Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 20

detail of a painting of Saint Teresa of Avila by Peter Paul Rubens, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, AustriaArticle

Relief of the Souls through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – Saint Teresa and Bernardino de Mendoza – Multiplicity of Masses – Pomp of the Obsequies

Let us conclude what we have said relative to the Holy Sacrifice by what Saint Teresa relates concerning Bernardino de Mendoza. She gives this fact in the Book of Foundations, Chapter 10.

“On the Feast of All Souls, Don Bernardino de Mendoza had given a house and beautiful garden, situated in Madrid, to Saint Teresa, that she might found a monastery in honor of the Mother of God.” Two months after this, he was suddenly taken ill, and lost the power of speech, so that he could not make a Confession, though he gave many signs of contrition. “He died,” says Saint Teresa, “very shortly afterwards, and far from the place where I then was. But Our Lord spoke to me, and told me he was saved, though he had run a great risk; that mercy had been shown to him because of the donation to the convent of His Blessed Mother; but that his soul would not be freed from suffering until the first Mass was said in the new house. I felt so deeply the pains this soul was enduring, that although I was very desirous of accomplishing the foundation of Toledo, I left it at once for Valladolid on Saint Lawrence’s Day.

“One day, whilst I was in prayer at Medina del Campo, Our Lord told me to make all possible haste, for the soul of De Mendoza was a prey to the most intense suffering.

“I immediately ordered the masons to put up the walls of the convent without delay; but as this would take considerable time, I asked the Bishop for permission to make a temporary chapel for the use of the sisters which I had brought with me. This obtained, I had Mass offered; and at the moment I left my place to approach the Holy Table, I saw our benefactor, who, with hands joined and countenance all radiant, thanked me for having delivered him from Purgatory. Then I saw him enter Heaven. 1 was the more happy as I did not expect this. For although Our Lord had revealed to me that the deliverance of this soul would follow the celebration of the first Mass in the house, I thought that it must mean the first Mass when the Blessed Sacrament should be reserved there.”

This beautiful incident shows us not only the efficacy of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but also the tender goodness with which Jesus interests Himself in favor of the holy souls, even condescending to solicit our suffrages in their behalf.

But since the Divine Sacrifice is of such value, it may here be asked if a large number of Masses procures for the souls more relief than a smaller number, whose defect is supplied only by magnificent obsequies and abundant alms? The answer to this question may be inferred from the spirit of the Church, which is the spirit of Jesus Christ Himself, and the expression of His Will.

Now the Church advises the faithful to have prayers said for the dead, to give alms, and perform other good works, to apply indulgences to them, but especially to have Holy Mass celebrated, and to assist thereat. Whilst giving the first place to the Divine Sacrifice, she approves and makes use of various kinds of suffrages, according to the circumstances, devotion, or social condition of the deceased or his heirs.

It is a Catholic custom religiously observed from the remotest antiquity to have Mass celebrated for the dead with solemn ceremonies, and a funeral with as much pomp as their means will allow. The expense of this is an alms given to the Church, an alms which, in the eyes of God, greatly enhances the price of the Holy Sacrifice, and its satisfactory value for the deceased.

It is well, however, so to regulate the funeral expenses, that a sufficient sum be left for a certain number of Masses, and also to give alms to the poor.

That which must be avoided is, to lose sight of the Christian character of funerals, and to look upon the funeral service less as a great act of religion than a display of worldly vanity.

What must be further avoided are the profane mourning emblems which are not comformable to Christian tradition, such as the wreaths of flowers, with which, at a great expense, they load the coffins of the dead. This is an innovation justly disapproved by the Church, to which Jesus Christ has entrusted the care of religious rites and ceremonies, not excepting funeral ceremonies. Those of which she makes use at the death of her children are venerable by their antiquity, full of meaning and consolation. All that presents itself to the eyes of the faithful on such occasions, the cross and the holy water, the lights and the incense, the tears and prayers, breathe compassion for the poor souls, faith in the Divine Mercy, and the hope of immortality.

What is there of all this in the cold wreaths of violet? They say nothing to the Christian soul; they are but profane emblems of this mortal life, that contrast strangely with the cross, and which are foreign to the rites of the Catholic Church.

MLA Citation