Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Omnium Fidelium Defunctorum

After yesterday's great celebration of those who are already with God, today we turn our attention to those who have not yet attained the beatific vision.  This is what one might call a very "full faith" day in the Church's calendar, associated with specifically Catholic teaching, a day which is probably rather misunderstood in many places where it is marked outside the Catholic Church. 

Today, we pray for those who have died and who are in Purgatory.  Since we cannot know, other than in limited cases, who is already in Heaven with God, we must take up a mission of praying for all the departed, assuming that that they are in Purgatory, hoping that they are already in Heaven and that they are not damned.  This we do through our prayers, especially throughout November, the month of the Holy Souls, and through the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the repose of the souls of the departed. 

Perhaps the marking of today by those who would say that they do not believe in Purgatory is down to the confusion caused by the word "remember", ie "Lord, we remember those gone before us", a usage that became common in the Church of England after the First World War, where popular sentiment cried out for some way of including the millions of war dead in prayers, but mainstream Anglican teaching was awkward about praying for the dead.  It always seems to me to be such a ridiculous word in the circumstances, implying that we are happy to tell God that we haven't forgotten about Great Aunt Mabel and poor Cousin Bert, but that's it, we're not actually saying any more than that. 

The survival of this day outside the Catholic Church is possibly also indicative of a deep and innate knowledge in the human soul, an inextinguishable feeling that we must continue to pray for our departed brethren.  This inner call to do so is something that neither the Reformation nor cleverly worded compromise formularies could stop.

At St James's, along with the rest of the congregation, members of the Marylebone Ordinariate Group have submitted names of departed family and friends that will be included in a list of the Holy Souls to be prayed for throughout this month at masses for the dead.  No half measures from us.

As we pray for the Holy Souls, so we ask their prayers for us.  They are already closer to God than we are, and are saved.  May they pray for us as we pray for them.

It is fitting that for a day so associated with robust Catholic teaching, BBC Radio 3's weekly live broadcast of a church service should today be coming from Westminster Cathedral.  At 1530 UK time, instead of the usual service of Choral Evensong from an Anglican Cathedral or an Oxbridge College Chapel, Mass will be broadcast live from the mother church of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.  The setting of the Ordinary of the Mass is the Victoria Requiem.  Here is the Introit and Kyrie from that powerful piece of polyphony.

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