Thursday, July 07, 2011
I'm something of a student of medieval history, and there's one church-related thing that's been driving me nuts. You know how rich people used to pay for chapels to be built so priests could say Masses for their souls after they died? I knew people endowed these chapels for decades at a time, but I didn't know some of the high-rollers actually paid for a thousand years' worth of Masses, or even for Masses to be said "in perpetuity"--as in, forever! What they weren't banking on was the Reformation, and the abolition of monasteries, and church reforms, and all the rest of it coming before their thousand years were up. So...what happened to these guys? Are masses still being said for them?
Don't worry about them. We pray for everyone in the Church (in Purgatory and on earth) at every Mass, everywhere. Surely, these folks knew that, as the Mass hasn't fundamentally changed, ever.
What I'm not sure about is the motivation of these people in the first place. There is no church named "Marvin of East Chelsea" or "The Little Chapel of Vivian". The only chapel I can think of that has a non saint name is the Elvis Chapel in Vegas. I'm not even sure it's actually called the Elvis Chapel. But I think it is. In any case, many of them were certainly simply moved to use their massive amounts of dough for the public good, by helping to build beautiful and inspiring churches or chapels. Yes, they may have hoped that everyone would remember them, but that's what cornerstones and commemorative plaques are for.
Your study has indicated that they paid for Masses. Okay. Let's not dodge that idea. There was a reason for a thing called the Reformation. But even at it's worst, a donation for Masses is still a donation for the Church. I'm sure there were people who thought they could buy their way into Heaven. They must have thought they were good enough to at least make it to Purgatory, at which point, the Church Militant (us) would pray them out. And guess what, we do try. All the time and at every Mass.
If they are actually in Heaven, they no longer need our prayers. Ditto for Hell. I'm certain in that case, our prayers (paid for or not) default to another poor soul.
Let's just hope, in the interest of love and compassion, that it all worked out. That while they were alive, the prayers said at Mass helped them to become holy enough to make it, eventually at least, to Heaven.