Monday, October 28, 2013

Faithful Departed and the Dead

Many of the funerals I celebrate are for those who are not exactly 'faithful', many are lapsed, some have at least informally separated themselves from the Church. They would not themselves, in their life have termed themselves 'servants' or 'handmaids of God', as the texts of the funeral liturgies invariably describe them. Some are actually not Christians at all but their Catholic spouse or other relative deeply desires a Catholic funeral. Like all the priests I know I tend to work on the basis that God is infinitely merciful in his judgements, that his healing even after death is there for all who even implicitly desire it, even if that desire is expressed simply in a 'good life', whatever that means, human beings are flawed in their desire for God and often make mistaken judgements, that, God can sort out even after death. Ultimately, I suppose, I am saying, 'who am I too judge?'

The problem is that the categories, for funerals in the liturgical books don't always fit, there are prayers for children whose parents would have had them baptised but didn't but there are no prayers for adults who were not baptised, or for those were baptised as infants but did explicitly excluded Confirmation and Communion, and who though out their adult life, certainly before death have showed no sign of faith. In these cases, like most priests, especially as there is not normally a Requiem Mass I tend to 'tweak' the prayers at the crematorium or graveside, to offer comfort to the relatives. I do believe in that that period between death and Final Judgement the departed meets and is consumed by God's ineffable mercy, that God sorts out the messes we make.

Do I believe in Judgement, Heaven and Hell? Yes, and Purgatory too, as a place of mercy and healing, post mortem there is a veil, who is Heaven, who is Hell is known only to the merciful God. 
The problem is that here my 'pastoral' praxis, and that of most Catholic priests does not exactly follow the rule of lex credendi lex orandi. Peter Kwasniewski has, I think, an important short article on NLM in which he points out the distinction between the Faithful Departed and the simply 'dead', he shows that the Church does not pray for those who have not either actively desired baptism or actually been baptised. There is, he points out, a limit to the Church's prayer. He says this has deep implications and needs to be corrected by catechesis.

What he doesn't point out is that there is a certain messiness about the Church's lived teaching about death, Rhanner's anonymous Christians have crept in everywhere. The truth is that we have all but destroyed scriptures clear teaching about the Last Things, and consequently about the necessity of evangelisation, it is however preserved in the liturgical texts. Kwasniewski points out the texts confront us with hard doctrine to question our fudging of  extra ecclesiam nulla salus.

The problem is I think that our doctrine of 'Hell' is to contemporary man unconvincing and doesn't match our contemporary understanding of the love of God. The image of the medieval torture chamber doesn't ring true. Perhaps we need to speak of it terms that can be understood for today's man the eternal sense of loss of God, exclusion from his presence forever, with all the pain that comes with that, by our own free choices might make more sense.


Deacon Augustine said...

"The problem is that the categories, for funerals in the liturgical books don't always fit."

I would respectfully suggest, Fr., that the problem does not pertain to the categories within the liturgical books, but rather that you are providing funerals for people who the Church never intended you to provide funerals for. The likes of St John Chrysostom taught that it was not permitted to offer the divine liturgy or even pray for deceased catechumens.

Rahner's concept of the "Anonymous Christian" may be all pervasive these days, but it is theological garbage nonetheless and does not belong to Catholic tradition. Even less so does it come to us from the apostles via the Scriptures.

It may seem merciful to offer funerals to all and sundry, but isn't it just ourselves we are being merciful to, because we don't like to deal with the consequences of saying "No" to somebody?

GOR said...

95It seems like it is only at this time of year that we give any consideration to the dead, and the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Granted, in all Masses we have a Commemoration of the Dead, but I suspect that goes over the heads of many people. Of course, for those who don’t go to Mass regularly, thoughts or prayers for the departed seldom come up at all, if ever.

I have less of a concern as to whether the departed were of the ‘community of faith’ or not. We are all called to Heaven and we should pray for the salvation of all. That some never come to the knowledge of God’s will for us - through invincible or vincible ignorance – is our concern in charity. Those who received the gift of Faith and lost it through neglect have less excuse than those who never had it in the first place.

In the Fatima Prayer we ask God to “…lead all souls to Heaven - especially those in most need of your mercy.” We are all in need of God’s mercy – over which we have no control. All of the departed are in need of our prayers. That, we have some control over…

tempus putationis said...

Our doctrine of hell, Father, has nothing to do with the torture chamber, whether Roman, medieval, Renaissance or Third Millenium. The image when used is figurative. Since we will not have physical bodies until the general resurrection, the concept of actual physical pain is irrelevant. The suffering is spiritual, and very real, but is our choice (CCC 1033): To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called 'hell'.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Deacon Augustine,
Of course you are right but I think it would be a very brave priest who refuses to pray for those outside the given categories. I cannot imagine him receiving support either from most bishops or even the Holy See.

