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Masses of Requiem

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Masses of Requiem will be treated under the following heads:

I. Origins;
II. Formulary;
III. Colour of the Vestments;
IV. Conditions for celebrating;
V. Rite;
VI. Solemn Funeral Mass;
VII. Mass in Commemoration of All the Dead;
VIII. Mass Post Acceptum Mortis Nuncium;
IX. Masses of the Third, Seventh, and Thirtieth Days, and on Anniversaries;
X. High Mass;
XI. Low Mass.


Requiem Masses are masses that are offered for the dead. They derive their name from the first word of the Introit, which may be traced to the Fourth Book of Esdras, one of the Apocrypha, at the passage "Expectate pastorem vestrum, requiem æternitatis dabit vobis . . . Parati estote ad præmia regni, qui lux perpetua lucabit vobis æternitatem temporis" (IV Esd., ii, 34, 35). It is also connected with a passage in Isaias, "Et requiem tibi dabit Dominus semper, et implebit splendoribus animam tuam" (Is. lxviii, 11). The Antiphon is from Psalm lxiv. The date of the adoption of this Introit is not well known, but it is found in the so-called Antiphonary of St. Gregory Come of Albino (see the edition Rome, 1691. p. 226). In that work, however, there are two other Introits for the Mass of the Dead, one of which is "Ego sum resurrectio et vita; . . . non morietur in æternam"; and the other, "Rogamus te, Dominus Deus noster, ut suscipias animam hujus defuncti, pro quo sanguinem tuum fudisti; recordare Domine quia pulvis sumus et homo sicut foenum flos agri." The religious idea that the soul is immortal made even the Jews hold that the just, after death, went to sleep with their fathers (cf. Genesis 47:30; 1 Kings 2:10; 2 Maccabees 7:45), and Christians believed with St. Paul that they slept in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:18). From the first century, therefore, prayers were offered that the dead might have eternal rest. Gregory of Tours (Glor. Mart., I, lxv), speaking of a Christian woman who each day caused the Divine Sacrifice to be offered for her deceased husband, says, "Non diffisa de Domine miseracordia, quod haberet defunctis requiem." And St. Ambrose (Ob. Valentiniani imp, no. 56) writes: "Date manibus sancta mysteria, pio requiem ejus poscamus officio." So originated the Introit for the Mass for the Dead.


The formulary of a Mass consists of the liturgical texts that constitute the variable parts of the Mass, namely the Introit, Prayer, Epistle, Gradual, and Tract, and sometimes also the Sequence, Gospel, Offertory, Secret, Communion, and Post-Communion. Now the Missal has four of these formularies: (1) In commemoratione Omnium Defunctorum; (2) In die obitus; (3) In anniversario; (4) In missis quotidianis; but the only variations among them are in the Prayer, the Epistle, and the Gospel. In the Paris Missal of Ventimille, reviewed by Quelen (ed. Le Clere, 1841), there are five formularies and many other Epistles and Gospels, all of which deserved to be considered, because they are all taken from the Scriptures, and are very appropriate. Guyet, also (Heortol., IV, xxiii, 31), takes from local uses several formulæ for the Introit, etc. for the dead. There is nothing to be said in regard to the Gradual, or to the Communion of the Roman formulary. (In regard to the sequence, "Dies iræ", see DIES IRÆ.) A few remarks may be made, however, in regard to the Offertory, concerning which many writers have published contrary views (cf. Merati in "Not. Gavanti", I, xii, 2). The words "libera animas . . . de poenis inferni et de profundo lacu" may be easily understood to refer to purgatory, or, like those that follow . . . "libera eas de ore leonis, ne absorbeat eas tartarus, ne cadant in obscurum", as also the last ones, . . . "fac eas Domine, transire de morte ad vitam", they may bear the interpretation which is most in accord with history and with theology, i.e., the one given by Merati and by Benedict XIV (De sacrif. mis. II, ix, 4), cited by Grancolas (Antiq. sacrament eccl., p. 536). This Offertory is among the prayers that were formerly recited for the sick who were about to die, and was later adopted in the Mass, in the same manner as the Church is wont to pray, in Advent: "Rorate coeli desuper. Emitte agnum, Domine, dominatorem terræ. . . . O Adonai, veni ad liberandum nos", etc. . . . As, therefore, the Church refers these prayers to the time when the prophets were longing for the promised Messias, so also, she refers the Offertory of the Mass for the Dead to the time when the soul has not yet left the body. The same pope cites also an explanation by Sarnelli (Epist., III, 62) which is accepted by Thiers (De superstit., X, 15), and according to which these words refer to the lake and to the dark place of purgatory; but the words "Fac transire de morte ad vitam" are opposed to this interpretation. The rubric after the fourth formulary of the Missal (In missis quotidianis) leaves the celebrant free to select the Epistle and the Gospel, and consequently there remain to be recited according to prescription only the Prayers, which must be selected according to the indications of the Missal, in appropriate relation to the person for whom the Divine Sacrifice is offered.

