January 2, 2024 // Diocese

Why Offering Masses for Loved Ones Is the Greatest Gift

It was two years ago in the spring when Carol Bunt received a divinely inspired gift idea for a young couple’s wedding.

“This came from Jesus,” prefaced Bunt, a parishioner at Our Lady of Good Hope in Fort Wayne. “I was in the adoration chapel praying, ‘What in the world can I give them for their wedding gift?’ I was pondering that, and I asked Jesus a couple times, and the idea came into my mind to do an anniversary Eucharistic pilgrimage. It just came flooding in.”

The resulting gift: 12 monthly Masses offered for the couple at different parishes throughout the next year, each celebrated on the day of the month of their wedding. Bunt had all 12 dates and locations printed and framed as a wedding gift – one that was particularly meaningful not only to the couple but to Bunt, as well.

“It was a joyful experience to schedule all of those,” Bunt told Today’s Catholic. “As time went on, it really was inspiring me. I think it was confirming the importance of intercessory prayer through Masses for families and couples.”

Bunt’s experience is a beautiful illustration of the significance of having Masses offered for loved ones.

The Mass is the highest form of prayer in the Catholic Church, as it unites the faithful with the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Monsignor Michael Heintz, a priest of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend who is currently serving at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, said this is what makes the Mass such a powerful way to intercede on one’s behalf.

“The Mass is offered once by Christ,” Monsignor Heintz said. “By His providence and grace, Jesus has allowed that one perfect sacrifice to be made present again whenever a church celebrates Mass. He did it once in a way that was definitive and unrepeatable. Whether it’s celebrated in a small parish or privately by a priest or at St. Peter’s [Basilica] in Rome, it’s all a participation in the one sacrifice of Christ.”

It has long been a custom in the Catholic Church to offer Masses for loved ones who have passed away. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “From the beginning, the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God” (No. 1032).

Our prayers for the deceased can help expedite their heavenly journey, said Jessica Hayes, a Pastoral Associate at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Fort Wayne.

“For those loved ones who have died, we can’t assume the state of their soul, but we have the great virtue of hope that they’ll be in heaven forever,” Hayes said. “We keep them in prayer, ask the Lord to purify their souls, and make them ready for Him. That’s the foundation of theological hope that we’re given in baptism.”

In fact, by virtue of our baptism, Heintz said, there’s a spiritual bond that connects us to all other baptized believers. “All the threads of friendship and affection that knit us together in life do not unravel with death,” Heintz said. “We know we can pray for the dead because this bond cannot be broken by death. This also exists among the living. There is a spiritual bond, a connection that exits among us – even if we’ve never met each other, that bond is real.”

Thanks to that bond, while Masses are most commonly offered for the deceased, they can also be celebrated for those still living. Whether it be for a birthday, a wedding anniversary, a celebration of receiving a sacrament, or healing from an illness, a Mass can be offered for almost any intention. Hayes has experienced firsthand that prayer – and specifically, the Mass – is the greatest gift that can be given.

“My parents have [a Mass] offered every year on the anniversary of my consecration,” said Hayes, who was consecrated as a virgin in 2015. “It shows my parents’ faith in the Mass and their desire to give a gift that has fruits beyond anything else they can give me, because it’s a prayer from the Lord Himself. … It recognizes the importance of that day for my own vocation, and any one person growing in holiness is a gift to the whole Body of Christ.”

Although the graces that come from a single Mass are of infinite value (“You can’t quantify the sacrifice of Christ,” as Monsignor Heintz pointed out), there is still reason to offer multiple Masses for a specific intention. Every Mass that is celebrated on one’s behalf serves as a reminder to pray for that person. “If I have 45 Masses said for someone I care about, that’s 45 opportunities for me to remember them,” Monsignor Heintz said. “It’s as much about the benefit for the one offering the Mass as the one who the Mass is being said for.”

In addition, there’s no need to worry if a Mass is offered for a deceased loved one who is already in heaven. Since God knows the state of a person’s soul, Hayes said we can trust that the “the Lord will apply the fruits to wherever they are needed most. Nothing offered to the Lord is ever wasted.” Monsignor Heintz also mentioned that “God’s saving work is not limited by a temporal category,” so He is able to work outside of time itself. That means our prayers today can be applied to any person across all of time, since God knows eternally all the prayers that will ever be said for a given soul.

Additionally, one does not need to be Catholic to have a Mass offered for them. Masses can be said for those of any faith tradition – or who do not practice any faith.

Finally, while an offering of $10 is traditional when requesting a Mass intention, Monsignor Heintz stressed that it isn’t a necessity.

“You can’t charge for the celebration of Mass,” Monsignor Heintz said. “If someone ever contacts a church, they never say, ‘Here’s how much it costs.’ An offering is customary, and historically, the reason is to cover the cost of bread and wine for the priest who is celebrating. But it’s not required, and a priest can’t refuse to offer a Mass for someone because they don’t have money.”

Those interested in offering a Mass for a particular intention can simply call their parish office to make this request. There are also online opportunities available by visiting mymassrequest.org, where Mass intentions can be requested from missionary priests around the world through the Seraphic Mass Association. Regardless of the method, Bunt said offering a Mass is always an unrivalled gift.

“We tell our children, ‘We don’t need anything, but you can always have a Mass said for us.’”

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