Are Masses for deceased necessary? - Catholic Courier

Are Masses for deceased necessary?

Q. Before my father died in a hospice, he had (several times) received the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. I thought that meant that his sins were forgiven and that he would not have to suffer in purgatory. Nevertheless, my siblings insist on having annual Masses offered for him. Why should we pray for his soul if he had the sacrament for the sick? (Jessup, Maryland)

A. The effects of the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, as listed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in No. 1532 are as follows: uniting the sick person to the passion of Jesus; strength, peace and courage to endure the sufferings of illness or old age; the forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was not able to obtain it through the sacrament of penance; the restoration of health, if that be conducive to the person’s salvation; and preparation for passing over to eternal life.

Notice that this list does not include the remission of all punishment due to sin. However, there is a sacramental called the apostolic pardon, which is a blessing a priest administers when someone is in danger of death, following the anointing (and, if the person is able, the reception of holy Communion).

This blessing carries with it a plenary indulgence, and is worded as follows: "By the authority which the Apostolic See has given me, I grant you a full pardon and the remission of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." (An alternate and acceptable wording is this: "Through the holy mysteries of our redemption, may almighty God release you from all punishments in this life and in the life to come. May he open to you the gates of paradise and welcome you to everlasting joy.")

I believe that most theologians and spiritual guides would see this apostolic pardon as a prayer petitioning God to do what the words ask, rather than an order commanding the Lord to act in a certain way.

My feeling is that I can never be certain that a person has passed on in complete purity of spirit, with every stain of selfishness erased from the soul. For that reason, I view Masses for the deceased as always valuable.

Surely, should the person have already gained eternal joy, the Mass will at least benefit those who attend it and those who requested it.

Q. The Confiteor prayer, which we often recite at the beginning of Mass, contains these words: "Blessed Mary, ever-virgin." Yet in New American Bible (written especially for Catholics) we read (Mt 1:24-25): "(Joseph) did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus." Wouldn’t this indicate that Joseph and Mary did have sexual relations after Jesus’ birth, meaning that she was no longer a virgin? (Terre Haute, Indiana)

A. The perpetual virginity of Mary has been held by the church since its earliest centuries. It was perhaps most strongly expressed by St. Augustine in 411, namely, that Mary was "a virgin conceiving, a virgin bearing, a virgin pregnant, a virgin bringing forth, a virgin perpetual."

As to the argument you raise from Matthew 1:24-25, you have imposed a modern meaning upon an ancient word. The use of the word "until" in biblical times (Matthew’s Greek word was heos) simply meant that some action did not happen up until a certain point.

It did not imply anything about what happened after the time indicated. A good example is 2 Samuel 6:23, which is sometimes translated, "Michal the daughter of Saul had no children until the day of her death." Are we to understand that she had children later?

Questions may be sent to Father Doyle at


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