The ceremonies of the Mass of Requiem are the same as those of the so-called "Mass of the Living" with the exception of a few omissions and variations indicated in Title XIII of the Rubrics. The Psalm "Judica me" is omitted at the beginning; this omission certainly bears a relation to the masses of Passion Time, in which that psalm is likewise omitted. It should be noted, however, that the omission on Passion Sunday is due to the fact that the psalm is said in the Introit, and could not be recited twice. As this psalm xlii was omitted in all the ferial masses of Passion Time, that omission was regarded as a sign of mourning, and accordingly became a characteristic of the Mass of Requiem, although the psalm itself is not at variance with the nature of this Mass. The two doxologies and the Alleluia, which are regarded as expression of joy and festivity, are naturally omitted, to express mourning, although the Alleluia was formerly used in Masses of Requiem, as may be seen in the Antiphonary of St. Gregory mentioned above. (Cf. Cabrol, "Diction." s.v., col. 1235.) With regard to the omission of the blessing of the water which is poured into the chalice, rubricists, taking it one from the other, say with Gavantus (Rubr. Mis. II, vii, 4, g.) "Non benedicitur aqua . . .quæ populum significat, . . . vel aqua hoc loco significat populum Purgatorii, qui jam est in gratia." But, admitting that the water which is mixed with the wine represents the people, as Benedict XIV shows upon the authority of St. Cyprian (Sacr. Mis. II, x, 13), this mystic explanation does not show why the water should not be blessed. It seems more probable that the explanation for this practice should be sought in the principle, admitted in the Latin Rites, that, as evidence of mourning, all signs of reverence and salutations are omitted, among them the blessing of objects and of persons, just as on Good Friday the blessing of the water, all obeisances and salutations, and the blessing of the people are omitted.

Colour of the vestments

Requiem masses should always be celebrated with black vestments and ornaments, black, in the Latin Rite, representing the deepest mourning; for, as the Church robes its ministers in black on Good Friday, to show its greatest grief, caused by the death of the Divine Redeemer, while it uses the mixed colour of violet during Passion Tide, so also, in celebrating the obsequies of the dead, it uses the colour of greatest grief. The one exception to the above rule was made by the Congregation of Rites (decr. 3177 and 3844), which prescribed that when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed on All Souls day, in the devotion of the Forty Hours, the colour of the vestments must be violet. In many places it was held that bishops and cardinals might use violet vestments for the Mass of Requiem; and this opinion was put into practice. It may have originated in the fact that the Mass celebrated by a bishop is considered more solemn than others; on the other hand, it may be that, as the violet vestments were not used prior to the thirteenth century, because Innocent III makes no mention of them (Mist. Mis., I, lxv; P.L., 217), while black was used on penitential days, some bishops may have undertaken to substitute violet for black in the Requiem Mass also. This practice has received no authoritative sanction; and as the bishop, while officiating on a given day, must use vestments of the colour prescribed by the Rubrics for that day, there is no reason why he should make an exception for the Requiem Mass. And in fact, the cardinal who celebrates a solemn Mass for the dead in the pontifical chapel in the presence of the supreme pontiff, on occasions of the greatest solemnity, always uses black vestments.

Conditions for the celebration of Requiem Masses

The Mass of Requiem is by its very nature extra ordinem officii, according to the Rubric (Rubr. Miss.); that is, it has no relation to the office of the day. From this point of view, the Mass of Requiem may be rightly considered a votive Mass. Now, according to the laws of the Church (Rubr. Miss. ante Mis. Vot.), votive Masses may not be celebrated "except for some reasonable cause" (nisi rationabili de causa), since "the Mass should, as far as possible, accord with the Office" (quod fieri potest Missa eum Officio conveniat); and therefore neither may requiem Masses be celebrated without reasonable motive; and this reasonable motive does not exist when the Mass is not to be offered for one, or several, dead, in particular, or for all the dead in general. For that reason, the custom that has grown up in our days, even in some of the Roman churches, of providing only black vestments in the sacristies on the days of Semi-double, Non-festive, or Non-privileged, Rite, is not to be approved. It may be said, however, in justification of this practice, that at present alms for Masses are given, in greater part, on behalf of the dead; yet it is true that many stipends are paid with the intention of obtaining special graces in behalf of the living, particularly at the sanctuaries to which the faithful resort to venerate the saints or the Blessed Virgin. The priest, however, who knows that he should offer the Mass in behalf of living persons, and not for the departed, has no reasonable cause to celebrate the Mass of Requiem, and therefore may not licitly celebrate it. This seems to be a rule without exception. That Masses that are said according to the Office of the day may be applied to the dead, is easily understood, since the formulary of the Mass is separable from the application of the Sacrifice itself. So also, there is no doubt about the application of the merits of the Sacrifice to the living, even though the formulary be that of Requiem (cf. Bucceroni, "Enchr. Mor.", 3rd ed., p. 282); but it is not licit, since the liturgical rules clearly and justly allow the reading of the Mass of Requiem only for its application to one or more of the dead.