Have you heard of priests refusing to offer such funerals, or have you done so yourself?

I am told we were quite strict about such things until people wondered why prayers were not offered for George VI.

Then, if the King could be prayed for public why not a non-Catholic spouse etc.

Jacobi said...

Deep stuff, Father!

All I know is that we must be baptised, to be in with a chance, that we shall face death, judgement, heaven or hell. Heaven will be nice and hell, rather unpleasant. However, it helps if others pray, particularly in the form of a Requiem Mass – and tip the altar boys! We know that Jesus will decide which of the two, that he is just, but that it’s really up to us. It helps if you have been nice to your fellow man, but above all, if you have loved the Lord your God.

Now I got all that from my 3rd year RE class - pre-Vatican II of course.

One thing always puzzled me, was what happened to babies who were “lost”, I think is the way it was put. I’m sure it was covered, but we had a good view of the local airfield flightpath and my attention often wandered.

It’s an issue that certainly needs renewal of catechesis in our present “foeticide and abortion on demand” age?

Cosmos said...


Medieval? So many of Saints, Church Fathers, and theologians have taught that the pains and torments of hell were real, can we really brush is aside so casually? I know that there has been disagreement about whether hell fire is physical or something unique, but is there really sufficient justification for assuming that it is all just a metaphorical by-product of the loss of God? There are an awful lot of mentions of fire in the Bible, not nearly as many mentions of simply agonizing over the loss of God's love! This makes sense because the pain is also connected with God's justice as punishment from sin and the pain we caused others.

From the Anthanasian Creed:

"Who suffered for our salvation, descended into Hell, rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into Heaven, He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire. This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved."

I understand what you are getting at Father, but this is what is making it harder and harder for me to stay intellectually engaged as a Christian. It seems as if nothing we believe can be known with any certainty since the Church can simply go back and reinterpret or explain away its old teaching, and then tell us we lacked the competency to understand the original teaching. I understand that development has always taken place, but the Church used to be very deliberate in the past to make sure changes took place as slowly and deliberately as was necessary to protect from scandal. Now it seems like every problematic teaching just gets adjusted, and those who were trying to faithfully hold the old line are just told to step in line based on the Church's raw authority. Is that the Catholic way?

ServusMariaeN said...

My grandfather who was unchurched and disparaging of Christians (let alone Catholics) was buried by the parish priest I grew up with at the request of my father I assume. I questioned this myself. My grandfather did not understand Catholicism and surely did not subscribe to any of its tenets. I suspect the priest did it (the burial) out of respect for my father. I do not know. I know many unchurched people who really have no time for God or Church and wonder which "preacher" they will have for their funeral. The thought of leaving that all to chance horrifies me. So Father, if I understand your take on this correctly people such as my Grandfather will be sorted out wherever they are in death?

Deacon Augustine said...

Fr. Ray, I must confess to having done two funerals (not Masses of course) for long-standing members of my parish who were not Catholic. Both were weekly Mass-goers for over 40 years who had been baptized in the CofE, but had never been received into the Church (with one of them we only found out she wasn't a Catholic at the point the funeral was arranged!)

So yes, I have bent the rules "on pastoral grounds" on two occasions, but I am conscious that I may yet have to pay a price for that. I rationalized it on the grounds that they were baptized and that they practised the faith better than most Catholics even though they were not formal members of the Church or communicants.

In doing what I have done, however, I realise that I have not been a good witness to the Church's dogma of Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus and hope by God's grace not to repeat the exercise. The sin of human respect can be a very hard temptation to overcome sometimes.

Other than those occasions I have not been presented with the problem, but I live in a small rural parish and I imagine that in a busy city parish complications can be more frequent.

As for clergy not receiving support from bishops or the Pope for doing the right thing, well that would be nothing new, would it? There is an anecdote of a priest in Southwark, who had arranged for a colleague to hand a card to the Archbishop as his coffin was being lowered into the ground. The card read: "This is the last time you will let me down."

George said...

It's strange isn't it that the world wants the Catholic Church to accept her role as merely one, among many, sects, cults, or ways to God, yet rebukes the Church should she decide to offer funerals only for her members or restrict her members from joining in prayer with others, outside the Church?

Anonymous said...

