Saint Anselm and the value of Masses

A single Mass offered for oneself during life may be worth more than a thousand celebrated for the same intention after death.

Attr. to St. Anselm

The language of the quotation doesn’t sound like I think St. Anselm should sound, even in translation (he died in 1109 and wrote in Latin). A Google search, for a change, was helpful, turning up this article at EWTN. If you read the followup, you’ll discover that an unnamed reader (not me–this is from before I started pursuing fauxtations) checked it out and couldn’t find it anywhere in St. Anselm’s work. It’s also attributed to Pope Benedict XV, but the unnamed reader couldn’t find it there either.

I was curious how far back this alleged saying might go. The awkward “offered for oneself” phrase was my first search term at Google Books, but that didn’t take me any farther back than 1991, when Joan Carroll Cruz gives the alleged quotation (without citation) in her book Eucharistic Miracles.

I wasn’t satisfied and switched the search terms to “thousand celebrated” Anselm. That took me back to The Hidden Treasure, by Blessed Leonard of Port Maurice († 1751) , in an 1861 English translation (the name of the translator doesn’t seem to be given). The quote is given there in this form: “To hear even one Mass devoutly during one’s life, or to give an alms for having it celebrated, is a far better thing than to bequeath alms for the celebration of a thousand after your decease.”

That form sounds a lot more plausible. It’s also different enough from the form given at the beginning of this post that a searcher could plausibly miss it in the works of St. Anselm.

A friend found an Italian edition of The Hidden Treasure containing the original Latin quotation, which is as follows: Audire devote unicam missam in vita, vel dare eleemosynam pro ea, prodest magis quam relinquere ad celebrandum mille post obitum. Wonder of wonders, it even provides a citation of sorts: (apud Castell. diur. sac. Proep.) [or maybe Praep.; it’s not the clearest page scan].

After some random thrashing around trying to find this on the Internet, I went to the Patrologia Latina, a compendium of theological works in Latin, also known as “Migne” after its chief editor. Vol. 158 (it’s a long compendium!) contains the works of St. Anselm. Google Books and the Internet Archive both attempt to OCR books, but the pages images aren’t great and I don’t think the OCR they use is tuned for Latin. Rather than search for the whole phrase, I selected certain words: audire, devote, unicam, missam, eleemosynam [highly unlikely to be OCRed correctly, but it would be great if it were!], prodest, relinquere, celebrandum, mille [knowing that OCR will probably mistake a lot of “ll” for “H” and vice versa, not to mention confusing it with mitte], and obitum. I search for each word in a copy from Google Books and in a copy from the Internet Archive.

Audire had 23 hits in Google and 54 at the Archive (in part because the search at the archive turned up audire in compounds such as exaudire, which the Google search apparently doesn’t; Google also counts multiple hits on one page as one hit). None of them are the quotation in question.

Devote: 7 Google, 6 Archive, 0 matches.
Unicam: 1 and 1, 0 matches.
Missam: 6 and 21, 0 matches.
Eleemosynam: 0 and 4 (so the two sites are using different OCR engines), 0 matches.
Prodest: 10 and 16, 0 matches.
Relinquere: 3 and 6, 0 matches.
Celebrandum: 2 and 3, 0 matches.
Mille: 3 (one of which was actually unus; the OCR missed badly on this one) and 123. Gulp. So I put spaces around the word and search for the word only at the Archive, getting 1 hit. 0 matches
Obitum: 5 and 10, 0 matches.

When I say “0 matches,” by the way, it means there was nothing close to the alleged quotation; I looked at the words near each hit and none of them were even talking about its subject. So I’m confident that it’s not in Migne, and given that the source of the alleged quotation predates Migne (Blessed Leonard died about a century before Migne began publishing the P/L), it couldn’t have come from a newly-discovered manuscript not in Migne.

There are at least seven other Saint Anselms, but they are much more obscure and usually identified as “Saint Anselm of [wherever]” to distinguish them from the famous one.

If it’s a fauxation, it’s a 260+ year old fauxtation, but I have to say that I can’t find anything that convinces me that it’s authentic.