There are other conditions for the celebration of the Requiem Mass; one is that the rite of the day should allow the celebration; another than the celebrant should not be obliged, by reason of his official position, to celebrate a Mass of the living. More will be said in regard to this impediment of the rite or of the solemnity of the day, when we come to speak of the various masses of Requiem. As to the impediment that arises from the celebrant's official charge, we may say at once that it can be either the obligation of saying the conventual Mass or that of saying the parochial Mass on a feast day. It is known that the conventual Mass, which is celebrated by chapters, in cathedrals and in collegiate churches, is never to be omitted, since it is the chief and noblest part of the whole office (Benedict XIV, Constit. 19 Aug., 1744, n. 11); for which reason, if there should be but one priest at a collegiate church, it would be his duty to say the conventual Mass, even if the solemn obsequies of one deceased were to be celebrated, as the Ritual expressly provides (VII, i, 5). The same is to be said of the parochial Mass, which the parish priest is to celebrate pro populo on each feast day; for which reason, if there should be but one parish priest at a parish church on a feast day, and he should not be privileged to say more than one Mass, he may not celebrate the Mass of Requiem, even if it be a question of the obsequies of the one deceased, præsente cadavere. The reason for this prohibition is the rigorous obligation that binds each parish priests to offer the Mass on feast days for this people, an obligation which, according to the Council of Trent (Sess. XXIII, I, de ref.) arises from the Divine precept, for him who has the care of souls, "to offer sacrifices for the people" (offerre sacrificia pro populo). Benedict XIV (op. cit., n. 2), declares: "Eos, quibus animarum eura demandatum est, non modum sacrificium Missæ celebrare, sed illius etiam fructum medium pro populo sibi commisio applicare debere", so that there is a common doctrine among the canonists that has been confirmed at different times by the Congregation of the Council. Now, if in order to celebrate the Mass of Requiem, the Mass must be offered for the dead, and if there is only one Mass in a parochial church on a feast day which must be offered pro populo, it is manifest that this Mass may never be one of Requiem, but, on the contrary, as the Congregation of Rites has frequently declared, it must always be according to the Office of the feast. Also the Congregation of the Council (16 June, 1770, in Fesulana), being asked "An parochi in Dominicis aliisque festis diebus præsente cadavere, possint celebrare missam pro defuncto, et in aliam diem transfere missam pro populo applicandam", answered: Negative.

The Monday Privilege

In the United States there is a faculty ("Fac. Ord.", Form I, 20) ordinarily communicated to priests through the bishop which grants permission to celebrate a requiem Mass on Mondays non impeditis officio novem lectionem. The phrase officio novem lectionem gave rise to a doubt as to whether semi-doubles only were referred to, or if doubles also were understood. The Congregation of Rites answered (4 Sept., 1875, no. 3370, ad. 1) that this Mass was allowed on all Mondays during the year, except (a) on the vigils of Christmas and the Epiphany; (b) in Holy Week; (c) during the octaves of Christmas, the Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, and Corpus Christi; (d) holy days of obligation; (e) greater doubles and doubles of the first and second class. If the enumerated cases hinder this Mass on Monday, the privilege is transferred to Tuesday, under the same conditions, but it lapses after that day.


The Office and the Mass for the Dead, in their construction, as in their varied rite, are modelled on the Offices and the Masses of the liturgical feasts, and these are divided by Double Rite and Semi-Double Rite, with their various classes, so, also, are the Masses of requiem divided. As is well known, it is characteristic of the Double Rite to double the Antiphon in the Office (Rubr. Brev. I, 4) and to have only one prayer in the Mass (Rubr. Mis., I, 1); while in the Semi-Double Office the antiphons are not doubled, and the Mass has several prayers. Now the same law governs the Office and the Mass of the Dead; the Mass of Requiem will be of the Double Rite (a single prayer), whenever the office to which it may be related is recited with double rite (doubling the antiphons); it will be of the Semi-Double Rite (with several prayers), when it corresponds to an Office which is recited with the Semi-Double Rite. The Decree of the Congregation of Rites of 30 June, 1896, and the reformed Rubric of the Missal (V, 3) are interpreted in that sense. Upon the basis of these principles it is easy to establish the division of the Masses of Requiem according to the various rites. As the Rubrics of the Breviary (ante Matut. in Def.) and of the Ritual (VI, iv) prescribe the duplication of the antiphons, in the offices for the dead (a) on All Souls day, (b) on the day of the obsequies, and (c) on the 3rd, 7th, 30th, and anniversary days, the masses corresponding to those offices will be of the Double Rite. It should be observed, however, that the days just named all have the Double Rite, more or less solemn, that is of a more or less exalted class. The other offices, and the other masses of Requiem, according to what has been said above, will be of the Semi-Double Rite. As, on the other hand, masses of Requiem are more or less privileged, according as they are missæ cantatæ or high Masses, or are low Masses, and as some of them among the high and some among the low (see LITURGY OF THE MASS: The Present Roman Mass) are more privileged than others of their respective kinds, we will divide them into solemn and low, and then subdivide them according to their privileges.