Of course we should pray for all who die, hoping for God's mercy, for only he can judge the subjective culpability of objective sin or the extenuating invincibility of ignorance. But this is not the same as saying that we should offer a public Requiem for those who were not part of the Church on earth or who have formally rejected the faith.

Fr Ray Blake said...

See TP above. The pain is separation.

JARay said...

I'm one of those who are convinced that the majority of those dying today are actually bound for hell.
St Faustina tells us of a vision in which there was a wide broad road with many people on it. These people were laughing and dancing and thoroughly enjoying themselves. The end of the road was a precipitous cliff and the merrymakers did not see it until they fell over it, straight into hell.
On the other hand there was a narrow, bramble surrounded path and a few people were carefully picking their way up it. They often fell down and either bruised or cut themselves. At the end of this path there was a broad grassy upland with sunshine and music and on reaching this bliss, those who had struggled their way up this narrow path immediately forgot all their cuts and bruises and experienced joy and happiness. St Teresa of Avila also had seen hell and she described the fire as an inward fire within the soul itself which could not be extinguished.
St. Faustina's visit to hell showed her that the greatest hurt was the loss of God Himself with each one keenly feeling this loss. There was also a terrible stench, utter darkness, but the souls could still "see" each other and the presence of Satan and his demons was terrifying. There are also individual tortures according as to what sins had put them there.
Even though I firmly believe that most are going to hell I do accept that Jesus is the judge of all and he alone makes the judgement. His mercy is indeed his mercy!
I cannot comment on the mercy of God! Who am I to judge?!
I see nothing wrong with praying for each and every one who has departed this life.
I also seem to remember something about those, like the unborn, who never had a chance of baptism, being given some sort of revelation before they faced the judgement seat. I'm sure that God's mercy extends to them in particular.

Our Lady of Good Success-pray for us. said...

What doesn't contemporary man find 'unconvincing' other than do what you like?

True story:

Woman hasn't seen her father for a couple of years - and he, an aging alcoholic in a flop house in a city far away. One night she has a dream - her father is calling out to her, screaming for her help - she reaches out and tries to grab hold of his arm - then that touch is severed and a demonic voice bellows, 'he's mine!' In the struggle she slams her husband in the face sleeping next to her - they both wake up - it's just before three. 6.00Am the next morning, a policeman knocks on the door, sorry to inform - your father passed away in the early hours of the morning.

Was it 'just' a dream? One thing's for sure, where the demons take up eternal residence is Hell, and we are told they are not fond of humankind.

We seem to be living in an age of 'Christ was just kidding' when He said this or warned that. We see Christ's unpleasant Truth as unloving, yet Truth and Love are not separate. Soothing someone with a lie is not kindness; but that's all while we live - after a person's left the flesh, only God knows. I put the names of two suicides I know on the altar in November. Is this wrong? It's hope, I hope.

Our Lady of Good Success-pray for us. said...


names by the altar - not on.

Annie said...

"The image of the medieval torture chamber doesn't ring true . . . we need to speak of . . . the eternal sense of the loss of God, exclusion from his presence forever, with all the pain that comes from that . . ."

Whenever I read a statement like the one above it equates in my mind to all of the Tabernacles I've seen shoved to the side in too many churches, in corners, in exit hallways, in shadows on unstable coffee tables, passed by and ignored as people chat their way to and from Mass.

This is because your statement only can be true if you set aside and ignore Jesus' own description of hell as a place of physical fiery torment: "Father Abraham, have mercy upon me and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame." The rich man isn't focusing on his loss of God, he isn't wishing that God could be with him for just one moment to relieve his mental torment. No, the man is begging for (physical) water to cool the (physical) torment of (physical) fiery flames.

But we dance to the tune of the secular world now and since they insist the message is medieval nonsense we drop it for one promoting an eternal sense of psychological loss that means nothing to people who feel no loss in the here and now as they deny God. Tell them that they'll continue living that way for eternity and they'll tell you that's just fine with them. As Saul Linsky said, "Once I get to hell, I'll start organizing the have-nots over there."

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your candor, Father, and for your mercy to those dead folks who weren't obviously holy and/or obviously baptized.
My aged (I.e., very pre-Vatican II) grandmother has a particular devotion to Christ as "Justo Juez", the Just Judge, who alone can discern who goes up and who down. Granted, for most of her life, she was surrounded by baptized people, but I always understood God's mercy to extend to those "hominibus bonae voluntatis" and that no-one was beyond praying for, and that no prayer was ever wasted. On the other hand, defining the limits of the ecclesia outside of which there is no salus seems like God's business, not any of ours - just another aspect of his prerogative to judge, no?
Am I missing the point somehow?

