I am very distrurbed by the notion of having masses said "for" the dead or any other intention. Assuming we accept some type of purgatory and praying for the dead, how can a mass itself be "for" any intention? Aren't all masses for all of humanity, as was Christ's offering on the cross, or in another sense for the assembled congregation (readings, sermon, receiving communion, etc.) Having a mass said "for" some person implies it's not "for" others. What is the commodity that is being packaged up and applied here, but not there? And connecting it with a monetary payment (yes I know technically we don't pay "for" the mass) seems to only add to the confusion. You've been asked before about someone who can't afford masses, but forget the money, what of the soul who has no one left to do this? Why would God cause a person's "purgatory" to be worsened (or at least not made better) because they had no survivors on earth to arrange these masses??
This whole custom to me seems at best confusing and misleading, at worst superstitious if not downright idolotrous. Can you help me understand?
You have some very good questions which I am not sure I can do justice to. It seems to me the basic question is why pray "for" anything. If God knows everything we need, why make specific requests for ourselves and others?
C.S. Lewis has a good reflection. He says it is the same reason we reach for the salt shaker rather than simply say, Well, if God wants me to have salt on the eggs, he will just do it for me. God has structured things so that you and I have a part in realizing his plan for us. While reaching for the salt has normally a more direct, observable effect than saying our prayers, the principle is the same. I am probably expressing Lewis' thought very poorly. If you have the opportunity, please read his "Letters to Malcolm."
Since very early centuries, Christians have offered Masses for the dead. There is a famous grafitti in Rome (the Italians were great grafitti writers, even in the second century) saying they had offered at this place a "refrigerium" (Eucharist for the dead) for such and such person. In the Mass, after praying for a specific person, there is the general petition for all those who have died in Christ.
I pray often for my own parents. While I feel confident of their salvation, I do not know whether they are in heaven or still undergoing some purification. I suppose this is a bad thing for a son to say, but I do not think my mom and dad could eternally be in each others' presence, not to mention God's, without some cleansing. That is the reality for all of us. If we can help people in this life, why could we not help those we love through such a process. When I die I hope no one says, "Well, Fr. Bloom is in heaven. We don't need to pray for him." I know that I will require much cleansing (St. Paul refers to it as a fire, I Cor 3:13) and I hope people will offer Masses and other prayers for me.
Those are my thoughts, R. Prayers for you. Please in your kindness say a prayer for me. God bless,