Exequial High Masses

An exequial Mass is one that is celebrated on the occasion of the obsequies (exequiæ) of a person, before the burial. It is clearly expressed in the Ritual (VII, i, 4): "Quod antiquissimi instituti illud, quantum fieri potest, retineatur, antequam sepulturæ tradatur" (As much as possible, let the antecedent ordinance be retained, of celebrating the Mass with the body of the deceased present, before it is given burial.) In fact, it was the invariable custom, from the earliest ages of the Church, to celebrate the synaxis for the dead before the burial (cf. Tertullian, "De Monog.", X, and St. Augustine, "Confess.", IX, 12.) And it is worthy of notice that, from those ancient times, it was licit to celebrate the exequial Mass on Sundays, as Paulinus testifies (Vita S. Ambrosii, XLVII): "Lucescente die Dominico, cum corpus ipsius [S. Ambrosii] peractis Sacramentis divinis, de ecclesia levaretur portandum ad basilicam ambrosianam . . ." (At dawn on the Lord's Day, when, after the divine mysteries had been celebrated, his [St. Ambrose's] body was taken from the church to be carried to the Ambrosian Basilica). In this connexion, Martène cites from the "Consuetudines Cluniacensis" ("Ant. Monarch. rit.", Venice, 1783, V, x, 16, p. 257): "Omni tempore sepeliendus est frater post majorem Missam. Si in ipse Resurrectionis Dominicæ vel ipsus diei crepulsculo obierit, quo scilicet oporteat cum ipso die sepelire matutinalis Missa pro eo cantabitur" (At any time a brother must be buried after the high Mass. If he has died on the Day of the Resurrection itself or in the early hours of that day, and it is necessary to bury him that same day, the morning Mass shall be sung for him.) And these edifying Benedictine "consuetudines" give the reason: "Nam tanta est auctoritatis præsentæ ipsius defuncti, ut etiam in tanta solemnitate hujusmodi missa non potest negligentia intermitti" (For the presence of the corpse constitutes such a serious reason that, even on festival as great as this, a Mass of this kind must not be neglected).

While holding to the principle that ceremonies of mourning should not interfere with the joyousness of liturgical feasts (for which reason the solemn commemoration of all the faithful departed is transferred to the following day whenever the 2nd of November falls on a Sunday), the Church, as a good mother, desirous of hastening the relief of a deceased child, wishes the exequial Mass to be celebrated, even on feast day, although she places some conditions, as the Ritual shows (VII, i, 5): "Si quis de festo sit sepeliendus Missa propria pro defuncto præsente corpore, celebrare poterit, dum tamen Conventualis Missa et officia divina non impedeiantur, magnaque diei celebritas non obstet" (If anyone is buried on a feast day, the Mass proper for the feast may be celebrated in the presence of the corpse, so long as the conventual Mass and Office are not interfered with, and the great solemnity of the day does not oppose it). Four conditions, then, are here established: (a) that a corpse of the deceased be present; (b) that the conventual Mass be not prevented; (c) that the Divine Offices be not prevented, and (d) that the great solemnity of the day not oppose it.

(a) The presence of the corpse in the church is required, according to ancient custom, as the ritual shows. Formerly, the actual physical presence was prescribed, but, little by little, the Church has modified this law, and according to the new liturgical legislation, that is since the decree of the Congregation of Rites, on 13 February, 1892 (n. 3767 ad 26), the Rubric of the Missal (V, 2) has been altered.Since, in modern time, whether through the prohibition of civil laws or because of death by contagious diseases, corpses may not always be taken to the church, the ecclesiastical law has been so broadened that the body of the deceased is considered present fictione juris, as long as it is not buried, and even if it has been buried for not more than two days. These are the words of the decree in question: "Cadaver absens ob civile vetitum, vel morbum contagiosum, non solum insepultum, sed et humatum, dummodo non ultra biduum ab obitu, censeri potest ac si foret physice præsens, ita ut Missa exequalis cantare licite valeat, quoties præsente cadavere permittitur."

(b) The second condition is that the exequial Mass does not prevent the celebration of the conventual, or of the parochial Mass; but to this we have already referred to above, under IV.