Fr Ray Blake said...

I do not dispute the reality of Hell. For our contempories it is easier to explain the loss in terms of exclusion, anx, loss, unsatisfied yearning, emptiness, the eternal unsatisfied thirst of the rich man in the Lazarus parable.
Pain for most westerners today is unsatisfied longing.

Supertradmum said...

So many priests give in to grieving families on these points, as I have seen in Kent. I cannot tell you how many times I have had discussions in England and Ireland with families who are oddly burying their dead who have been away from the Church for years and years, as if these people were faithful Catholics.

Why priests do not make a distinction is an oddity. More sermons on hell and heaven would be helpful at this point.

As to praying for the dead, I pray for those who I think may have wanted to become Catholics but could not for some reason and, of course, the faithful. But, one can always pray for those outside the Church, as we do not know a person's state necessarily at death.

As to Masses, not funerals, that is another question, but funerals should not be given out like candy, as these are now in England.

Hermit Crab said...

How Tobias acts towards the dead, and what he teaches his son to do for the dead, these are amongst my favourite verses in the Bible.

George said...

Father, given the above canon. I think you are being much too scrupulous about this.

Certainly the cases you mention are not cases involving "notorious" heretics or schismatics.

You did the right thing.

That St. John Chrysostom apparently denied Baptism of Desire is irrelevant.

parepidemos said...

Father Blake, It is clear that you are not only orthodox in teaching but also have a truly pastoral heart. Oh that all of us would have both characteristics rather than only the former.

I know a deacon whose very first funeral was the grave side service for a 3 day old baby of a Baptist couple. Apparently, their minister had refused to do the burial because the couple were sporadic, rather than faithful, church goers. That single act of compassion eventually led the couple to embrace Catholicism.

JARay said...

I agree with George on this and I also think that the link which George quotes give perfect reason for Deacon Augustine to have carried out the two funerals which he mentions.

JARay said...

It's three or four years ago that I bought a booklet entitled "The Letter from Beyond". The people who sell it run a blog
The cost is $6 plus postage from the US.
It is the story of a young woman called Anne who used to work with another called Clare. Anne was an unfaithful Catholic. She married a rich man and was killed in a car accident. Clare is very concerned about her and starts praying for her. One night Clare hears someone outside her door and when she opens it to see just who is there she finds a letter left there. It is unsigned but she can tell from the handwriting that it is from Anne. It begins by telling Clare that praying for her (Anne) is a waste of time because she is in hell. It then gives the story of what happened.
It is certainly worth reading and it sends a chill up my spine in reading it. It was originally written in German and has been translated by Marian Therese Horvat. The original German has an imprimatur given in 1953.

Macrina Walker said...

I can't help being reminded of the prayer of St Isaac the Syrian which has stayed with me since I read it many years ago:

In the case of all those who have passed from this world
lacking a virtuous life and having had no faith,
be an advocate for them, Lord,
for the sake of the body which you took from them,
so that from a single united body of the world
we may offer up praise
to Father, Son and Holy Spirit
in the kingdom of heaven,
an unending source of eternal delight.

George said...

"Once a woman told St. John Vianney that she was devastated because her husband had committed suicide. In a moment of mystical insight that only a great saint can receive, John Vianney exclaimed, "He is saved!" The woman was incredulous so the saint repeated, stressing each word, "I tell you he is saved. He is in Purgatory, and you must pray for him. Between the parapet of the bridge and the water he had time to make an act of contrition."

John Nolan said...

Prayers were offered for George VI after every principal Sunday Mass. "Domine salvum fac regem nostrum Georgium. Et exaudi nos in die qua invocaverimus te". My great-uncle was an Irish Holy Ghost Father and on being appointed to an English parish forgot to sing this prayer. After Mass he was confronted by an angry delegation of parishioners. He had to apologize and explain his omission!

Jacobi said...

@ George

I’m delighted to hear this.

In my late schools days a group of us took up rock climbing – in between chasing women, well, schoolgirls to be precise. I, and I suspect my classmates, always assumed that if we slipped, we would have just enough time on the way down to get off a very short, but very sincere, act of contrition!

Mark you, as with rock climbing, in those days anyway, it is a bit chancy!

George said...


I listened to this sermon recently from a priest whom I trust implicitly:

He gave me an understanding of perfect contrition that I never had before.

I highly recommend it.

Proclaiming the mercy of God is not the sole domain of the liberals. In fact it's the proper domain of all orthodox believers. That God is love and mercy and that He desires our salvation is Catholic truth. One side-effect of the post-Vatican II revolution is that these concepts have become tainted - guilt by association - because of the liberals. They are part of our faith, part of Tradition, and should be reclaimed.

