18 January 2014

Neglected Testamentary Masses

Fr Hunwicke's piece on the origins of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity reminded me of a contribution of his in the last edition of Catholic, the excellent newspaper of the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer which is published on Papa Stronsay.  (There is, by the way, something very affecting about a member of the Ordinariate writing for former Lefebvrians, both groups having been able to reconcile themselves to the Church without the loss of the distinctiveness which now marks them out inside the Church.)

"But let us not forget the other prescription of Benedict XV: that we should offer Masses to make up for testamentary Masses neglected or forgotten. As an Englishman, I look back on the events of the Tudor period, when the government of England looted the testamentary endowments, first, of the Religious Houses, and then of the chantries in the parish churches up and down England. Other countries, I suspect, have had similar experiences: I am not an expert in French History, for example, but I get the impression that the cultic discontinuities of the l790s were fairly considerable.

Does it matter? When we read all those medieval wills, with their provision that Mass be celebrated for the testator "for ever", do we just murmur "Win some, lose some"? I think it does matter. Creation means that God created a myriad of different places; a myriad of different moments in the progress of time; a myriad of different beings living, reacting, in those places and those times.

Since God did not merely create one single created Other to receive his love, we are surely to take seriously the infinite plurality of his Creation.  And that means taking seriously the myriad individual casualties within that complex Creation.  Dame Thomasina Percival, a London merchant in the early Tudor period (I select her at random because I once did some work on her) endowed chantry Masses to be said at the scala caeli near the tomb of Henry VII's mother in the great Lady Chapel at Westminster which was still unfinished. Why should it not be a willed thing in God's Providence that she should be brought to the fullness of eternal grace and glory through the power of those operations?

Englishness, or whatever the nationalness we each have, is not narrowly synchronic affection. Surely, it must also be diachronic, embracing the Dame Thomasina's as well as the bloke I can hear talking to his wife in the house next door. I can think of few more English, more appropriate, things to do, and to give Mass stipends for Masses to make up for testamentary Masses forgotten or neglected, that per haec sacramenta salutis nostrae, cunctorum remissionem Deus tribuat peccatorum: that through these sacraments of our salvation, the Lord will grant remission of all the sins of all the Faithful Departed."

This is one of those subjects which, I must confess, I have never really thought about before: not even "Win some, lose some".  Yet, the more I reflect on it, the more I come to think that it is one of the very great scandals of the Reformation (and one which Fr Hunwicke reminds us that Benedict XV encouraged us to help make up for).


Digital Nun posted here and better on the same subject. H/T Part Time Pilgrim.


Left-footer said...

I agree absolutely, Tony.

Nicholas Hinde said...

There is at least one side chapel in Westminster Cathedral wherein a plaque speaks of an endowment of "Masses for ever". I doubt if they are celebrated.