What Happens During a Gregorian Mass for the Deceased?

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In many cultures, it’s considered normal to honor someone’s death even after the funeral ends. A Gregorian Mass is a Catholic tradition dating back thousands of years. According to ancient tradition, it’s believed that a continuous series of 30 Masses for the deceased could release them from purgatory. 

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These are offered to honor an individual soul, and they’re a way to recognize that few people go directly to Heaven after death. Instead, many linger in purgatory between Heaven and Hell. However, this isn’t set in stone. 

As Dante wrote in his Divine Comedy, “The heavens, that their beauty not be lessened, have cast them out, nor will deep Hell receive them—even the wicket cannot glory in them.” This means these souls remain in the in-between—not pure enough to join God, but not deceitful enough to warrant a place in Hell. 

What’s the purpose of a Gregorian Mass, and why is this practice still alive today? In this guide, we’ll share what happens during a Gregorian Mass for the deceased. 

What’s the Purpose of a Gregorian Mass for the Deceased?

The Gregorian Mass is not a recent tradition. This dates back to ancient times. Founded by St. Gregory the Great around 590 C.E., the Gregorian Mass began as a way to help a specific deceased monk on his way to Heaven. 

Thirty days after the monk’s death, another monk in St. Gregory’s monastery had a vision where he spoke to the deceased monk. In the vision, the deceased monk spoke about how receiving the holy communion had put him in a better place. It turned out that the vision had occurred after the celebration of the 30th Mass after his death.

This story became a longstanding tradition in which Catholics celebrate 30 consecutive Masses after the passing of an individual. Now called Gregorian Mass of the deceased, this is a practice used to release souls from purgatory. 

What is purgatory?

In Catholicism, there is a belief in both Heaven and Hell. These are where deceased souls go when they die. However, there is an alternative option for those who don’t fit the qualifications of either: purgatory. 

Purgatory has two primary purposes. It’s a punishment for sin, and it’s also the cleansing of sin. It’s a way to purify the soul so it’s ready to go to Heaven. 

There’s often a misunderstanding that purgatory is a type of jail or harsh punishment. According to the church, many people actually serve their purgatory while living on Earth. The Catholic Church believes that you could be living your purgatory during life if you’re an innocent person struggling with disease, poverty, or persecution. Unless you live an exceptionally good and holy life, you’re most likely going to spend some time in purgatory before going to Heaven.

The Gregorian Mass for the deceased is a way to quicken this process. By engaging in Mass, it’s possible to help the deceased soul find the path to Heaven and cleanse his or her soul after death. 

In his epic poem, Inferno, Dante frequently describes purgatory. He writes that purgatory is where “the human spirit purges himself, and climbing to Heaven makes himself worthy.” In his depiction of purgatory, the land is an island mountain. As the inhabitants move up the mountain, they grow closer to Heaven. 

What Goes on During a Gregorian Mass for the Deceased?

As explained above, a Gregorian Mass takes place over a consecutive 30 days after an individual dies. This can be held in addition to a Catholic funeral or as part of one. If the Mass is interrupted for even one day, the entire process has to start again. However, the same priest does not need to complete each Mass. 

Though the name might imply that these Masses include chanting since St. Gregory is also associated with Gregorian chants, this is not the case. There are actually no special traditions, rituals, or rites of Gregorian Masses. 

Unlike larger, community-wide Masses, Gregorian Masses are typically held in smaller settings. They usually take place in monasteries, priestly homes, and seminaries. The priests who complete these Gregorian Mass requests typically have few other pastoral commitments so they can focus on study, prayer, and this special celebration. 

During a Gregorian Mass for the deceased, the priest will pray for the soul of the deceased. Their intentions are to clear this soul of all sins over the 30 days, freeing them to journey to Heaven for their final stay. 

Is the family involved with the Gregorian Mass?

Gregorian Masses are led by a qualified priest. This is something the family can participate in, but they don’t have to. In fact, it’s usually not practical for loved ones to be a part of these practices. 

First, they’re typically done in a priest’s residence or in a seminary. They aren’t usually open to the public. Unlike larger Masses for the entire congregation, they’re intended to be small and private. If you’d like to be involved as a family member, you’ll need to find a priest willing to accommodate this request. 

Can anyone hold a Gregorian Mass?

A Gregorian Mass can be held in honor of anyone, but it cannot be done by anyone. It must be led by a priest. 

Though there are no special rites or readings, this is something that should be guided by a priest to ensure its success. While many cultures include prayers for the dead after the funeral, this is something you can do outside of a Gregorian Mass. 

How Do You Request a Gregorian Mass for the Deceased?

As you might expect, not all Catholic churches are equipped to fulfill requests for every Gregorian Mass. Because these take a lot of resources to complete, they’re only usually done by specific monasteries and seminaries across the world. 

You can actually request a Gregorian Mass for a loved one online. There are many groups that focus primarily on these types of Masses, and they deliver these services to Catholics of all backgrounds from across the globe. 

In order to request a Gregorian Mass, you will most likely need to make a donation to the parish or church. This can be anywhere from $100 to $300, or more depending on what you’d like to give. However, there are some churches that conduct these Masses for charity, and they don’t request any donations for those in need. 

You can request a Gregorian Mass at any of these organizations online:

  • CNEWA: For a donation of $150, CNEW, a papal agency for humanitarian support, will complete a 30-day Gregorian Mass for your loved one. 
  • Our Lady of Angels: The priests and brothers of St. Vincent de Paul will hold a Gregorian Mass for a $200 donation. 
  • Diocese of Columbus: Based in Columbus, Ohio, the Diocese of Columbus will hold a Gregorian Mass for a donation of $300. 

Another option is to speak to your current priest or congregation leaders about where to find a Gregorian Mass near you. If you want to participate in the Gregorian Mass yourself, you’ll need to find a local monastery or seminary to see if this would be an option. 

Release Souls from Purgatory

In Catholicism, the afterlife is just as important as life on Earth. Though it’s commonly believed that all souls go to either Heaven or Hell after death, this isn’t always the case. According to Catholic beliefs, the majority of people are not ready for Heaven at their time of death. These individual souls reside in purgatory, waiting for their souls to be fully cleansed for Heaven. 

To speed up this process, humans on earth can participate in Gregorian Masses. By praying for the soul of this individual, it’s possible to quicken the journey to Heaven. Honoring deceased loved ones doesn’t stop at the funeral. As we see with Gregorian Masses, it’s important to honor their lives and legacy long after they’re gone. 


Sources:
  1. Kosloski, Philip. “What are Gregorian Masses for the dead?” Aleteia. November 7, 2018. Aleteia.org
  2. “Purgatorio” The World of Dante. WorldofDante.org

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