The practice of Gregorian Masses is an ancient tradition in which it is believed that a continuous series of thirty Masses would release the soul of a deceased person from the punishments of Purgatory.
The history of the “Thirty Mass” practice goes back to the year 590 A.D. in St. Andrew’s Monastery in Rome, founded by St. Gregory the Great in his own family villa around 570. It is now known as the Monastery of St. Gregory the Great. The account of the incident which gave rise to it is recounted by St. Gregory himself in his Dialogues.
After his election as Pope in 590, one of the monks, Justus by name, became ill. So he admitted to a lay friend, Copiosus, that he had hidden three gold pieces among his medications years before, when he was professed a monk. Both, in fact, were former physicians. And sure enough, the other monks found the gold when seeking the medication for Justus.
The founder and former abbot of the monastery, now Pope Gregory, hearing of this scandalous sin against the monastic Rule, called in the new Abbot of his beloved monastery, and ordered the penalty of solitary confinement for Justus, even though he was dying, and ordered that his burial not be in the cemetery but in the garbage dump. Copiosus told his wretched friend of this decision. Moreover, the community were to recite over his dreadful grave the words of St. Peter to Simon the Magician: “May your money perish with you” (Acts 8:20).
The Pope’s desired result was achieved: Justus made a serious repentance, and all the monks a serious examination of conscience. Justus then died, but the matter did not, for thirty days later Pope Gregory returned to the monastery filled with concern for Justus, who would now be suffering the grim temporal punishment of Purgatory’s fire for his sins. “We must,” said Gregory to the Abbot, “come by charity to his aid, and as far as possible help him to escape this chastisement. Go and arrange thirty Masses for his soul, so that for thirty consecutive days the Saving Victim is immolated for him without fail.” And so it was done.
Some days later, the deceased monk, Justus, appeared in a vision to his friend Copiosus and said, “I have just received the Communion pardon and release from Purgatory because of the Masses said for me.” The monks did a calculation, and noted that it was exactly thirty days since the thirty Masses had begun for Justus. They shared this great consolation with each other, with their Abbott and with Pope Gregory. The Pope included a full account of this episode
When the practice began, it was limited solely to services held at the main altar at the Monastery of St. Andrew in Rome, where this had taken place. As time went by, this "privilege" was extended to a few other altars in the city of Rome.
Eventually this practice became common in monasteries. A monk of the great Abbey of Cluny in the 11th century attested that such Masses were said daily in that period, with the exception of the major feastdays of the year, such as Easter. In the modern era, the practice was authorized for all churches throughout the world.
- "Gregorian Mass Request by Seraphic Mass Association, Pittsburgh,PA"
- "The Thirty Gregorian Masses", by the Reverend Stephen Somerville
- Website of the Franciscan Friars, T.O.R., for Gregorian Masses
- Website of the Salesian Fathers also offering to arrange the Masses
- Website of Servants of the Holy Family for requesting Gregorian Masses