(c) The exequial Mass should not interfere with the Divine Office on feasts, i.e., with the sacred functions which a parish priest should perform in behalf of his people. These days are (i) Ash Wednesday; (ii) the Vigil of Pentecost, if the parish priest is to bless the font, and (iii) the days of the Major and of the Minor Litanies; so that, if there be on these days only one Mass in the parish church, it may not be of Requiem, but must be the one which the Rubrics prescribe for the day (S. C. R., decr. 3776 and 4005).

(d) The fourth condition of the Ritual for the celebration of the exequial Mass on a feast day is that the solemnity of the day not oppose it. Now the solemnity of the day, in this connexion, is declared by the Church through the more solemn rite with which some feasts throughout the year are celebrated, namely, primary days of the Rite of the First Class (S. C. R., decr. 3755), which are: (i) Christmas and the Epiphany; (ii) Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday; (iii) Easter Sunday, the feasts of Ascension, Pentecost, and Corpus Christi; (iv) the Immaculate Conception, Annunciation, and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary; (v) the feasts of St. John the Baptist, of St. Joseph, of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and of All Saints; (vi) the local feasts of the principal patron of the place, of the dedication and of the titular of the church. It should be observed that, although the two days following Easter and Pentecost are of the First Class, the Church, to hasten the relief of the deceased, does not except them, and the solemn exequial Mass may be celebrated on these feasts, as on all other feasts of the First Class that are not named in the decree cited above. It may be said, therefore, that this mass, in die Depositionis is of the Double Rite of the First Class, since it is allowed on feasts of that rite.

Mass of All Souls Day

The Commemoration of All Souls has been a very solemn day in the Church ever since the time of its establishment; and as its observance was propagated throughout the Christian world, it came to be celebrated with more and more devotion by the people, on 2 November. Nevertheless, when it occurs on a Sunday, or on a feast of a Double Rite of the First Class, as has been said, it is celebrated on the following day. In this case, there being no question of hastening the relief of one who has passed away, the church does not wish that the festivity of the Lord's Day or the solemnity of any other feast of the First Class should be diminished by the mourning inherent in the Commemoration of the Dead. There is the further intention to facilitate the offering of all Masses, even low Masses, on All Souls' Day for the repose of the departed. For the same reason the Church prescribes (S. C. R., decr. 3864) that, if in any locality a feast of the Second Class should occur on All Souls' Day, it should be transferred to the following day, in order that the Commemoration of all the Dead may be celebrated. The rite of the Commemoration, therefore, is inferior to that of the funeral Mass, since the Commemoration may not be celebrated either on a feast day or on a double of the First Class; wherefore, it may be called a Double of the Second Class.

Mass post acceptum mortis nuncium

The solemn Mass of Requiem which may be offered, as soon as the news of the death is received, for a person who has died in a distant place, comes in the third place. It is the same Mass that is said in die depositionis, but has not the same privileges, since it may not be celebrated (a) on any holy day, (b) on feasts of the First and Second Class, or (c) on those ferials and octaves upon which Doubles of the First and Second Class are forbidden. These are: (a) Ash Wednesday and the ferials of Holy Week; (b) the vigils of Christmas and of Pentecost; (c) the days during the octaves of the Epiphany, Easter, and Pentecost; (d) the octave day of Corpus Christi. All of this has recently been established by the Church (S. C. R. decr. 28 Apr., 1902) to facilitate the suffrages for the dead; but as the exequial Mass has already been offered for the deceased at the place of this death, the Mass post acceptum has not received all the privileges of the former. It should be remembered, however, that this Mass may be offered on a feast of the Greater or Lesser Double Rite, when offered immediately post acceptum nuncium; otherwise, the Mass loses all privileges, and a day of the Semi-Double Rite must be awaited (S. C. R. decr. 2461, ad 6). For this reason it may be said that the exequial Mass post acceptum nuncium is of the Greater Double rite, since Doubles of the Second Class take precedence over it.

