Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 14

detail of a stained glass window of Pope Saint Gregory the Great, by Syrius Eberle, date unknown; parish church of Saint Benedict in Odelzhausen, Dachau, Bayern, Germany; photographed on 17 October 2015 by GFreihalter; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Relief of the Holy Souls – Holy Mass – Father Gerard – The Thirty Masses of Saint Gregory

Let us now consider the supernatural effects of a different kind, but which prove no less clearly the efficacy of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered for the departed. We find them in the Memoirs of Father Gerard, an English Jesuit and Confessor of the Faith during the persecutions in England in the sixteenth century. After relating how he had received the abjuration of a Protestant gentleman, married to one of his cousins, Father Gerard adds, “This conversion led to another under the most extraordinary circumstances. My new convert went to see one of his friends who was dangerously ill. This was an upright man, detained in heresy more by illusion than by any other motive. The visitor urgently exhorted him to be converted, and to think of his soul; and obtained from him the promise that he would make his Confession. He instructed him in everything, taught him how to excite himself to contrition for his sins, and went to seek for a priest. He had great difficulty in finding one, and in the meantime the sick person died. When about to expire, the poor dying man asked frequently whether his friend had not yet returned with the physician whom he had promised to bring; it was thus he called the Catholic priest.

“What followed showed that God had accepted the good will of the deceased. The nights following his death, his wife, a Protestant, saw a light moving in her room, and which came even within the curtains of her bed. Being afraid, she desired one of her servant maids to sleep in her room; but the latter saw nothing, although the light continued to be visible to the eyes of her mistress. The poor lady sent for the friend whose return her husband had awaited with so much anxiety, related to him what had happened, and asked what was to be done.

“This friend before giving an answer consulted a Catholic priest. The priest told him that the light was, for the wife of the deceased, a supernatural sign by which God invited her to return to the True Faith. The lady was deeply impressed by these words; she opened her heart to grace, and in her turn was converted.

“Once a Catholic, she had Mass celebrated in her chamber for some time; but the light always returned. The priest considering these circumstances before God, thought that the deceased, though saved by his repentance accompanied by the desire of Confession, was in Purgatory, and stood in need of prayers. He advised the lady to have Mass said for him during thirty days, according to an ancient custom of English Catholics. The good widow followed this advice, and on the thirtieth day, instead of one light, saw three, two of which seemed to support another. The three lights hovered over her bed, then rose heavenward, never more to return. These three lights appear to have signified the three conversions, and the efficacy of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to open Heaven to the departed souls.”

The thirty Masses which were said for thirty consecutive days is not an English custom only, as it is called by Father Gerard, it is also widely spread in Italy and other Christian countries. These Masses are called the Thirty Masses of Saint Gregory, because the pious custom seems to trace its origin back to this great Pope. It is thus related in his Dialogues (Book 4, chap. 40): A Religious, named Justus, had received and kept for himself three gold pieces. This was a grievous fault against his vow of poverty. He was discovered and excommunicated. This salutary penalty made him enter into himself, and some time afterwards he died in true sentiments of repentance. Nevertheless, Saint Gregory, in order to inspire the brethren with a lively horror of the sin of avarice in a Religious, did not withdraw the sentence of excommunication: Justus was buried apart from the other monks, and the three pieces of money were thrown into the grave, whilst the Religious repeated all together the words of Saint Peter to Simon the Magician, Pecunia tua tecum sit in perditionem – “Keep thy money to perish with thee.”

Some time afterwards, the holy Abbot, judging that the scandal was sufficiently repaired, and moved with compassion for the soul of Justus, called the Procurator and said to him sorrowfully, “Ever since the moment of his death, our brother has been tortured in the flames of Purgatory; we must through charity make an effort to deliver him. Go, then, and take care that from this time forward the Holy Sacrifice be offered for thirty days; let not one morning pass without the Victim of Salvation being offered up for his release.”

The Procurator obeyed punctually. The thirty Masses were celebrated in the course of thirty days. When the thirtieth day arrived and the thirtieth Mass was ended, the deceased appeared to a brother named Copiosus, saying, “Bless God, my dear brother, today I am delivered and admitted into the society of the saints.”

Since that time the pious custom of celebrating thirty Masses for the dead has been established.

MLA Citation