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Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of His Majesty

transcribed by Mr Thomas J W Mason
AD 2001


The Church of England has never formally condemned prayers for the dead, as distinguished from their public use in her services. Divines of the Church have again and again protested against the necessity of a connexion such as is, by Roman Catholic writers, constantly assumed to exist between the doctrine of Purgatory and prayers for the departed. Prayer for the rest and refreshment of the souls of the faithful departed are to be found in the earliest extant form of the most ancient liturgies; and they are admitted to have been offered before those liturgies were compiled. The spread of a belief that in the intermediate state the souls of the departed were subjected to a process of punishment and purification in Purgatory, and, therefore, were in pain, altered the character of prayers for the dead, and made them to a large extent supplications for the delivery of the souls of the departed from suffering. Hence followed a great multiplication of ñthe sacrifices of masses, which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt.î This is expressly condemned by Article XXXI.

All SoulsÍ Day was the anniversary set apart for the remembrance of the departed and for intercession for the well-being of their souls, through the prayers and Masses offered by the living. The first notice of the observance of the day occurs about the year 1024; and very soon, if not from the first, the observance was definitely connected with prayer for relief of the souls in Purgatory, as it still is in the Church of Rome. Article XXII. describes the Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory as a fond thing vainly invented. All SoulsÍ day is in no way recognised in the first Prayer Book of Edward VI., or in any subsequent English Prayer Book; it was omitted from the ñTable of all the feasts that are to be observed in the Church of England throughout the year,î as well as from the number of Black Letter Anniversaries in the kalendar; and the Prayer Book in its final form excluded from the public services all explicit prayers for the departed.

In 1873 a society called the Guild of All Souls was founded, which endeavours to arrange for special services on the eve of All SoulsÍ Day, and for special celebrations of the Holy Communion on All Souls' Day itself (November 2), and throughout the month of November. The Guild publishes annually a list of these services, so far as the Secretary has been informed of them. For 1903 the number of churches mentioned in the list is 216, and for 1904 the number is 234; but the Secretary stated that the actual number of churches in which these services are held is probably double that contained in the printed list, and that the number has steadily increased during the last ten years. The Guild has about ninety branches in England and Wales, and 6,500 members, of whom between 1,000 and 1,200 are clergymen. The rules of the Guild require that members should be present, if possible, at a celebration on All SoulsÍ Day. The service on November 1 is described in this list as ñVespers of the Deadî; and the special celebrations on November 2 are said to be ñfor the faithful departed.î The Guild publishes a form of service of ñVespers of the Dead,î which the Secretary states ñis no doubt used in many places very similarly and in other places it is altered by the officiating clergyman at his own discretion.î This form of service, which follows generally the form bearing the same name in the Roman Catholic Church and consists mainly of psalms and antiphons, contains amongst other supplications for the departed the following prayer translated from the Roman service book:

ñO God, the Giver of pardon, and Author of manÍs salvation, we beseech Thee of Thy mercy to grant that the brethren and sisters of our congregation with our relations and benefactors who have passed away from this world (Blessed Mary Ever Virgin and all Thy Saints praying for them) may come to the fellowship of eternal blessedness.î

It appears that some Bishops, e.g., the late Bishop Creighton and the Bishop of Southwark, have allowed the use of the published service, subject to the omission of any direct prayers for the dead separately from the living. The Bishop of Southwark stated also that his course had been not to allow the observance of All SoulsÍ Day under that name, as being unknown to the Prayer Book. The present Bishop of London seems to have taken the same course.

The commemoration of All SoulsÍ on November 2 in churches connected with the Guild consists chiefly of one or more celebrations of Holy Communion. The ritual employed at these services varies greatly in different churches. The Secretary stated that ñthe bulk of these celebrations would certainly be what are called low celebrations, plain services without music or anything of that kind . . . with no addition; but probably they would have a special Collect, Epistle, and Gospel.î But evidence of much more elaborate service on All SoulsÍ Day was given, e.g., at St. AlbanÍs, Holborn, on November 2, 1903, when the Guild was given use of the church for its annual official service conducted for the Guild by the clergy of the parish, who, however, themselves arranged the details of the service. The Secretary stated that this service was ñthe most elaborate probably, or one of the most elaborate certainly,î of the All Souls commemorations held under the auspices of the Guild.