Masses of the third, seventh, thirtieth, and anniversary days

The Requiem Mass of each of these days is privileged, because, according to ancient tradition accepted in Canon Law (Cap. Quia alii, 13, q. 2; Nullus Presbyter, dist. 44) the dead were always commemorated in a special manner on those days. With regard to the third day, as commemorative of the three days which Christ passed in the sepulcher, and as presaging the Resurrection, there is special prescription in the Apostolic Constitutions (VIII, xlii): "With respect to the dead, let the third day be celebrated in psalms, lessons, and prayers, because of him who on the third day rose again." It appears also, in this connection, that in ancient times there was a tridium on behalf of the deceased, according to what Evodius writes in a letter (Ep. S. Augustini, clviii): "Exequias præbuimus satis honorabiles et dignas tantæ animæ nam per tridium hymnis Deum collaudavimus super sepulcrum ejus, et redemptionis Sacramenta tertia die obtulimus" (We performed the due obsequies, worthy of so great a soul, joining in hymns to the praise of God for three days at his sepulcher, and on the third day we offered the Mysteries of Redemption). With regard to the seventh day, we have the testimony of St. Ambrose (De fide. resurr.), which bears witness to the ancient practice, and gives the reason for it: "Nunc quoniam die septem ad sepulchrum redimus, qui dies symbolum fraternæ quietis est" (Now, since on the seventh day, which is symbolical of eternal repose, we return to the sepulchre . . .). St. Ambrose, again, speaks of the thirtieth day (De ob. Theodosii, i): "Quia alii tertium diem et trigesimum; alii septimum et quadragesimum observare consueverunt, quid doceat lectio consideremus" (As some have been wont to keep the third and the thirtieth days; others the seventh and the fortieth; let us consider what the lesson teaches). The annual commemoration of a departed brother was more universal and more solemn; it resembled the feats of the martyrs and, according to Tertullian, dates from Apostolic times (cf. Magni, "L'antica Liturgia Romana", Milan, 1899, III, 389).

The third, seventh, and thirtieth days may be counted from the day of the death or from the day of the burial (S.C.R., decr. 2482 and 3112); the day itself of the death or the burial should not be counted, because the language of the decree (ab obitu, ab depositione) excludes those days, either one of them being not the first day, but the day from which the computation should begin. If therefore, the burial takes place on the eleventh day of the month, the first day after it, of course, will be the twelfth day of the month; the second, the thirteenth; the third, the fourteenth. So also for the seventh and the thirtieth days. There is no rule that requires the selection of the same date, either of death or burial, in computing the day for these commemorations; wherefore, one may celebrate the third day, counting from the day of burial, and celebrate the thirtieth day, counting from the day of death. On the other hand anniversaries are usually celebrated on the day of the month on which the death occurred; nevertheless, the Congregation of Rites, which had prescribed this day (Decree of 21 July, 1855), now allows the anniversary to be counted from the day of burial (Decree of 5 March, 1870), which concession is useful in case the anniversary of the death should fall on a day in which this Mass could not be celebrated; in this case the anniversary of the burial may be celebrated, without excluding, in subsequent years, a returning to the celebration of the anniversary of the death, according to the ancient tradition. According to the present liturgical laws the high Mass of Requiem may be celebrated on the third, seventh, thirtieth, and anniversary days, even if those days occur on a greater or on a lesser double. Its celebration is prohibited, however, on (a) any holy day of obligation, including Sundays; (b) all doubles of the first or second class; (c) Ash Wednesday and during Holy Week; (d) the vigils of Christmas and Pentecost; (e) during the privileged octaves of Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, and Corpus Christi; (f) the days on which the Blessed Sacrament is exposed; (g) Rogation days, when but one Mass is celebrated in the church (cf. Decrees 3049, 3302, and 3753). When on the other hand, the third, seventh, thirtieth, and anniversary days are impeded, they may be anticipated by one day, or postponed to a day that is not among those enumerated above, even if it be a greater or a lesser double. In the case the day before, or the day after, is a day on which these Masses cannot be celebrated, it will be necessary to await a day of the Semi-Double Rite upon which a requiem Mass may be celebrated, and to use the formulary of the daily Masses (cf. Decr. 3753, ad 2).

There is another kind of anniversary which is established by the new liturgical law, called late sumptum. It is the anniversary which is celebrated each year by chapters, religious communities, or confraternities, on a day that is not the anniversary of the death or of the burial of the deceased. The solemn Mass of a late sumptum anniversary may be celebrated on a day of the Lesser Double Rite, but not of the Greater Double. The solemn Mass that is celebrated on the days of the octave of All Souls' Day enjoys the same privilege (cf. Decr. 3753, ad 5). As has been said above (V.), the Requiem Mass is of the Double Rite (that is, it has a single Prayer), whenever it corresponds to the office of the Dead in which the antiphons are doubled; and therefore, whenever, at the request of the faithful, a solemn Office is celebrated for one or more deceased persons, especially if there is a concourse of the people, the corresponding Mass must be celebrated with the Double Rite, as the Rubric of the Missal expressly prescribes (V, 3): Unica tantum oratio dicenda est in missis omnibus . . . quandocumque pro defunctis missa solemnitur celebratur" (In any Mass solemnly celebrated for the dead, only one prayer is to be said). This Mass, however, may be celebrated only on days of the Semi-Double or the Simple Rite, exclusive of those days named above on which is forbidden to celebrate the anniversary Requiem Mass. This Mass, like that of the anniversary late sumptum, is of the Lesser Double Rite; while the Mass of the third, seventh, and thirtieth days, as also that of the anniversary stricte sumptum, is of the Greater Double Rite, since it may be celebrated on the doubles that are not of the first or of the second class.

