Sunday, February 05, 2012

On the subject of Gregorian Masses... again.

Springbank revisited.

Once upon a time I wrote a post on the subject of Gregorian Masses and a simple monk's discovery in the archives of his abbey of old Mass stipends or certificates which may or may not have been executed.  The monk's original post, indeed the monk and the abbey, are gone now:  Almost a year ago the abbey was mysteriously disbanded and quietly vanished, the monks dispersed along their separate way.

My interest in the old abbey was piqued years ago when I tried my vocation as a monk.  I had heard stories that these Cistercians retained the use of Latin for the liturgy after Vatican II, a fact which monastic critics of the day speculated as the probable cause for this particular abbey's lack of vocations.  Over the years I learned more about the monastery from men who tried their vocations there - hence my interest when the abbey appeared in financial news as supporting itself through an innovative and quite profitable new high-tech business:  recycling toner cartridges.

My interest in the community grew after one of their novices began a web log which offered insights into their daily life.  Unfortunately the blog has been removed, but it did shed some light on the inner workings of a small community.  Personally, I think it wise to discourage that type of activity, especially for monastics without a great deal of experience in religious life - and even sometimes for those with experience.  I always think of cloistered nuns, who usually only permit the most prudent and discreet sister to act as portress.  But I digress.

Gregorian Masses

Back on topic.  What are Gregorian Masses?  I will let someone else explain it for now:
Gregorian Masses are thirty Masses said at any altar for thirty consecutive days for the deliverance of a certain soul from Purgatory. The pious practice of having these Masses celebrated for the deliverance of the souls from Purgatory was not first introduced by Saint Gregory the great, who was sovereign Pontiff from 590 to 604, but dates back to before his time. However, they are called Gregorian Masses because of how Saint Gregory contributed to the spread of this pious practice. in his "Dialogues" the Saint tells us that he caused thirty Masses to be said on thirty consecutive days for the repose of the soul of Justus, a monk who had died in the convent of Saint Andrew in Rome. At the end of the thirtieth Mass, the deceased appeared to his brother, Copoosus, who had assisted him as a physician in his last illness, and announced that he had been delivered from the flames of Purgatory.  Read more here.       
I have often arranged for Gregorian Masses to be said for family members and close friends.  A prioress of a cloistered monastery once gave me addresses of one or two religious houses where she had confidence that the Masses would be said as prescribed, noting she couldn't be sure of other places.  I never inquired what she meant, and I doubt she would have told me anyway, but it certainly raised some doubts in my mind that such sacred commissions were always carried out with fidelity.  That was nearly 30 years ago, so the situation may have improved since then.  However, long story short - when the monk from Springbank posted on the subject - it got my attention.

An old custom.

I removed my post because the monk(s) were obviously unhappy with my speculation regarding the discovery of apparently 'unfulfilled' Gregorian Mass stipends.  I removed my initial post in deference to the monk's protestations that I was misrepresenting what the novice wrote on his blog concerning the certificates.  However, I saved some of the email exchange which took place, which may help shed more light on the controversy:

If you have so many concerns about our practices, you might have called or emailed the Abbey before writing a post that is inaccurate, if not slanderous.

Those Masses I refer to for $60 to $100 are for certificates that are still coming in today, contracted decades ago. The series begins to be said within a few days of our receiving the death notice.

You need to correct this post or remove it entirely. - Br. X
My response:
Dear Br. X:  My sincere apologies - I wasn't accusing the Abbey of any malpractice. The way you worded your post I, along with others who read your post, wondered the same thing. I'm very sorry if you somehow interpreted my post differently - to be fair, I included a quote from your own post for clarity. - Terry
Questions remain.

As I said, I deleted the original post, although I wasn't alone in the misunderstanding, and even today, to my knowledge, questions remain.  Especially since the abbey no longer exists, and its dissolution took place so quietly.  How will those who contracted Masses to be said after their death, whose death notices are to be submitted to the community, get their Masses said if no one is there to celebrate them?  One expects a real abbey to be permanent and not founded upon the whims of the prior, and although the obligation may be transferred, say to another abbey of the order, how will that abbey be notified when one of its clients dies?  I ask these questions precisely because they have been asked of me.  Since I have been one of the few to discuss the closing of the abbey publicly, a few people have contacted me regarding the Masses their family members had contracted.  I in turn directed them to the chancery of the Diocese of La Crosse.  I have no idea what kind of response they received.

