Dear Father Angelo,
I’d like you to clarify some of my doubts about the Mass which is offered for the souls of the departed. I’d like to know if booking a Mass in order to pray for a beloved one is the same as not officially booking one but simply attending Mass and praying from the heart for them, considering that the Sacrifice of Christ is always the same .. Moreover, if I go to Mass and make a donation or a good deed, will it be useful for the dead?
I thank you a lot.
1. Every time you go to Mass, you can present Christ’s sacrifice together with the priest as a suffrage for the dead . Also, you can help them with donations, intentionally made in order to help your beloved ones to sooner reach Heaven.
2. However, you can wonder what difference there is between asking a priest to celebrate a Mass for our dead or offering it by ourselves , by also giving the same or a bigger donation during Mass.
3. Then, it would be useful to remember what results a Mass can reach. First of all, during Mass God makes us understand His sacrifice, meaning His Passion and His Death. This same Sacrifice has an impetratory, meritorious and expiatory value which is endless in itself . Although, when it is linked to somebody, its value is limited because it depends on the devotion of the person for whom it is intended.
4. After this introduction, you have to remember that each Mass is universal, which means that it is useful for all mankind. This was Christ’s intention when He said: “Drink from this, all of you, for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28) . “You” refers to the Apostles, “many” refers to all those who benefit from it.
5) Here are the merits of Mass according to Charles Journet, a great theologian who took part in the Vatican Council II and then became a Cardinal
“Which are the results of a Mass and for whom is it celebrated?”
Mass can be analyzed on three levels
Due to the fact that during Mass we deeply enter the sacrifice of the Cross, the Church can always intercede through Christ, with Christ and in Christ in order to pray for mankind’s redemption in a particular moment in time. In this way, it will be granted according to the intensity of Her will; but it would also be possible to express some particular intentions.
So, it will be possible to define the intentions of the Militant Church, which during each Mass prays for all of the faithful, both dead and alive , and for the world’s salvation. This is what theologians usually call the general result of Mass; the priest’s intention as a ministry of the Church (…).
b) The Church satisfies a universal intention
The Church extrapolates from the infinite treasure of each Mass what allows Her to capture the intensity of Her love as a bride in order to share it with the world. It means that each Mass is purposely celebrated for all the faithful who are on earth or in Purgatory and for the world’s salvation. This is the general merit of the Mass (…).
c) The priest satisfies a special intention as ministry of the Church
Besides this general intention for all the world, which the Church satisfies as Christ’s Bride, the priest himself can freely offer a Mass for people who ask him to do so or who make donations for it. He can do it not as a private person who is led by his personal devotion and not even as a direct ministry of Christ in the moment of the consecration. He can do it as a direct ministry of the Church, who is delegated to perform the liturgy as it is.
From what the Church has acquired from the deep and infinite meaning of each Mass through the intensity of Her love , she can assign a part of it to the priest who precisely is Her ministry by allowing him to apply to each Mass his particular intentions with the aim of holiness.
This intention represents the special merit of the Mass (some others name it ministerial merit, but there are no differences). It is so called because the Church in particular makes it as Her own intention (…).
According to the priest’s intention, it would be in favor of a single person or of several people.
d) Offer of a priest or a faithful for a specific intention
In conclusion, the personal devotion of the priest or the faithful is a third way to take part in a Mass. This is true both if they offer or help in offering the Mass’ sacrifice and also if they participate with their faith or through a sacramental communion. The effects of it, which will be the specific merits of the Mass, will be distributed according to their personal intentions. Therefore, each Mass is offered first of all by the Church which prays for all the world with all the intensity of Her devotion.Then it is offered by the priest as a ministry of the Church which embraces his specific intention. On the third instance, it is also offered by the priest and the faithful on a more personal level in accordance with their specific intentions. Each time the world benefits from the pouring of the Blood of the Cross (La Messa, pp.178-181).
6. According to another point of view, these particular results can be named special fruits (which are the ones that are linked to the prayers of people who are at the Mass or who contribute to it in some way) or very special fruits (which are the ones that come when the priest prays for a particular intention).
7. To sum up, these results can be listed as follows, using a slightly different terminology but maintaining Cardinal Journet’s definitions .
A general fruit is the one that benefits the entire Church and the entire world.
A special fruit is the one that benefits people who attended or helped during a Mass.
A ministerial fruit is the one that benefits the person for whom the Mass is celebrated. This happens thanks to the will of a person who asks for it and to the will of a priest who accepts it as ministry of the Church.
A very special fruit is the one that benefits the priest who celebrates the Mass. He can keep it for himself or offer it for someone else.
8. After all these distinctions, it is clear the difference between the intentions of a faithful and the intentions of a priest who is a ministry of the Church. In the first option, there is only a special merit. In the second one, a ministerial merit is added to the special one.
9. You refer to “booking a Masse”. Obviously, the term is not correct, but we have both understood what you mean.
I really thank you for your question as it has allowed me to clarify a lot of doubts and misunderstandings which are frequent amongst many faithful people and priests, too.
I bless you and I remember you to the Lord.