by Rev. Peter Mottola, J.C.L.
Both the traditional Latin Mass missal and the novus ordo missal make mention of the ability of any priest to celebrate three Masses on All Souls' Day, citing an apostolic constitution by Pope Benedict XV, Incruentum Altaris sacrificium.
In this 1915 constitution, the pope extended a privilege previously granted to the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal to the entire Church. However, the specific intentions for which these three Masses are to be celebrated are often described incompletely or inaccurately. According to the constitution, the first Mass can be applied for whomever the priest wishes, the second is to be applied for all the faithful departed, and the third “ad mentem Summi Pontificis, quam satis superque declaravimus.” One popular Ordo reports that the third Mass is to be celebrated “for the intention of the Pope.” But the constitution states that the third Mass is to be applied, not for the intention of the reigning pontiff, but “according to the mind” or “according to the thinking” of the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XV, “which we have sufficiently declared above,” i.e., which he outlined in the text of his constitution.
The mind of Pope Benedict XV when promulgating the constitution in 1915 was this:
“We are moved with compassion when We see today how the most grievous fires of war have spread to almost all of Europe, and have before Our eyes so many people who have met with death in battle while still in the flower of youth. And although the piety of their relatives will not fail to make expiation for their souls, who can say whether that will be enough to provide for their needs? But seeing that, by God's will, We have become the common Father of all, We desire, with paternal largess, to make these these dear and beloved children, torn from life, participants in the treasury of the infinite merits of Jesus Christ.”
So the third Mass on All Souls' Day was to be applied for those who lost their lives in the Great War. Since this constitution continues to have force, any priest who celebrates a third Mass on All Souls' Day, whether to fulfill his pastoral duties or whether moved with pity for the poor souls, ought to keep in mind the original purpose of this privilege. Rather than applying this third Mass for all the faithful departed (for whom, generally, the second Mass has already been applied), the priest ought to apply his third Mass for those who have died in war.