“Sympathy with the Faithful Departed.”
PREACHED AT THE
Church of S. Thomas,
REGENT STREET, W.,
Fifteenth Anniversary of the Guild of All Souls,
TUESDAY, MAY 15, 1888,
REV. CANON T. T. CARTER.
“That they all may be one, as Thou Father art in Me, and I am in Thee, that they also may be one in Us.” S. John xvii. 21.
This great intercessory prayer is not uncommonly taken in a narrower sense than that in which, as I suppose, it was intended to be understood, as it passed from the lips of Jesus. We cannot from its context narrow it down, as not uncommonly done, to the re-union of Christendom on earth, great as that object is. For consider the occasion, and the accompanying thoughts. Our Lord was on the verge of the offering of the Sacrifice which embraced the world, reaching possibly even beyond this world and the race of men. He therefore looked to the very end of the dispensation He came to seal with His Precious Blood,--looked through time to eternity, through and beyond death to the final Restoration throughout all successive generations till the last. So His words speak, when He says, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for those also which shall believe on Me through their world.” We cannot limit the application of these words. Nor again, “Father, [3/4] I will, that they also whom thou hast given me, be with Me where I am.” These words “which Thou hast given me,” also must embrace the whole vast out-stretching communion of the Elect. In particular, we must surely understand this petition as applicable to the dead as well as to the living, to the departed members of His Body, every moment increasing in number in what we call the Intermediate State, as well as the struggling multitude of the faithful still on earth. Our Lord’s intercession touches whatever might hinder communion with God, or with one another, whether in the Church Militant, or the Church Expectant, that it might be done away, and the perfect union of redeemed man with God be at last accomplished. He moreover leads us to contemplate what the wonderful manner of the promised union must be, which could be likened to such a trancendental mystery, as is implied in the comparison, “As Thou Father art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us.”
No wonder that, with such language before their eyes, the Church of all ages has cherished the beliefe of the oneness of the Body of Christ, linking together the living and the dead. No wonder that those who died in the faith and fear of God, ever had their place in the records, in the memories, and in the prayers of the Church on earth.
Let us consider the motives which have led the Church thus earnestly to cherish the remembrance of the Faithful Departed.
 I. There was, first, this sense of unity binding together the living and the dead in Christ. The belief was most precious, for it rested on the truth of the Incarnation, on the fact that the same life pervades and animates the whole body, the visible and the invisible, alike—the same Spirit abiding in all, whether clothed with their bodies or unclothed. The life of the living was at stake if the life of the Departed was questioned—the same life passing from member to member, to the utmost extremity. It was not a mere case of natural affection of individuals drawn one to another. It was the supernature oneness, the love and union of souls redeemed, growing together to become “the perfect man,” because they who had passed away could not without them that remained, nor those that remained without those who had passed away, be “made perfect.” And mutual prayer between these divided members of the Body of Christ was the natural expression of that bond of union, when felt as a living reality, because of the intimate relation and the tender interest in each other’s salvation.
2. Again, a second object in such commemorations of the Faithful Departed, was to express thankfulness to Almighty God that their warfare was accomplished—their rest assured—the tears wiped away from their faces,—the darkness passed, the light shining on them. It was felt to be a joy for those still in the midst of the struggle on earth, to think of the calm beside the still waters of the river of life, of the growing multitude who had gone [5/6] before—their peace reflected, as it were, on the living, their rest already in a measure shared as a vision of hope, by those still troubled in this world's conflict. The thought of them was the pledge of the victory that awaited all who would abide faithful to the end. There was felt to be a blessing for the living, while rejoicing with them that do rejoice among the dead, while on the other side the souls beneath the Altar, cry out, "How long, O Lord, Holy and True, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth." There is thus a mutual sympathy, a mysterious fellow-consciousness between those at rest, and those who are seeking to enter into that rest. And as each soul passes out of the world's turmoil safe and secure, there is the fresh thought of triumph for the cause of faith, in the good and growing store, the treasures, which the Mother Church is laying up where there is no more risk, nor possibility of failing.
3. Again, such commemorations of the Faithful Departed, was the Church's way of giving Glory to God, for His work of Grace, for His redeeming Love. For what are chants that rise up from noblest choirs, from exulting throngs of worshippers, that are even Eucharistic offerings of praise, compared with the bearing home to God of souls tried in the fire, disciplined in the battle, faithful found among the faithless—bearing them home to be witnesses throughout Eternity of the power of the Spirit, Who has sanctified them? And what offering of sweeter savour, could be given to God than the constant [6/7] recalling of the names, the records of those, who having endured to the end have overcome, as He overcame in Whom they have borne bravely the conflict with evil?