The Bishop of London stated to us that, as the result of his action, the service on All soulsÍ Day at St. AlbanÍs, Holborn, in 1904, was greatly modified, and, particularly, that the hymn referred to in the report of the service was not sung, and that no collect not contained in the Prayer Book was used. But it would appear from a letter appended to his LordshipÍs evidence that many of the practices abandoned in 1904 were resumed in 1905 without his knowledge or sanction.

The Secretary of the Guild has edited a book entitled ñRequiem Services,î which, although not published by the Guild, is advertised in its circulars and sold at its office; and to it the official publications of the guild refer members for information as to ñritual and other arrangementsî connected with the ñOffice of the Dead.î The preface describes the object of the book thus: ñThe present work is mainly an attempt to assist in satisfying this desire [for celebrations on behalf of the departed] as well as to supply a want that has been felt by providing in a complete and convenient form an arrangement of the service for such occasions drawn up in strictly accordance with Catholic precedent and practice. . . . The editor does not wish to suggest that in all places it is possible, or even in some cases desirable, that all ceremonies described should be at once adopted, or even attempted.î The book is a manual not only for All SoulsÍ Day but for Requiem Services generally; and the writer urges as of special importance (1) that funeral services should be choral; (2) that the coffin should be surrounded by lights; (3) that incense should be used at burials, if at no other time.

The ñOrder of the Holy Communion when there is a Burial of the Dead, or on behalf of the Faithful Departed,î occupies the first place in the book. The Communion Service of the Book of Common Prayer is printed almost in full; but there are directions that the Commandments may be, and the Creed, the Gloria in Excelsis, and the Benediction are to be, omitted. On the other hand, intermixed with the Prayer Book Service is a careful rendering in English of the ñMass of the Deadî according to both the Roman and the Sarum Uses, which, when they differ, are both given in parallel columns. In this way the Introit (ñRest eternal grant to them O Lord, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon themî) Gradual, Tract, Sequence, Offertory, Secrets, and the Canon of the Mass with the action belonging to it, are made part of the service. The Collect on All SoulsÍ Day is directed to be as follows: ñO God, the Creator and Redeemer of all them that believe, grant unto the souls of all the faithful departed remission of all their sins, that through our devout supplications they may obtain the pardon they have alway desired . . . .î Alternative Epistles and gospels are provided from the Roman and Sarum books and from the first Prayer Book of Edward VI. The words of administration are abbreviated for the priestÍs Communion. The consecrated bread is referred to as the Sacred Host; and prayer is made for peace at ñthe intercession of the Blessed and Glorious Mary Ever Virgin, Mother of God, with that of Thy Blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul and Andrew, and of all Thy Saints.î Incense is used throughout the service: and the bier, or catafalque, if any, is directed to be sprinkled with holy water. The officiating clergy wear vestments which are carefully described.

Various witnesses describe services held in different churches in connexion with the Guild of All Souls, of a type similar to that adopted at St. AlbanÍs, Holborn, but without the use of holy water. These services vary in detail, but their general character is uniform. Sometimes lists of deceased persons, for whom the prayers of he congregation are asked, are read, or distributed at such services, or are placed in the Church among other public notices. Frequently the witnesses have reported that there were no communicants at these services. In one case, at the church of St. John the Baptist, Holland Road, on the occasion of a ñRequiem for deceased member and associates of the English Church Union,î it is stated that one of the clergy announced as follows: ñThis service being for the departed, it is not according to the custom of the Catholic Church for the faithful to communicate at it.î This church has many services in connexion with the Guild of All Souls, but it does not appear that this particular service was so connected.

The services of commemoration of All souls held under the auspices of the Guild, so far as they have been described in evidence before us, are arranged, not only as to ritual but also as to the substance and the words of the service, in entire disregard of any obligation to adhere to the Order of the Book of Common Prayer in the administration of Holy Communion. On the other hand, the nature of the services and the names given to them, the ritual employed, and the actual words used, are all in close resemblance to the corresponding services of the Roman Church.

