read, not to shut this little book without first making a solid resolution of applying for the future your most strenuous diligence to attend and also to get celebrated all the Masses possible in your circumstances, not only for the Souls of the departed, but also for your own. Do this from two motives: first, to obtain a good and holy death—–it being the invariable opinion of theologians that there is no more efficacious means than Mass for attaining so holy a purpose. Christ Our Lord is said to have revealed to St. Mechtilde (1. 3, Grat. Spiro c. 27) that he who in life is in the habit of devoutly hearing holy Mass shall in death be consoled by the presence of the Angels and Saints, his advocates, who shall bravely defend him from all the snares of infernal spirits. Oh, how beautiful the death which is destined to succeed your life, if you shall have striven to hear with devotion as many Masses as you could! Another motive is that you may yourself issue quickly from Purgatory and flyaway into eternal glory, there being no means more adapted for obtaining from God a grace so precious as that of going direct to Heaven, or at least of short detention on the way, than Indulgences duly gained, and the holy sacrifice. As for Indulgences, the Supreme Pontiffs have opened their hands, and liberally concede many to those who hear holy Mass devoutly; and as to the efficacy of the most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for accelerating the remission of the pains of Purgatory, it is already sufficiently shown. The example and authority of that great servant of God, [St.] John of Avila, the oracle of Spain, should suffice. Being asked on his death-bed what he had most at heart, and what kindness he most longed for after death, he answered, “Masses, Masses.” I should wish in this matter to offer you, with your permission, an advice of great importance.
It is this: to procure that all the Masses which you would like to have celebrated for you after death shall be of fact celebrated for you during life, nor to trust to those who remain after you on the scene of this world. You will think the more of this counsel, from St. Anselm declaring that one single Mass heard or celebrated for your soul during life may perhaps be more profitable to you than a thousand after death: Audire devote unicam Missam “in vita, vel dare eleemosynam pro ea, prodest magis quam relinquere ad celebrandum mille post obitum.” (Apud Castell, diur. sac. Praep.) Well was this truth understood by a rich merchant of the cost of Genoa, who at his death left nothing in suffrage for his soul. Every one was astonished how a man so rich, so pious, and so generous toward all, could have proved at death so cruel to himself. But after his burial there was found a record in one of his little books of the good which he had done for his soul during life: “Masses caused to be celebrated for my soul, two thousand lire;” “for the marriage of poor girls, ten thousand;” “two hundred for such and such a holy place;” and so on. And at the end of this little book was written: “He who desires good, let him do good in life, and not trust to the fidelity of those left behind at death.” ——” A taper before lights better than a torch behind.” Make use of the noble example just recorded, and, having thoroughly pondered the excellence of holy Mass, wonder at the blindness in which you have lived till now, having formed no right estimate of a treasure which has for you too much remained, as it were, hidden and buried. Now, therefore, that you know its value, banish from your mind, and still more from your tongue, the monstrous thought that “a Mass more or less matters little;” or “that it is no small thing to hear Mass on festivals;” or “that the Mass of this or that priest is like a Mass of Holy Week for length; when he appears at the altar it is high time to get out of church.” Renew also your holy resolution to hear from this time forward as many Masses as you possibly can, and, above all, with due devotion. To succeed, make use of the practical and devout method which follows; and may God bless you.