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Jubilee Sermon Preached at the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Guild of All Souls in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, New York, April 27, 1932.

By the Rev. Franklin Joiner.

Milwaukee: Morehouse, 1932.


Reprinted from The Living Church of August 13, 1932

“And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.”—Leviticus 25:10.

WHILE the Guild of All Souls is primarily a Guild of Prayer, it is also a society for propagating the Catholic doctrines concerning the Faithful Departed. There are some people who seem to think that because Prayers for the Departed have found their way into the Prayer Book, and a collect, epistle, and gospel for a funeral have been included, that the work of the Guild is done. They think that this Jubilee should be our “swan song.” But the mere appearance of these rites and forms in our Book of Common Worship does not in the least mean that the whole Church is using them, or is even ready to use them. We cannot be content because such prayers have been authorized by our bishops in General Convention, although we must be devoutly thankful to Almighty God that such a great change has come about in our Church during recent years.

When the little group of faithful priests and laymen applied fifty years ago to the mother society of the Guild of All Souls in England for an American charter, little did they dream that what was so startling an innovation to them and their contemporaries would be incorporated into the regular formularies of the Episcopal Church before the Jubilee year of their venture would be celebrated. All of this, of course, makes it much easier for us to carry on the great work which they have started. We do not have to fight as they did for the right and privilege to pray publicly in the Church for the Faithful Departed. But we shall have to fight to see that the Church is won completely to their use.

In my own diocese I have never seen the Prayer Book Mass used for a departed priest in any official burial service, not even for the late Bishop of the diocese, except, of course, in the case of priests who were definitely and avowedly “Catholics.” In fact, at the funeral of a prominent priest in Philadelphia, only recently [3/4] deceased, all prayers for the departed soul were most meticulously omitted at his funeral. At the celebration of the Holy Communion announced for an early hour on the day of his burial, the propers for Monday in Easter Week were used. I think we shall find that we still have a stiff fight ahead of us. There is still a great work for the Guild of All Souls to do. To get these prayers into the Prayer Book is a far simpler matter than getting these prayers into general use.

We cannot be unmindful today of the heroic souls in America who have fought for these things. We do have them in special remembrance here and now before God. But we have not come to rear monuments to their memory. We have come to pledge ourselves afresh to carry on the great work which they began. There is always a danger in commemorating these anniversaries, that we may delight ourselves too much in what has been done for us, and neglect to see what there is yet for us to do.

Our work seems to be most clearly set forth for us in the text which I have chosen from the Book of Leviticus. “Hallow the fiftieth year,” and keep it as a Jubilee. This we are doing, and we are grateful to the reverend Fathers of this great parish for arranging so magnificent a function for our celebration. “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” Not only as members of the Body of Christ and as Catholic Christians, but further as members of the Guild of All Souls, we must do our utmost by example and prayer, by clear teaching and definite instruction, by bold and fearless preaching, and by gentle persuasion, to see that all Episcopalians, and eventually all non-Catholics, enter into the full appreciation and understanding of this glorious liberty of the sons of God, which is theirs as much as ours. It is part of our work to free all men everywhere from the bonds of ignorance and the chains of prejudice, and to proclaim throughout the land to the inhabitants thereof the great liberating truths of the Catholic faith concerning the Faithful Departed.

And then beyond that is our work of prayer. In quiet and patient prayer for the repose of the souls of our departed members, and for all the Faithful Departed, that they may continue to grow in God’s love and service—there shall be our chief work and our strength. “Ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family”—the Holy Souls, now awaiting their admission into the Presence of the Beatific Vision, and the possession of “the inheritance of the saints in [4/5] light”—the Holy Souls in Purgatory, waiting to be joined to God’s family and their brethren in the Land of the Blessed. In this Jubilee Year, our Masses, our Communions, our prayers, should be of such frequency and such power as to cause a great procession of the Holy Souls from the Place of Purgation, up the Golden Stairs, into the full joy and eternal happiness of the Courts of Heaven.

THIS IS, I believe, for most of us, the greater work of the two. We all cannot preach sermons. We all cannot teach. We all cannot write tracts. We all do not have the power to persuade those who seem to be so unwilling to learn. But we all can pray. And were the sole object of our Guild that of prayer, it would more than justify our life and its continuance in the American Church.

We do not need to belong to this Guild or to any other to entitle us to the privilege and opportunity of praying for the Faithful Departed, but many of us do need to belong to the Guild that we may be assured of prayers for our own departed souls. As long as such praying is limited to a small group within our midst, many of us might well have no one to pray for us in particular when we have passed from the Church Militant into the Church Expectant. To many that is a quite sufficient reason for membership in the Guild—that we may be assured of our fellow-members’ prayers when we have reached Purgatory. In fifty years our membership has grown from five to twenty-two hundred, of which more than one-third have passed through the gate of death. These we have in special remembrance today. These it is our bounden duty to remember before God, and to remember them with the same devotion and earnestness as we shall want ourselves some day to be remembered.

But in our contacts with our fellow Churchmen we are confronted with two opposite doctrines about the condition of human beings after death. According to the Protestant the Departed are with Christ. They are the “blessed dead.” “Christ’s finished work has given them a blessedness far and away beyond anything we can conceive.” The notion that there is something that the Departed need is utterly mistaken. They do not stand in need of anything. “To pray for them is to cast a doubt on their blessedness.” “They are in need of no supplications on our part that God should give them perpetual light, for they are with Him who is the Light of the world.” Calvin admitted, concerning prayer for the Departed, that “all know by experience how [5/6] natural it is for the human mind thus to feel.” But this natural instinct is to be suppressed. Augustine’s mother, when dying, earnestly entreated to be remembered when the solemn rites of the altar were performed. In Calvin’s opinion, St. Monica’s request was “doubtless an old woman’s wish, which her son did not bring to the test of Scripture.” This is one conception—the non-Catholic conception—of the condition of souls after death.

