Three gold pieces led to Masses for the dead in a whole new way in the sixth century. Because of it, though most of us may not know about it, we can have a deceased loved one prayed for every day for 30 days.
“Gregorian Masses” are Masses offered for 30 consecutive days, starting as soon as possible after someone has died. They are offered for that person’s soul, in the hope that they may get quickly to heaven — assuming they are not already there by God’s grace and mercy.
Few people are completely ready for heaven — seeing God in “the beatific vision” — when they die. Offering prayers and Masses to help their souls is a long tradition in the church. Many of us have probably donated to “have a Mass said” in someone’s memory.
The story of Gregorian Masses deals with a bit of greed; maybe it is better to say, lack of complete trust in God’s care.
Over 1,400 years ago, in A.D. 570, Pope Gregory I founded the monastery of St. Andrew’s in Rome. Living there 20 years later was a monk by the name of Justus who had been a physician before he entered religious life. For whatever reason, Justus had saved three gold coins for himself when he entered the monastery, instead of giving up all of his personal belongings.
Justus told no one about this until he fell desperately ill. Then he told his friend and fellow monk, Copiosus, and the coins were found among the medications Justus had kept with him as well.
Since this secret hoard was viewed as a sin against his vows of poverty, Justus was punished severely — under the orders of Pope Gregory. Even though he was dying, Justus was placed in solitary confinement. Also, it was ordered that, after his death, he could not be buried in consecrated ground.
Needless to say, Justus repented and did penance. After his death, Pope Gregory returned to St. Andrew’s monastery, concerned about Justus’ soul. Despite his earlier harsh decree, the pope now ordered that Masses be offered for the dead monk’s soul for 30 consecutive days.
A while later, Justus appeared to Copiosus in a dream to tell him that he had bee n released from purgatory. Upon hearing the story, the monks realized that the dream took place at exactly the end of the 30 days of Masses. The story was related by Pope Gregory himself in his own writing, “Dialogues.”
Thus began the custom of 30 days of Masses for a soul in purgatory and it continues to this day. However, since there are fewer priests today than there were in earlier years, it is not as common a practice.
This month, the diocesan World Missions Office sent out a notice about the custom, saying that they can arrange for 30 Gregorian Masses to be offered by missionary priests.
One requirement for these Masses is that the same priest must offer Mass for 30 days — though this can sometimes be interrupted and, if the priest cannot offer a Mass, he may ask another priest to take the responsibility. The usual Mass stipend is $10 per Mass or a total of $300 given to the missionary priest or his mission.
If you are interested in praying for someone who has died or honoring them with a Gregorian Masses, or would like to request Masses offered by a mission priest, contact the World Missions Office at (920) 272-8192 or email [email protected].
The Catholic Near East Welfare Association can also arrange for Gregorian Masses.