Missæ cantate

These (sung, but not high, Masses), are the Masses that are called quotidianæ in the Missal. They are of the Semi-Double Rite, because they have three prayers, and correspond to the Office that is recited without duplication of the antiphons. It is forbidden to celebrate these Masses on any of the days mentioned above, upon which the anniversary Masses may not be celebrated, or on the days on which there is a feast of the Double Rite, even the Lesser, and therefore they are allowed only on semi-double, non-privileged days. To this class of Requiem missæ cantatæ belongs the one which the Rubrics of the Missal (V, 1) provide shall be celebrated in the cathedrals and collegiate churches de præcepto (S. C. R. decr. 2928): "Prima die cujusque mensis (extra Adventum Quadregesimam et Tempus Paschale) non impedita officio duplici vel semi-duplici". This Mass is truly conventual, should be celebrated after Prime, as the rubrics of the Missal prescribe (XV, 3) and should be a sung Mass (decrees 1609 and 2424). The first of the month is understood to mean the first day of the month that is free of any double or semi-double, even transferred, office (decree 2380); and if there be no such free day in the whole month, the obligation ceases; which frequently happens, especially now, when the votive offices have been admitted. In this Mass of Requiem, as in all other sung Masses hitherto mentioned, the Sequence should never been omitted, as the reformed Rubric of the Missal and the general decree of 30 June, 1896 (No. 3920) provide. The three Prayers of the fourth formulary should be used (decree 2928), for they are adapted to the end which the Church has in view in prescribing the monthly celebration of this Mass, which is a "generaliter pro defunctis sacerdotibus, benefactoribus et aliis", as the above-cited rubric shows.

Low masses

According to the ancient canon law, a low requiem Mass could be celebrated only on days of semi-double, non-festive, non-privileged rite; so that, even præsente cadavere, if the rite of the day were double, although it were lesser, the Mass of the day had to be celebrated. The liturgical law, however, has been very much changed in relation to low Masses; and, as there are among them some that are more privileged than others, we will divide them according to the privileges which they enjoy.

Low Exequial Mass said in place of the High Mass

As seen above, the Church desires that no one of its children be laid in the grave without a Mass præsente corpore. And as, on the other hand, poverty often prevents the relatives of the deceased from having the obsequies celebrated with solemnity, the Church, always a loving and indulgent mother, permits the high Mass to be replaced by a low one. At first, some limitations were placed on this opportune concession (cf. Decree of 22 May, 1843, in Mechlinen., ad 6); now, however, by the general decree of 9 May, 1899 (no. 4024), this exequial low Mass, which takes the place of a high Mass, is celebrated with all the privileges of the latter. In our opinion, the exequial Mass, which takes the place of the high Mass, enjoys the privileges of the latter, when, through special circumstances, the high Mass cannot be celebrated, even in the case of the wealthy; as for example, if the persons invited to the funeral could not remain long at the church, and the relatives of the deceased should on that account ask that the Mass be a low one. This is actually the practice in some places, and we believe that it may not be condemned, seeing that it is accordance with the spirit of the Church, which, in recent times, has considerably modified its regulation in this connexion.

Low Mass on the day of obsequies and in the same church

According to the ancient liturgical law, formulated in the Rubrics of the Missal of Pius V, low Requiem Masses, though the body were present, could not be celebrated on days of the Double — even lesser Double — Rite. This law was justified by the great reverence in which the Double Rite was held, and by the fact that, at the time of Pius V, there were very few feasts of this rite in the universal calendar. But as the number of these feasts has been greatly augmented, especially in the calendars of some religious orders, and in those of some dioceses, there was no longer any reason for the rule: first, because the Double Rite, having come to be so abundantly granted, was no longer held in the high esteem that it formerly enjoyed; secondly because the great number of new Doubles made it impossible to celebrate low Requiem Masses on the day of the burial. These considerations were submitted to the Congregation of Rites in February, 1896. On 19 May following there was published the general Decree No. 3903, which begins: "Aucto postremis hisce temporibus, maxime in calendariis particularibus, Officiorum duplicium numero, quum pauci supersint per annum dies, qui Missas privitas de Requie fieri permittant. . . ." Thanks to this opportune decree, the low Mass, as well as the solemn one, may be celebrated at the obsequies of one deceased, even on a double.There are, however, certain conditions for the celebration of these low Masses: (1) They are allowed only on the day of the obsequies and in the church where the obsequies are celebrated, with or without presence of the corpse, as had been said under V (S. C. R. decr. 3944, ad 3); (2) they must be offered for the deceased whose obsequies are being celebrated, and for no other intention (ibid., ad 4); (3) they may not be celebrated on a Sunday, or other holy day of obligation, even though the latter may have been suppressed; (4) they may not be celebrated on a Double of the First Class, even secondary, or on a day which the Rite prevents these Doubles of the First Class — that is, on Ash Wednesday and during Holy Week, the vigils of Christmas and of Pentecost, during the octaves of Easter and Pentecost, and on the octave day of the Epiphany (ibid, ad 5). Such were hitherto the rules for low Masses on the day of obsequies and in the same church, but by a recent decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites these Low Masses are now forbidden also on all Doubles of the Second Class. These Masses, of course, are of the Double Rite; they have but one prayer, and the sequence is as in the solemn high Mass.

