By Fr. Thaddaeus Lancton, MIC (Nov 30, 2017)
"I was recently told that it is a waste of money to have Masses said for the deceased. I was told it does nothing for them because they are dead and I should spend my money on gas and dinner. Why do we have Masses said for the dead, and why is it worth it?"
Praying for the deceased is a spiritual work of mercy, and its roots are found in 2 Maccabees 12. There, we read the story of Judas who led the Jews in battle against the Greeks who were attempting to force the Jews to disobey the Law. After a battle in Adullam, Judas and the soldiers began to bury the deceased; they found amulets "sacred to the idols of Jamnia" (2 Mac 12:40). In other words, this was proof that these Jews were breaking the first commandment by having allegiance to other gods beside the God of Israel. To expiate this sin, Judas offered 2,000 silver drachmas for sacrificial offerings in the temple. One drachma was worth a day's wages, and some historians even estimate that one drachma could have had the value of over $45. This means that to expiate the sins of the deceased and have sacrifices offered for them, Judas offered 2,000 days' worth of wages, or possibly around $90,000.
Someone might object to this: should this money not be spent on the poor instead? Judas Iscariot has the same question in the Gospel of John (12:5). To answer this, we must first define what we mean by "poor." Are we referring only to material poverty or also to spiritual poverty? Saint Stanislaus Papczynski, after having a vision of Purgatory, told his fellow Marians: "Pray, brethren, for the souls who suffer in Purgatory, for they suffer unbearably!" In one of his works, The Mystical Temple of God, he writes that "it is the greatest charity to pray earnestly to God for the freedom of the souls remaining in Purgatory, or to assist them by merciful alms as by various other means."
Jesus also tells St. Faustina the same. Regarding the intention for the Eighth Day of the Divine Mercy Novena, He said, "Oh, if you only knew the torments [the souls in Purgatory] suffer, you would continually offer for them the alms of the spirit" (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska,1226). Indeed, if we knew how much they suffer we would offer them all the indulgences possible and offer alms for even more Masses so as to bring them relief.
Why do we offer money to have a Mass celebrated for a certain intention? Blessed Paul VI, in his apostolic letter Firma in Traditione (Firm in the Tradition), says that "the faithful, desiring in a religious and ecclesial spirit to participate more intimately in the Eucharistic sacrifice, add to it a form of sacrifice of their own by which they contribute in a particular way to the needs of the Church and especially to the sustenance of her ministers." The idea is that by offering some of our own money or possessions, we are participating in the sacrifice of Christ, who offered Himself completely upon the Cross for us. In other words, the offering of money is a small sacrifice that allows us to participate in the sacrifice of Christ in the Mass.
Why do we offer Masses for the dead? Each Mass makes the sacrifice of Christ present again, that includes the fruits of redemption. This means that the salvation gained on Calvary is offered to us anew. But there are souls other than our own — "invisible" members of the Church in Purgatory — who also need the fruits of redemption, who await full salvation. So we make an offering of our money, asking the Church to intercede with the Precious Blood of Jesus for the poor souls who still suffer in Purgatory.
Got questions for Fr. Thaddaeus? Email us at FriendsOfMercy@marian.org or write to Friends of Mercy, Marian Helpers Center, Stockbridge, MA 01263.