The Requiem, or the mass for the dead is taken very seriously by both priests and laypeople in the Catholic Church. It is strongly believed by many that a soul cannot rest unless the last prayers and verses for the deceased have been bestowed. This brings to mind a folk tale from Ireland that has been passed on through generations of time.
Let it be noted that this is merely a legend. Facts are not available to support this–it is simply a tale that has survived for many years through word of mouth.
A young, devout Catholic girl named Mary O’Malley had stopped by the Church one evening on her way home from work. It was the eve of St. John, and Mary was most likely looking forward to having the next day off to celebrate the Feast of St. John the Baptist. She was quite tired from hard work and after sitting down in the pew to pray, she drifted off to sleep. When she awoke, she was alone…the chapel was dark, the doors locked for the night. At first she was terrified, but soon took comfort in the fact that she was safe in God’s house. After praying some more, she wrapped herself in her coat, preparing to sleep there until morning.
Suddenly, without warning, there was a bright light that enveloped the inside of the chapel. Mary squinted to see the figure that was standing in the center of the light, and a priest emerged. Mary noted that he was clothed in the black coverings used in masses for the dead. She was very afraid, and instinctively knew this priest was not of this world. He walked toward the altar, beseeching that someone..anyone…answer this mass he was performing. Mary was far too afraid to say a word, and after asking the question three times, the priest walked back toward the light. He first turned and looked at Mary with sad, beseeching eyes before he walked away and the chapel was once again in darkness.
The poor girl fell into a faint, and was found the next morning by the priests when the chapel was unlocked. They took her home, where she spent most of the following week in bed, the pitiful expression on the priest’s face haunting her dreams. She spoke to her parish priest about it, and when she mentioned the question asked, he informed her that in masses for the dead it is important for the living people present to say “yes” when the priest asks if anyone is there to answer the mass. He surmised that this was a priest who had been delivering a requiem when he died, and was bound to finish the proceeding.
After some urging from her priest, Mary agreed to go back just before the hour of midnight and answer this poor soul’s question so he could pass on and rest in peace. As she knelt to pray, she added an extra prayer for good measure..that the deed would be done quickly!
Not long after she began praying and working her rosary beads, the chapel was filled with light once again. The priest emerged, asking in the same melancholy tone for someone to answer this mass. Mary was terrified, but determinedly choked out the word “Yes”. Upon hearing this, the priest smiled and told her that for twenty years he had been praying vigilantly that someone would answer and he could finally rest. Her one word had been the key, and now his earthly duty was finally completed. The chapel was once again in darkness, and Mary felt a sense of peace knowing she had helped a lost spirit fulfill his last wish.
A version of the original story can be found here http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/lasi/lasi16.htm