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Jo wrote:

Dear AskACatholic staff,

I belong to an Eastern Rite of Catholicism (Maronite Catholic).

  • I am trying to figure out if it's only Eastern churches that hold 40-day memorial Masses for the deceased or if it is a general Christian tradition?
  • Secondly, is there any reason why there is such significance to the 40-day period?

I have been told that the soul of the deceased remains on Earth for 40 days before they cross over to the afterlife.

  • Is this belief grounded in any Christian tradition?

Kind Regards,

Jo

  { Is the Eastern Rite the only one that holds 40-day memorial Masses for the deceased or do others? }

Eric replied:

Hi, Jo —

The Latin Rite at present does not have this tradition. The Byzantines do, I know (I go to a Melkite parish and am Ukrainian Catholic). It is possible that the Latin Rite did in the past, as with so many other Eastern customs, but I can't speak to that, perhaps one of my colleagues can.

The reasoning you mentioned is not grounded in any doctrine or teaching whatsoever. You are under no obligation to believe it and it seems problematic to me. Forty is a number symbolic of formation in the Christian tradition:

  • the Israelites wandered for forty days in the desert (being formed for entering the promised land)
  • Jesus fasted for forty days in preparation for starting His Ministry, and
  • human gestation is approximately forty weeks.

I can't say why the memorial service is that long, other than the general sense of the number forty. Again, perhaps one of my colleagues knows why.

Eric

One of our colleagues, Andrew replied:

Jo —

In the US, it is common to offer a Month's Mind Mass: one month after the passing of the deceased, a practice that goes back to the medieval Church life in England and Ireland.

Customs vary from one country to another. Filipino Catholics often have Mass offered 40 days after a death (recalling the Ascension: 40 days after the Resurrection of Christ).

— Andrew

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