Low Mass in the private chapel, before the burial

This Mass of Requiem, also, is a recent concession of the Holy See in behalf of the deceased. By this concession, all the Masses allowed by the Brief by which the privilege of a private oratory was granted, may be celebrated as Requiems, on all the days on which the body remains in the house, on condition that they are offered only for the deceased (cf. Ephem. Liturg., 1890, p. 607); these Masses have all the privileges of the exequial low Mass. The same is true of all the Masses said in what are called mortuary chapels, in the palaces of cardinals, bishops, and princes, at the death of such personages, as long as the body remains exposed there, provided these Masses are for the repose of the deceased prince or prelate. By a recent decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites these Masses are forbidden also on all Doubles of the Second Class.

Low Masses in cemetery chapels

In the public or semi-public oratories of cemeteries, and also in the private chapels erected in burial places, Requiem Masses may be said every day, provided they be offered for the dead, except (1) on all feasts of precept, including Sunday; (2) on the Doubles of the First or Second Class; (3) on Ash Wednesdays and during Holy Week; (4) on the vigils of Christmas and of Pentecost; and (5) during the privileged octaves of Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, and Corpus Christi (S. C. R., decr. 3944). This privilege, however, does not extend to the parochial church, although that church may be surrounded by a cemetery, and therefore considered a cemetery chapel; neither does it extend to those oratories which have been erected in disused cemeteries (S. R. C., Decr. 28 April, 1902, in "Ephem. lit., 1902, p. 355).

Daily Low Masses

These Masses of Requiem, called daily in the Missal, may be celebrated under the same restrictions as the Rubrics establish for votive Masses (General Decree 3922, III, 2; and Rubr. Miss., V, 5); that is, they are allowed on days of the Simple or Semi-Double Rite, and are forbidden on all days of the Double, even the Lesser Double, Rite, as well as on the days named above under IX. By a recent decree of the Sacred Congregation on Rites the daily Low Masses are forbidden on the following days of a Semi-Double or Simple Rite: (a) all ferials of Lent; (b) quartertenses; (c) Rogation Monday; (d) vigils; (e) ferial on which the office of a Sunday is anticipated. In the Masses of these ferials or vigils, if they are celebrated for one of more deceased persons, it is permitted to insert, in the penultimate place, the oration for the deceased person or persons, and although those Masses are celebrated in violet or green vestments, nevertheless, by concession of the reigning pontiff, the indulgence of a privileged altar may be gained. The Sacred Congregation of Rites had already declared this by the Decrees no. 1793, 2041, and 2962. They are of the Semi-Double Rite, and have three prayers at least, and sometimes five or seven, the number always being an odd one, as the Missal shows (V, 4). According to the new liturgical laws however, (S. R. C., decr. 3920), if the Mass is offered for one or more dead who are named, the first prayer is said accordingly, the second is taken ad libitum, and the third is always the "Fidelium". If, on the other hand, the Mass be offered for the dead in general, the three prayers are said as the Missal provides. If the celebrant wishes to say five or seven prayers, he may say two or four, between the second, "Deus veniæ", and the last. "Fidelium", from among those given in the Missal, following the order in which they are there given. As is known, the sequence may be omitted or recited in the daily low Mass, according to the choice of the celebrant.


GAVANTI, Thesaurus Sacr. Rituum, cum Notis mirati (Venice, 1799); GUYET, Heortologia (Urbino, 1728); CAVALIERI, Comment in S. C. R. decret. (Bassano, 1778); CARTO, Bibliot. Liturg. (Bologna, 1885). For the new liturgical law, Ephemerides Liturg. (Rome 1896-1908); de HERDT, Liturg. Praxis (Louvain, 1902); van der STAFFEN, Liturg.: Tract. Miss. (Mechlin, s. d.); COFFIN AND STIMART, Lit. Comp (Tournai, 1905); ERKER, Missæ de R. (Laibach, 1903); AERTNYS, Comp. Liturg. (Geloof, 1909); S. L. P., Requiem Masses in Am. Eccl. Rev., XXVII (Philadelphia, 1902), 475-501.

About this page

APA citation. Piacenza, P. (1911). Masses of Requiem. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Piacenza, Pietro. "Masses of Requiem." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Michael Donahue.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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