November 2nd, All Souls’ Day
There need be no defense of the obvious truth that the Holy Mass is of infinite value. Considering who is offered and who makes the offering, there can be no doubt that the Holy Sacrifice is enough not merely to redeem this world, but a thousand and ten thousand more worlds. Indeed, even then, the value of the Mass would not in the least be exhausted.
Thus, given that the Mass is enough to redeem ten thousand worlds and more, one may rightly ask why it is that a single Mass offered on All Souls’ Day for all the Faithful Departed does not suffice to empty out purgatory. Why is it that we must continually have Masses offered for the poor souls in purgatory?
The infinite value of the Mass: Intrinsic Value
The intrinsic value of the Mass refers to the value and worth of the Mass considered in itself. The intrinsic value of any sacrifice refers to the person who makes the offering and the object that is offered.
We may consider, by analogy, that an apple offered to the king by a peasant is worth less than the same apple offered by the queen herself – this shows how the value of a sacrifice depends upon the person how offers.
On the other hand, if the queen offers something far greater – say, her very self – this offering is of yet greater value still. This shows how the value of a sacrifice depends upon the thing which is offered.
Now, in Christ, we have the great High Priest than whom no greater can be thought. There is none more dear to the Father, more devoted and loving, of greater value. Christ, in his humanity, is truly an infinite person. Therefore, there is no limit to the value of the sacrifice on the part of the priest who offers – for it is always Christ who stands as High Priest in every Holy Mass.
On the other hand, in Christ, we have a victim of greater value than all the world. Surely, the humanity of our Savior is worth more than this universe, or a thousand such universes. His humanity is so pure and holy as to be of truly infinite value. This flesh was offered with a perfect human will which made an act of love so perfect as to be infinite because it is the perfect act of an infinite divine person (even if an human act, made by an human will, it is infinite on the part of the one who acts). Thus, there is no limit to the value of the sacrifice of the Mass on the part of the victim who is offered.
Hence, we affirm with St. Alphonsus Liguori, that the value of a single Mass is inestimable (From “Dignity and Duties of a Priest”).
“The entire Church cannot give to God as much honor, nor obtain so many graces, as a single priest by celebrating a single Mass; for the greatest honor that the whole Church without priests could give to God would consist in offering to Him in sacrifice the lives of all men. But of what value are the lives of all men compared with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which is a sacrifice of infinite value? What are all men before God but a little dust? As a drop of a bucket, as a little dust. They are but a mere nothing in His sight: All nations are before Him as if they had no being at all.
“Thus, by the celebration of a single Mass, in which he offers Jesus Christ in sacrifice, a priest gives greater honor to the Lord, than if all men by dying for God offered to Him the sacrifice of their lives. By a single Mass, he gives greater honor to God than all the Angels and Saints, along with the Blessed Virgin Mary, have given or shall give to Him; for their worship cannot be of infinite value, like that which the priest celebrating on the altar offers to God. Moreover, in the holy Mass, the priest offers to God an adequate thanksgiving for all the graces bestowed even on the Blessed in Paradise; but such a thanksgiving all the Saints together are incapable of offering to Him.”
The infinite value of the Mass: Extrinsic Value
The extrinsic value of a sacrifice refers to the one who receives the fruits of the sacrifice. In the first and primary sense, we must affirm that the extrinsic value of the Mass is also infinite.
Indeed, we must recall that the Mass is ordered first to the glory of the Holy Trinity – this is the primary effect of the Mass. As the Trinity is infinite Being, and the three persons are capable of infinite act, the Good God receives the Mass in its true infinite value. In other words, God is infinitely glorified by a single offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
The finite value of the Mass: Extrinsic Propitiatory and Impetratory Value
However, when we consider the secondary effects of the Mass, the value is rightly considered to be finite. We note that the Mass has an extrinsic propitiatory and impetratory value – as the Mass is offered for the benefit of human beings who are themselves finite creatures, the effect which the Mass has upon their souls must necessarily be received as finite.
Here, a distinction is in order: “All theologians agree,” says Ludwig Ott, that the value of the Mass does not diminish when offered for more rather than less persons. In other words, following the analogy offered by Fr Garrigou-Lagrange, even as the sun may warm ten thousand men just as well as it may warm one, so too the Mass is of as much value for one man as it is for ten thousand men. (cf. Life Everlasting, Chapter XXVI)
Therefore, the value of the Mass for each individual is not in any way limited or decreased by the participation of additional persons. A Mass offered for ten men is of as much benefit to each as a Mass offered for only one of those men individually would be to that one.
However, the extrinsic value of the Mass for men is limited by the disposition of those for whom it is offered. For those who are living, this means that they will benefit from the offering of the Mass in their behalf insofar as they are open to receiving those graces.
But what of the dead? What limits their reception of the infinite graces of the Mass? Why doesn’t one Mass offered for all the souls in purgatory immediately free them all and bring them to heaven?
How the value of the Mass is limited for the Poor Souls
Father Garrigou-Lagrange writes well on this point (Life Everlasting, chapter XXVI):
“Can suffrages offered for one soul be profitable also for others? The answer runs thus: By intention, they have a special value for the one. But, by reason of charity which cannot exclude anyone, they are more profitable to those who have the greater charity and thus are better disposed to receive greater consolation.
“St Thomas asks a second question: Are the suffrages offered for many souls together more profitable than if they were offered for one? At the end of his life when he was composing the Summa, he says regarding the sacrifice of the Mass: ‘Although one sacrifice of the Mass is itself sufficient to satisfy for all suffering, nevertheless its value, both for those for whom it is offered and for those who offer, is measured by their devotion. This measure of devotion depends, in the case of the poor souls, on the dispositions they had at the moment of death.’ (ST III, q.79, a.5)
“Here the only limit assigned to the satisfactory power of the Mass is the devotion of those who offer and of those for whom it is offered. The effect of a universal cause is limited only by the capacity of its subjects to receive the influence of that cause.
“Thus that Mass on All Souls Day, which is said for all the souls in purgatory, has special value for forgotten souls, for whom no one now offers a special Mass.”
This is the Dominican’s point: The Mass itself is of infinite value, but as the souls of the faithful are limited in their receptiveness not only by nature but further by sinful choices and negligence, the poor souls in purgatory receive only so much of the satisfactory power of the Mass as they were open to receive at the time of their death. And, for this reason, it is necessary that many Masses should be offered in their behalf – and especially during these special seasons of grace for the faithful departed (namely, the month of November)!
In this way, the poor souls are brought, by our prayers together with those of the Saints and especially by the merits of the Mass, step by step closer to their heavenly reward.
Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine! Et lux perpetua luceat eis!