Q. How did the practice of 30 days of Masses for the dead begin?
K.K., via e-mail
A.Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D:
This series of Masses for a particular person in purgatory are known as "Gregorian Masses." In the year 590, Pope St. Gregory the Great instituted this practice in the monastery he had founded prior to his being elevated to the papacy.
The common belief is that if for 30 consecutive days the Mass is offered for a person in purgatory, that person will leave purgatory and be taken into heaven.
This practice has long been allowed by the Church as an act of piety. But the offering of these Masses carries no guarantee that the recipient will be released from purgatory.
We should also note the practice of designating particular altars as "privileged" altars.
At first, certain altars in Rome carried this distinction. Gradually it has been extended to other altars in other places. They are called "privileged" because only one Mass offered on these altars is required to attain the objective of the 30 Gregorian Masses.
Pope Leo XIII declared that this use of privileged altars is both "pious and lawful."