So, don't ask me - ask the Diocese.

Perhaps there is nothing to be concerned about, since the same novice-monk replied to an email I sent him notifying him that I removed the initial post, assuring me:
Terry - As you said, Mass Stipends are a complicated issue. After WWII, we coordinated Mass Intentions from the U.S. for the entire Order, which literally put food on the table in some of our houses in Europe and Africa. It took three full-time secretaries and lots of record keeping because we were meticulous and I'm proud to say that we still are. Fr. Joseph, our sacristan, keeps the intentions flowing in excellent shape. - Br. X
As I wrote to one woman who inquired about the Masses:
Dear X - I think you can rest assured that the Masses your mother contracted were said - I'm quite sure that when the abbey was dissolved, all such contracts would have been sent to other monasteries - if they had not been fulfilled beforehand. I was told by a former novice that all of the Masses were taken care of. If you remain concerned, I suggest contacting the LaCrosse Diocese chancery. - Terry
I expect something like that may have been done, and hopefully families contacted.

Having said all of that, in view of all that has happened with the dissolution of this particular abbey, I would never contract for Masses in advance of a person's death; rather the wisest solution would be to have a will and provide for some one to arrange for Masses immediately after your death.  Pre-arrangement may work well for cemetery plots and so on, but I'm not sure about Gregorian Mass pre-arrangements.

Document facsimile source.   Apparently in 1959 the stipend was $30.00.  Today the stipend is usually $300.00.  (At least that is what it was the last time I commissioned a series.)


  1. I've wondered about this sort of situation. I know the priests of the Miles Christi send me a pamphlet with each monthly newsletter that they will offer Gregorian Masses. I can't think of a group of priests who imbibled with a sensus catholicus than this group. I've made the Spiritual Exercises with them and they would make excellent spiritual directors.

  2. Terry, I am ignorant of such practices, so please bear with me. But how does this differ from simony? I am not accusing, just genuinely puzzled.

    Also, why 30? Is one Mass not enough? Again, I am generally ignorant of the theology, so please don't think I am attacking anything.

  3. Hi Merc - No I know you are not. The link in the post will take you to A Franciscan site which explains the custom. It should answer all of your questions.

  4. Gregorian Masses:

    Eric Stoutz
    From the Nov/Dec 2010 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

    What can you tell me about the Gregorian series of Masses and the Apostolic Pardon? I understand they have been around for a long time.

    Gregorian Masses

    An ancient but mostly unknown custom of the Church is the offering of a daily Mass for 30 days for a soul in purgatory. After the Masses are said, the soul is immediately freed from purgatory and enters into heaven. ....

    The Origin of the "30 Gregorian Masses" for November

    A Charity that offers Gregorian Masses:

  5. Contracting for Masses more than one year in advance is forbidden.

    Mass stipends are not considered simony as they are used to support Priests, as Church donations are not considered simony; they support Holy Mother Church.

    Mass stipends.

    They help support the needs of Priests.

    If Priests receive more than a certain amount they are required to give it to the Church.

    A stipend for a Mass can be as little as $10. or so.

    If you cannot afford any money, the Priest will offer a Mass for free.


  6. I paid about $150 for a series of Gregorian masses for someone last fall. The family never received notice of it - although I did get a generic thank you letter. Since then, I have been inudated with mass cards and appeals for money from this organization. I certainly hope they carried through - I bought the Gregorian masses as a sign of hope and peace for this particular family.

  7. Simony, (ˈsai.mə.niː) by proper definition, is the purchase of a clerical office, responsibility or dignity in exchange for cash. Simony is the technically the act of paying for sacraments and consequently for holy offices or for positions in the hierarchy of a church.

    Simony is named after Simon Magus, who appears in the Acts of the Apostles 8:9-24. Simon Magus offers the disciples of Jesus, Peter and John, payment so that anyone on whom he would place his hands would receive the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the origin of the term simony; but, it also extends to other forms of trafficking for money in "spiritual things".

    Let's say that Msgr. Jones' rich uncle makes a sizable financial contribution to an official church organization, and then Jones is mysteriously and quite quickly advanced to be archbishop of someplace. Those circumstances could well be open to the charge of simony.

    Especially previous to the Enlightenment all kinds of clerical offices were given away in exchange for cash or personal favors, quid pro quo. Many of those practices were or bordered on simony.

    Read about simony here:


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