Cosmos said...

If the pain is "only separation"--which, of course, makes logical sense--a lot of Churchmen and saints have been misleading people for a long time, and a lot of the people have been misled. Take a look at the Catholic Encyclopedia's discussion of hell, for example. It clearly contemplates both types of pain. When did the Church decide that separation was the only type of pain in hell as a matter of doctrine?

I have no problem with the concept, I just wonder why I should accept the modern presentation as "more true" simply because it is tailored for people with whatever worldview I am supposed to have. Do we really live in some privileged point in history where humanity is finally prepared for the true essence of all of these doctrines? Doesn't it seem just as likely that we exclusively emphasize the pain of separation because the other stuff makes us look backwards?

Fr Ray Blake said...

A lot depends on how we understand the 'resurrected bodies', Origen speculated the might be spherical! Hence how do we experience pain but the doctrinal of Hell IS about separation from God, that is pain beyond measure, Jesus himself talks alot about being locked out, doors closed.

Francis said...

In the parable of Dives and Lazarus, I always thought that Dives was in purgatory rather than hell -- albeit a long and very painful purgatory because of his sins against the poor, which "cry out to heaven for vengeance."

Surely, someone in hell has taken a definitive decision to reject God forever and in a perverted sort of way revels in their decision? Dives wants to warn people still alive about his situation -- more like a purgatorial longing for prayers and reconciliation, is it not?

Deacon Augustine said...

George, thank you for rooting out Canon 1183. It has put my mind at rest about some decisions I have made - even if they should have been referred to my ordinary!

Deacon Augustine said...

Cosmos, I think the separation from God and pains of hell are more or less the same thing.

If God's love is an incandescent roaring blaze of fire and light (as the Holy Spirit is often depicted in Scripture), then those who hate God cannot stand to be in His presence and desire as much separation from Him as possible. The reason for hell's existence is to give them a place where they can avoid annihilation by distance from God. Even in hell though, God's love is still present enough that it is a permanent torture of pain to their senses as well as their awareness of loss and separation. God came to them as the light of men, but they preferred darkness.

For those who die saved, but with attachment to worldly things and the temporal effects of sin, the burning fire of God's love is what purifies and frees them from these things as they draw closer to Him through the suffering of purgatory.

For those who die in a state of grace without any need for purgation, they burn with God's love within them already and so they experience that same love as a soothing balm. The saints would freeze in hell, but God's presence is bliss to them.

When it comes down to it, all sin is worship of the creature rather than the creator - the choice to hate rather than love. If we end up in hell it will be because we want to be there and Our Lord said that is where the many choose to go.

George said...

Deacon: Did you have a chance to listen to that sermon on perfect contrition? The way I was catechized perfect contrition was taught as something that was an ideal but practically impossible. It then, in my mind, became very abstract and unrelated to my spiritual life. That sermon, provided in the link above, really gave me a fresh perspective, and a hopeful one.

Deacon Augustine said...

George, yes I have - it is excellent. It was only a few years ago that I learnt the correct understanding of perfect and imperfect contrition. Like you I once thought it was a virtual impossibility, but now know differently!

I don't know who the priest is, but he is a very effective teacher. Every Catholic should hear it so they know what to do if they are with a dying person and no priest is available. Anybody can be a means of grace for saving souls for God - it is very hopeful.

Cosmos said...

Fr. Blake and Deacon Augustine,

I am perfectly willing to grant that the pain of the loss of God is the main suffering in Hell, both logically and because that is what has always been taught. I also acknowledge that what bodies, pain, fire, etc. are in the next life is not known.

However, I am not willing to grant, as Tempus stated above, that "Our doctrine of hell, Father, has nothing to do with the torture chamber, whether Roman, medieval, Renaissance or Third Millenium."

The fact is that no matter what seems more convincing to "today's man" lots of yesterday's men were very convinced by "the image of the medieval torture chamber," and lots of authoritative Churchmen taught it. Why? Because there is a whole lot in the Bible that supports that theory. Further, lots of visions and exorcisms support the idea as well.

Those medievals were either right, or they were wrong. Perhaps they were getting a little overzealous with imagery that was effective in that era, as you suggest?

Likewise, when modern men state that hell has nothing to do with physical pain, despite all of the imagery of fire and gnashing of teeth in the bible, the visions of so many saints, etc., they too are either right or wrong. So how do we know they aren't getting a little overzealous with ideas that resonate in our overly-skeptical era? I don't think we do.

That's all I am saying.

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