4. But a yet deeper call, and quickened sense of intercommunion between the living and the Departed, yet has to be kept in mind. We cannot now fully understand how, or how far the dead in Christ know what passes on earth, whether it be that, as some suppose, they know by some direct means of intuition, or, as others think, by seeing what passes here being glassed in their vision of God—while yet whatever is thus seen must be tempered, so that what would trouble their peace must be hidden from their eyes—whatever would distract their loving gaze on God must be withheld—or there would not be really "rest from their labours." But to suppose that change of state would change their interests, change their fellow-feeling—change their desires towards their fellows still struggling on earth—this would seem inconceivable. And if it be so, then in a world where worship and a sense of dependance on God, must possess every soul to a degree of which we can form no adequate conception, we cannot doubt that their intercessions ever rise for us in constant prayer—tender, and true, and fervent,—that they who know our needs, our weaknesses, by their own long experience of like trials, cannot but pray, however they may have failed on earth to pray for others.
Nor again, are they who are gathered into that inner sanctuary, while in their Intermediate State, without needs of their own, which demand our prayers. [7/8] We indeed cannot realise fully the life of disembodied souls. We believe indeed that they possess quickened powers beyond what could be developed on earth, where the "corruptible body presses down on the soul," and as we learn that our Lord's Soul, passing from the Body, was "quickened by the Spirit." For He is in all things a type and pattern of what affects redeemed Humanity. They are moreover within sight and conscious presence of God Himself, and of Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, and must on this account be more fully quickened. They see as they could not see on earth; they feel as they could not feel. They must, as it were, expand, develope freely, all powers intensified, yet in a real and true sense they are dependent on such aid as prayer and Eucharistic offerings can supply. For being without the body, they cannot act as they acted here. The very fact that they are beyond the reach of temptation, or possibility of falling, implies that they cannot now gain Grace by the effort of their own will in the discipline of trial. They are, compared with their former state, passive. Theirs is a state of waiting, of expectancy, a state indeed of endless growth, of continual advance, of ceaseless progress, of tendencies being more and more matured, of desires more and more gratified, of aims being accomplished. And we may believe that not a seed of life exists within any soul but must bear fruit there, not a yearning that may not there have its fulfilment, as, on the other hand, pangs of remorse, and imperfect repentances, embryo stages of godly sorrow, must needs be deepened there, and searchings of heart be more profoundly stirred in the full light, in their steadfast faze, in the growing vision, in the all pervading atmosphere of love, in the unclouded Presence Chamber of the All Holy God. We cannot conceive but that the preparation for Eternal Glory in each soul that had in it the germ of life, but must be continually advancing. But yet they cannot strive as they strove here on earth, wrestling with God for their own progress. They are dependent, their growing fitness for their perfect glory is God's pure work within them, not as here their own working with God, in the day of their probation. Whatever God has promised is the subject of prayer, and intercession. And thus prayers for the dead, our Lord's intercession for them above all, and in Him and through Him the intercessions of the Elect, are duly to be offered, while the Angel of the Covenant standing before the Throne continually presents them with the "much Incense," however imperfect our offerings may be, however feeble our prayers.
We are often charged with the omission in our Church's services of this care for the Faithful Departed, of which we speak. It is not true to say that it is altogether neglected. Our great Oblation Prayer that "the whole Church may obtain the remission of sins, and all other benefits of His Passion," includes the dead as well as the living, and, as we lay our dead to rest, the prayer, "that we with all those that are departed in the [9/10] true faith of Thy Holy Name, may have our perfect consummation and bliss” is a continual remembrance before God of our Hope for the Faithful Departed. But while there is less full mention than of old of the departed members of Christ’s Body in our Offices, as we must own, we know that it was a reaction from distressful ideas which had marred primitive and Catholic truth, and that we are now spared the dreadful thoughts so rife at the time when our Offices were re-cast, thoughts of penal torments, like the torments of Hell, awaiting the dead in Christ, the purgatorial flames, the terrible debt due to Divine justice, before relief could come to the Faithful Departed. During that eventful struggle we won back the earlier belief of the rest of the Faithful Departed. We too believe a purgatory thought not in the same sense as was held then. We believe a purgatory of purification in the true sense of the term, a purging away of remaining sin, the fulness of sanctification, the growing perfection of holiness, the true purification of the sanctuary. And this may be accompanied with suffering, suffering arising from desires as yet unsatisfied, from cravings of loved keenly thirsting, anguish of regret at past sins, miserable remembrances, lingering imperfections, and this all the more, because in the purer light, the greater the manifestation of God, the shame awakened at the light of His holiness, must be ever deepening in the consciousness of the soul gazing upon Him.
But if there be less than we desire in our public Offices of prayer for the Departed, the more cause to [10/11] be thankful for all private efforts, and specially for what we owe to this Association. And we may trust that its constant work must tend to revive tender earnest sympathy with loving offerings for the object of its care. And now when calmer counsels have prevailed and the bitterness of controversy has been mitigated, and a less narrow theology is welcomed among us, we may well hope to see a spreading use of such devotion, freed from the accretions that once had grown around it, and claim for ourselves and for our brethren a true Catholic witness, that will bind together, as of old, the living and the dead under purer ideas of the communion that is in Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
May the ceaseless action of this Association tend to the spread and deepening of this great purpose, through which the full “communion of the Saints” may be accomplished to the Glory of God and the perfect accomplishment of our Redeemer’s Mediatorial work.