Further, these services are in commemoration of a Holy-day which is excluded from the Anglican kalendar, but was observed in the Church of England prior to the Reformation, and is still observed in the Church of Rome. It is claimed by the Secretary of the guild that All soulsÍ Day has now ñbeen practically restored to the kalendar.î

The object of the Guild, so far as it relates to the matter we are considering, is described as ñIntercessory Prayer for the repose of the souls of deceased members and of all the faithful departed.î It will be seen that this object might pursues in three distinct ways;„

(1) by encouraging the private use amongst Church-people of prayers for the Dead.

(2) by restoring prayer for the rest and refreshment of the faithful departed to a place in the public services of the Church of England similar to that which they occupied in the devotions of the early Church; and

(3) by re-establishing the pre-reformation practice of the English Church and the present practice of the Roman Church with regard to prayers for the deliverance of souls from Purgatory, and Masses for the Dead.

It would probably be contended by most members of the Guild that its main purposes are those described in (1) and (2). We conceive that comparatively few entertain (3) as a distinct and definite end in view. But it would appear that some of the prayer issued by the guild are entirely unsuitable, unless it is intended to bring Masses for the Dead in the Roman sense. For example, the prayer used at the anniversary service of the Guild at St. AlbanÍs, Holborn, in 1903, which contains the words: ñDeliver the souls of all the faithful departed from the pains of Hell and from the bottomless pit: deliver them from the lionÍs mouth, that Hell swallow them not up, that they fall not into the thick darkness,î is not only taken from the roman Mass for the Dead, but is cited by Mr. Scudmore as typical of the Roman view that ñthe souls for whom prayer is made are in great sufferingî„that is, in Purgatory. Yet this collect was expressly defended by the Secretary of the Guild in his evidence. It is also given for private use in his manual, ñThe Waiting Church,î compiled ñfor the use of members of the Guild.î The publications issued or recommended by the Guild contain several other prayers open to the same criticism. They all express, in more or less clear language, petitions not for the rest and refreshment of the departed, but for the delivery of their souls from pain and suffering. On the other hand, the Manual of the Guild of All Souls, 15th edition (1905), contains no prayer of this type. On the contrary, the weekly prayer ñfor the departedî illustrates the distinction between the categories (2) and (3):„

ñO Lord, the God of spirit and of all flesh, who didst put death under Thy Feet, didst destroy the power of the devil, and gavest Thy Life for the world, grant rest, O Lord, to the souls of Thy departed servants (especially . . . . . . . . . .) in the place of light and refreshment, whence pain and sorrow and sighing are driven away, and in Thy goodness and mercy pardon every sin committed by them in thought, word, and deed; Thou who art the Resurrection and the Life, and who livest and reignest, God for ever and ever.î

The Secretary of the Guild of All Souls, in answer to a question, stated that, believing the Mass and the Holy Communion to be identical, he held that there is no material difference whatever between the offering of the Holy Eucharist for the souls of the departed and the offering of Masses in the Roman Church for the same purpose. But he was also careful to say that, so far as he knew, no member of the Guild accepted the Roman doctrine of the efficacy of Masses to shorten by definite period the sojourn of a souls in Purgatory. In other publications of the Guild ñmaterial conceptions of Purgatoryî are repudiated. While the Roman Church lays stress upon the multiplication of Masses offered for the dead, the Guild of All Souls looks rather to the increase of opportunities for prayer in connexion with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, in the belief that the benefit of the service may accrue to the departed in the same way as to the living, and that, in this fellowship of blessing shared by the living and the departed the Communion of the Saints is realised.

It is not our duty to attempt to reconcile disavowals of Roman doctrine with the use of services and prayers which state that doctrine in the very terms which the Roman Church itself employs for the purpose of setting it forth. These services and prayers are, in our opinion, significant of teaching which is entirely inconsistent with the teaching of the Church of England.

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