But according to the Catholic, experience proves that the majority of men and women die in a state which may be penitence, but certainly is imperfection. The effect of physical dissolution upon the soul may well be quite beyond calculation, but certainly cannot transform the penitent into the saint, nor the beginner in the spiritual life into the matured and perfected. In proportion to their life and living on earth are the dead in Christ blessed. But in proportion to their ultimate attaining they still have much to acquire. The blessedness of the Departed is in varying degrees. To limit progress to the life on earth is to stereotype the majority of the human race in a condition of eternal imperfection. Indiscriminate ascription of equal blessedness to every soul which departs forgiven is to confound forgiveness with sanctity, and to forget that “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” Perpetual nearness to the holiness of God is more than average human imperfection could endure. The Departed are in a progressive state, and are therefore susceptible to our prayers. These are the two opposed conceptions of the experience awaiting the soul in the period which follows after death. Those who adopt the former doctrine are naturally, and from their standpoint rightly, resentful of the changes which the revisers on this subject have introduced into the official prayers of the Episcopal Church; they are apprehensive that these alterations carry with them the principle of offering the Mass for the dead. And they see, and this also quite correctly, that if these revised petitions, and new propers, and prayers for the Departed are in accordance with the Gospel faith, the language of the Thirty-nine Articles which appeared to characterize such Eucharistic Offering of Christ for the souls of the Departed as “blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits” is utterly misleading.

Thank God, it is to our rightful Catholic position that the House of Bishops in the American Church have pledged themselves and us, their spiritual children. That alone is more than we are able to be thankful for sufficiently, and must not be forgotten in our eucharistic Jubilee today.

[7] THE EARLY CHURCH, and what we in our twentieth century sophistication call “the Primitive Church,” believed that those who departed this life in Christ’s faith and fear were still within reach of her intercessions, still had a share in the benefit of the eucharistic pleading of the Passion of the Lord. I myself have read upon the walls of the catacombs about the city of Rome such words as “May you live in God”; “May God refresh thy spirit”; “Also in your prayers pray for us, for we know that you are in Christ”; “May you live for ever”—which were carved there in the fourth and fifth centuries. The early Christians, those who lived nearest to the time of the Apostles, were accustomed to such prayers as these when they gathered to celebrate the Holy Mysteries: “Give rest to the souls of our fathers and brethren . . . every spirit that has departed in the faith of Christ and those whom today we keep in memory”; “Let us pray for all those who have fallen asleep in the faith”; “We pray for all our fathers and brethren that have fallen asleep before us, and the orthodox that lie everywhere”; “We offer to Thee this reasonable service on behalf of those who have departed in the Faith . . . and every just spirit made perfect in the Faith.”

During the persecutions the names of those who had been faithful unto death were read at the Mass that they might be remembered in the prayers of the worshippers. Their names were also carved on tablets near the altar so that their memory might be fresh to those who offered the Holy Sacrifice. In much the same fashion does the Guild of All Souls record the names of its departed members in the quarterly Intercession paper, for both remembrance at the altar and in private prayer. There is no doubt whatever that the Church for the first centuries, and especially at the Holy Eucharist, prayed for the Faithful Departed as simply and as regularly as it did for those living at the time.

This was the custom in the Church of England, as in every other national Church throughout the world. After the Reformation the First Prayer Book of Edward VI included such prayers, showing that the early English reformers had no intention to depart from ancient and universal Catholic custom.

The whole history of intercession for the departed shows us that when we pray for the Holy Souls we have with us the unchanging doctrine and the universal custom of the whole Catholic Church from the very days of the Apostles, who were following the example of their Lord and ours.

[8] “In Paradise on Good Friday evening our Crucified Saviour told the story of the Passion not to a dead congregation but to a host of living souls, capable of hearing and understanding what He said to them. The story of that proclamation of the Passion in Paradise is not tradition or legend; it is the record of what actually happened that night, and it can have come from no one but the Incarnate Preacher Himself.”

IN THIS JUBILEE YEAR, as we look back over the fifty years that are gone, we must give thanks, too, for the good lives of all those who have gone before us, into whose work we are now entering, beseeching God to give us grace to follow the good examples they have set before us. There is nothing more amazing in this world than the example of a good life, nothing more powerful. Sometimes the influence is open and obvious; far more often it is hidden and secret. Can you imagine what the world would be like—what your life would be like—if no noble example of life had ever been set? What we should have lost, for instance, if St. John the Beloved Disciple, St. Stephen the Martyr, St. Paul the Missionary, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Augustine, Fr. Damien, Fr. Larrabee, our beloved superior for so many years, and thousands of other noble examples had never been set? And it is not only to the great saints and martyrs of the Church that the world owes a debt beyond words—every good life, every high ideal, every consistent example, has helped to make it and us better.

When we have departed this life in Christ’s faith and fear, and are being remembered at some future Mass or Requiem of this Guild, shall we have set an example which the faithful will be called upon to follow, an example which will help those who come after us to be made partakers of the heavenly kingdom?

So as Superior of the Guild of All Souls, in this year of Jubilee, I charge you to make it your special endeavor and dedication to follow those in life and activity who have helped, to bring our society, and the Catholic Life in the Episcopal Church, where it is today. To carry on the work they began and not to content yourselves in the luxury of what they accomplished. To carry on, so that others entering into our work may find it carried on to a point that we ourselves cannot see now—until at last all the members of the Episcopal Church, and of the Anglican communion, yes, and all men throughout the world, shall be converted to the Catholic religion, and be one in perfect unity and concord in “the Faith once for all delivered unto the Saints.”

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