April 2017 Print


Q&A

 

by Fr. Juan-Carlos Iscara, SSPX

What is the Church’s teaching regarding Gregorian Masses?

A “Gregorian Mass” is, in fact, 30 consecutive Masses said for the soul of one deceased person. The practice began with St. Gregory the Great, pope from 590 to 604. In Book IV of his Dialogues, he refers to the case of one Justus, a monk in the monastery that St. Gregory himself had founded in Rome. Justus did not keep very well his vow of poverty, and another monk, his friend, feared much for his eternal salvation. For this reason, Masses were continually said for Justus’ soul. On the 30th day, Justus appeared to his friend, stating that thanks to the Masses said, he was then free from Purgatory. Soon, the practice of 30 consecutive Masses for a deceased person became a tradition in Benedictine monasteries, and a pious custom in the universal Church.

The Masses can be offered only for one deceased person in particular—unbroken, for 30 consecutive days, in such a manner that if there is an interruption, the priest celebrating them has to start again with the series of 30.

The Church has not given any official guarantee of the efficacy of this practice, as it relies on the testimony of one monk, who could have been wrong or delusional. At the most, it can be accepted as a private revelation, but even in those cases the Church does not command our acceptance with the fullness her authority. Nonetheless, the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences has said that, being a pious and reasonable belief of the faithful, it is to be commended. Moreover, the practice has been sanctioned by the authority of a great saint, Gregory himself.

In the modern Church, the Gregorian Mass has been very much discontinued, as it reinforces the belief in Purgatory and on the consequent need to pray for the souls of the departed—another thing that modern Catholics have forgotten in the wake of the forced optimism of Vatican II and of the ecumenical opening to other Christian confessions that reject the very notion of Purgatory.

Still, even for Traditional priests it is becoming increasingly difficult to offer Gregorian Masses. Such priests are, relatively speaking, few in number, while attending to the spiritual needs of growing numbers of faithful. It is, therefore, hard—but not impossible—for a pastor to engage himself to say Masses for only one intention during a whole month, when such an engagement forces him to refuse to say Masses for other intentions of his parishioners, towards whom he has pressing obligations in justice and charity.

Are vows different from promises? Is it advisable to make a private vow?

Every vow implies a promise, but not the other way around. The vow is an act of adoration and consecration, made only to God, obliging by the virtue of religion. A simple promise may be made also to men, obliging in virtue of fidelity or justice.

A vow is a deliberate and free promise made to God to accomplish a good that is possible and better (Code of Canon Law [1917], can. 1307). It is a binding promise imposing a true obligation of doing or omitting something in honor of God. By the vow we worship God and acknowledge His supreme dominion. It is not a simple desire or purpose, which properly speaking, does not impose an obligation.

A vow is public if a legitimate ecclesiastical superior receives it in the name of the Church; otherwise, it is private (Code of Canon Law [1917], can. 1308).

Vows are pronounced so as to strengthen our wills in doing what is good. Their object must be not simply something good, but something that is better, while still humanly possible, not only in general, but also within the forces and capacities of the individual making the vow.

A vow binds the person who makes it in such a manner that a failure in fulfilling what has been freely promised is a serious offence against God. Therefore, keeping in mind the weakness of our fallen nature, the Church in general advises against making private vows.

In any case, vows must be made, not on a whim or in a state of emotional agitation, but with prudence and discretion, after fervent prayer, long reflection and seeking the advice of a confessor or a spiritual director, who is able to evaluate more clearly our circumstances and our forces. The more important the obligation we assume with the vow, the more careful reflection and preparation it requires.

How should we go about with our spiritual reading?

Spiritual reading is that reading whose purpose is to assist us in better knowing, loving, and serving God. Many conversions have begun with the reading of a spiritual book, as St. Augustine’s, who, on hearing a voice saying Tolle, lege (“Pick up and read”), opened the Gospel to a passage that changed his life.

Spiritual reading is necessary as the normal way of nourishing our Christian life, but it should not be undertaken to satisfy our curiosity or to acquire knowledge of theological matters. Its primary purpose is to stir up the affections of our hearts, making us eager for intimacy with heavenly things and longing for virtue, divine grace, and purity of soul. It is akin to actual prayer—in fact, it is itself a manner of prayer, an elevation of our spirit to God.

Thus, we may read Scripture, the lives and writings of the Saints, and those authors praised by the Church for the elevation and soundness of their doctrine; we may also read the history of the Church, for the purpose of discerning in it the unfolding of the designs of God and being reassured of His far-reaching Providence. But whatever our reading may be, it should be selected in accordance with our spiritual condition and needs, for a reading that has no connection with our soul’s dispositions and longings at that moment would yield little benefit.

Spiritual reading should be done a little at a time, according to our capacities and circumstances, but consistently, every day without fail. It should be second in priority only to formal prayer. We should be working on just one book at a time, reading it from beginning to end, because passing from one book to another, after having read a little in each, confuses our minds and hearts and disturbs our peace of soul. If possible, we should be taking notes, highlighting the passages that particularly strike us, so that we may bring those points up in our meditation or in consultation with our spiritual director.

We must not read hurriedly so as to get through a great number of books, as if we were in a race against time to finish a book before the next meeting of our book club, or as if trying to read as many books as we can before we die, or as if in a competition with our fellow parishioners, to see who manages to read the most spiritual books in a year… We must read slowly, at our own pace, lingering where we find nourishment, reassurance, or consolation, and always giving ourselves plenty of time to let what is read sink deeply into the soul.

Being part of our daily prayers—being itself one of our prayers—our spiritual reading should begin with a fervent invocation of God, and be sustained throughout with pious aspirations or ejaculatory prayers. Perhaps we could use this prayer of St. John Chrysostom:

“In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost: O Lord Jesus Christ, open the ears of my heart, that I may hear Thy word and understand and do Thy will, for I am a sojourner upon the earth. Hide not Thy commandments from me, but open my eyes, that I may perceive the wonders of Thy law. Speak to me the hidden and secret things of Thy wisdom. On Thee do I set my hope, O my God, that Thou will enlighten my mind and understanding with the light of Thy knowledge, not only to cherish those things which are written, but to do them, that in reading the lives, works, and sayings of the Saints I may not sin, but that such may serve for my restoration, enlightenment and sanctification, for the salvation of my soul, and the inheritance of life everlasting; For Thou art the enlightenment of those who lie in darkness, and from Thee comes every good deed and every gift. Amen.”