Maybe I should have waited for the Year of Mercy to have arranged for a suite of Gregorian Masses to be said for a pedophile priest. He had the good fortune to die in a Catholic nursing home after receiving the last rites. He probably received the Apostolic Pardon as well. If so, that Pardon may have removed his need for Gregorian Masses but I didn’t want to take a chance. I wanted to make sure he entered Heaven as soon as possible. Not exactly the kind of fellow one would expect to show up there so quickly.
You see, I did not have the Masses said for his sake necessarily although I thought that would be a nice thing to do. I didn’t even know the man. I simply read about his alleged history of abuse of children in the secular press and it sounded horrendous.
When the scandals broke a few decades ago, I had read about a number of priests so accused but none quite as bad as this one, if indeed he was rightly accused. And it certainly seemed he had done everything said about him.
My personal experience with priests, and it was considerable over many years, had never involved anything like this personally or by hearsay. I had worked with priests of various orders and been educated by them as well and had never encountered anything like what this man had been accused of doing. But that was in the Fifties and Sixties and not many, if any, cases of abuse were made as public as his.
The worst I recall from that time was the occasional priest who had a problem with alcohol. And there was a monk, I heard tell, who had been sent away from an abbey in the Midwest to live for a year in North Dakota after getting too friendly with a lady in town. He came back, I was told, chastened, and remained a good monk from then on. But abusing children was not a public symptom in those days. It may indeed have happened, of course, and was simply hushed up, brushed under some rug.
Truth be told, however, I had those Gregorian Masses said for the alleged pedophile priest because I thought it would be interesting to have someone like him enter heaven a month or so after his death and meet all those saints, many of whom had been saints from the get-go. But then, as much as it makes me pause to say it, he would have been a saint, too, the day he entered Heaven. Not a stain on his soul. But just as there are degrees of sin, there must be degrees of sanctity as well.
I figured that when my pedophile priest entered Heaven, after introductions and whatever else might be involved, he would be given a seat in the last row of the bleachers. He might even be given a set of binoculars to watch the Beatific Vision. I hoped he’d save the seat next to him for me whenever I might arrive while still hoping that I do. And, of course, I’d want him to lend me those binoculars every once in awhile if I wasn’t issued a pair of my own.
Now I’m not saying that I am or was in the same league as this man was said to be when it comes to sin. His predilections were not mine. Still, I figured I’d rather sit next to him and simply thank God for giving me the grace to come back to the Church after a very long hiatus.
Who knows where I might have ended up without that grace of repentance and return that God granted me long before this Year of Mercy?
Not too much is said these days about Gregorian Masses, but they were spoken about often and with reverence before Vatican II. It wasn’t unusual for a family in mourning to arrange for them to be performed.
I know I would prefer Gregorian Masses in lieu of flowers even if I receive an Apostolic Pardon before I die. A sinner in the checkout lane can’t be too careful even if he is the beneficiary of the last rites.
It’s not so easy to arrange Gregorian Masses today as it was in the past. There was no shortage of priests back in the Forties and Fifties so it wasn’t difficult to do arrange them following the death of a loved one.
The requirement was, and still is, that a Mass a day be said for the deceased for thirty consecutive days. Different priests can say the Masses as long as they are said thirty days in a row. After the last Mass, the soul is said to leave Purgatory and enter Heaven. The whole concept, of course, creates problems for other Christians who do not believe Purgatory exists, never mind the effect of Gregorian Masses.
Pope St. Gregory the Great was the first to make this pious practice, as it is called, well known in the Catholic Church. How he came to believe in the practice is an interesting story.
An order of Franciscans who offer Gregorian Masses today points out on its website that St. Gregory related “in his Dialogues how, when he had finished the series of 30 Masses for a departed monk, the monk appeared to tell he had thus gained entry into glory on completion of the Gregorian Masses.”
Eventually, the Sacred Roman Congregation on Indulgences declared Gregorian Masses to be a “pious and reasonable belief of the faithful.”
To the best of my knowledge, neither the Protestant Reformation nor Vatican II brought any changes in this “pious and reasonable belief.”
I imagine priests in religious orders are more likely to say Gregorian Masses than a diocesan priest who has other duties as well. I turned to this order of Franciscans I mentioned earlier to have the Masses said for the priest. I also had the Masses said in installments as necessary for my parents and in-laws and a few others, none of them renowned as saints while on earth but none with the reputation of the priest I mention in this article, either.
More information can be found about Gregorian Masses at http://www.franciscanmissions.org/Gregorian.html.
Personally, I wouldn’t let a loved one die without making arrangements for Gregorian Masses. And I would do the same for any sinner, whether a public sinner like the priest I mention here or a private one like you and me.
By the way, if one is alone in this world he or she can make arrangements in advance to have Gregorian Masses said for oneself. But if you are alone in this world, and you choose to make those arrangements, you might want to make calling the provider of the Masses an integral part of your advanced planning with your undertaker.
You can always include that requirement in your will but it might take awhile for the estate to be settled. And Purgatory, the last I heard, isn’t getting any cooler. Gregorian Masses are a nice thing to have offered for a soul in this Year of Mercy.
Retired now, DONAL MAHONEY worked many years as an editor in the Catholic and secular press. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri.