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The Third Annual Catholic Congress: Addresses and Papers

Albany, New York, October 25, 26, 27, A.D. 1927

Philadelphia: The Catholic Congress Committee, 1927.

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2011

The Faithful Departed
Bishop of Northern Indiana and President of the Province of the Mid-West

AT THE outset, please permit me to say that this paper is not intended to be a learned and exhaustive treatise, nor is it the result of original research, but merely the collecting together of a few truths with the hope that perhaps it may be helpful to some people who have difficulties on the one hand, and on the other, to give a reason for the faith that is in us.

Prayers for the departed are a perfectly natural and normal thing when the mind is free from prejudice. If I may give a little personal experience, I remember in my early ministry a woman whose tendencies were not at all in the Catholic direction. We often talked together about the vital things pertaining to the faith. She was a widow who had been left with one young son to raise. Upon one occasion when something came up with reference to prayers for the dead, I remarked to her that I supposed she would not agree upon that subject. Her reply came spontaneously, "Oh, yes, it may surprise you, but I not only believe in prayers for the departed, but practice it. You see, before my husband died, every night when I taught my son his prayers, I had him pray for his father and mother, and so on, and after his father died, it simply never occurred to me to have my son leave him out of his prayers."

[65] One of the finest things I ever listened to was the speech in the House of Bishops which was made by the Right Reverend William Cabell Brown, D.D., the late Bishop of Virginia, which he made at New Orleans upon the subject of inserting in the prayer for the Church that clause which distinctly prays for the departed. It is, of course, impossible to quote him verbatim, as the speech was entirely extempore, but he described how he had grown from rather a deep prejudice to a realization of the value and the comfort of praying for our departed loved ones, and that if we are to pray for them, he said that he could think of no more appropriate place and time than in the very center of the Holy Communion Service. The Bishop had lost his voice, and could scarcely speak above a whisper, but his whole discourse was so thrilling, and came so earnestly from the depth of his heart that there was a breathless silence so that every word was heard in the extreme limits of the hall.

St. Peter tells us in the third chapter of his first Epistle, the 19th and 20th verses, that our Lord "went and preached unto the spirits in prison which sometime were disobedient." One can scarcely imagine our Lord preaching the glorious Gospel to souls who could not respond to the call.

In the rubric of the Prayer Book, preceding the Apostles' Creed, we find the Church's interpretation of the clause, "He descended into hell." Our English word "hell" has unfortunately been used to translate both from the Hebrew and the Greek two very different ideas. Our early translators used the word "hell" to translate the idea of the place of punishment, and also the general idea of the place of departed spirits. Our blessed Lord, of course, did not go into the place of punishment while His Body rested in the grave. He did not suffer the tortures of the damned, which is the horrible theology of [65/66] some, nor did His Soul ascend into Heaven for that period of time between His death and resurrection. We have His own word for this, when He spoke to Mary Magdalene in the garden, as well as St. Peter's testimony in the verse above quoted.

In much of the popular theology of the day, it is taught that when a man dies, he goes immediately either to heaven, or to hell, the place of the lost; but the Catholic Church teaches that this is not the case. Only those who have persistently resisted the influence of the Holy Ghost, and who have deliberately and knowingly chosen to cut themselves off from the grace of God go to the place of eternal punishment at death. In one sense we may say that God never condemns any one. He has endowed us with free will. His love draws us, but does not force us. Heaven is to be in the presence of God, and hell is to be separated from God. We may choose the darkness or the light. Mortal sin must be deliberate and intentional, and repentance resisted to the end, so that by our own will we deliberately choose eternal separation from Him.

Those blessed souls who have attained unto a sufficient degree of sanctity pass at once to Paradise the Blessed, but such souls are rare.

Between these two, we have the most of us, struggling along, with a greater or less degree of responding to God's grace; for most of us, therefore, there is prepared a sort of transition time or intermediate state, as it is sometimes called. We know from our own heart searchings that we are not fit to enter immediately into the full presence of God, and that we would be blinded by the glory of the Beatific Vision without a further time of preparation therefor. We know also, on the other hand, that in spite of all our sins and failures, and the scars of our repented sins, we do still love God; and, [66/67] being in a state of grace, we will not be cast into outer darkness. This intermediate state or condition must surely be a place of purifying or purgation. Our Lord has indeed taken away the guilt of sin for those who have been absolved, but not the effect and the consequences thereof. Certainly the eternal consequences He has removed in that He has given to us eternal life in place of eternal death, but as we said above, the scars remain which must be purged. We know out of our own experience even in this life that sins and follies, though they be repented of and forgiven, continue to have such an effect upon our character that it sometimes takes years to eradicate their continuing influence.

The prejudice that has arisen in the minds of many against the word "purgatory" is but the swinging of the pendulum and the revolt from abuses which certainly did cluster about this doctrine. The pains of purgatory are not inflicted by an angry God who is getting even with those who sinned against Him, and gloating over the tortures of His victims. We need not here enlarge upon the commercializing of this doctrine, and the mechanical effect of prayers and Masses with reference to the alleviation of the tortures of loved ones. The reaction from such things has driven the Protestant mind to the other extreme of prejudice. Purgation is remedial, and not vengeful. It comes from the love of God. The fires of purgatory are the pains of conscience. The soul in that state has an intense loathing of sin, and suffers at the contemplation of what its sins had wrought. The nearer one gets to our Lord, the more intense is the sense of sin. Expiation continues, purifying and hallowing the soul.

The process of purification is not merely in a negative sense of cleansing from stains. It is in a very positive sense a progress and a development. Surely, while the [67/68] body is resting in the grave, the soul is not in a state of stagnation. There are higher heights to climb. The soul goes on from grace to grace, and from light to light, coming more and more into full accord with the will of God.

Someone may say, "Why should we pray for the departed? God will do for them the things that they need." We may simply answer this by asking another question, "Why should we pray for one another while we are still together here on this earth? God will do for each one of us all that we need." I am not here going into a discussion of prayer, but simply desire to bring out the point that the same arguments which are used against prayers for the departed can be used with equal effect against any prayer at all, and the same arguments that we use in favor of prayer for one another here, stand with the same telling force with reference to our prayers for those who have passed on before us. There is but this one difference, that the departed are now no longer subject to temptations, and are delivered from the danger of falling into further sin. Requiems with the name of the departed inserted in the collect may be said only for those who have died in a state of grace, but in our private prayers as well as in public prayers of a general nature, I can see no reason why we may not include those to whom at least we can give the benefit of the doubt, so to speak.

I am indebted to a little tract by the Rev. Wemyss Smith for the following exposition of the Parable of Dives and Lazarus. In this story of the intermediate state, Dives is in purgatory, and Lazarus in Paradise. This story of our Lord is not a revelation of the state of the dead after the final judgment, for the word "Hades" is never used to express the place of final doom, but of the soul in prison. Lazarus has gone at once [68/69] to Abraham's Bosom, or Paradise the Blessed. He is in rest and felicity, having fully accepted God's will without murmuring, while Dives, failing to realize his stewardship, and having spent his wealth in his own personal enjoyment, is now punished. He is evidently not a lost soul for in that case, he would not be in Hades, but in Gehenna, nor would he be able to carry on a conversation with Abraham. The great gulf is fixed, to be sure, but the story shows that Dives was able to progress in the spiritual life. He was not totally depraved, for he did at least permit Lazarus, the beggar, to be fed from his table, not a very active charity, but at least passively showing some consideration for God's poor, a mere smouldering spark, which must be fanned into a full flame of love. In all probability he was externally faithful to his Church. He was not totally selfish. His progress is shown when he finds that Lazarus cannot be sent to him to alleviate his suffering, and then, in the midst of his pain, he thinks of his brothers back in the world, and wishes to warn them and save them from this condition into which he has come.

Again, in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, our Lord seems to hold out the hope of a purifying process beyond the grave.

"Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:
"Shouldst thou not also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee?
"And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.
"So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto [69/70] you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses."
—St. Matthew 18: 32-35.

This would certainly seem to hold out hope that the full debt will finally be paid.

In another passage our Lord brings out symbolically the final payment in full of the debt.

"Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee;
"Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
"Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.
"Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing."
—St. Matthew 5:23-26.

Even those who sin unknowingly must learn, but our Lord shows the tender mercy of God in the fact that in such cases there is an alleviation of their sufferings.

"And that servant which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
"But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more."
—St. Luke 12:47-48.

[71] St. Paul, in writing to St. Timothy concerning Onesiphorus, utters this prayer, "The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day." (2 St. Tim. 1: 18.) Commentators seem to agree that the context, particularly verse 16, shows that Onesiphorus was dead when St. Paul wrote these words.

Passing from the Scriptures to the practice of the Church, prayers for the departed have always been offered. In the Jewish Church there were prayers for the dead in which our Lord undoubtedly joined, and in no place condemned, nor did He anywhere give any indication that such custom should be discontinued. There is not a single one of the primitive liturgies which does not contain prayers for the dead. The Fathers bear testimony to this universal custom. Tertullian writes of one who had lost her husband, "She prays for his soul and seeks refreshment for him in the middle place." (de Monogamia 10.) St. Chrysostom says, "Let us not then be weary in giving aid to the departed, and of offering prayers for them." (Homily on 1 Corinthians 4: 1-8.) St. Clement says, "A man cannot be a believer if he is not under self-control. Even if he quits the flesh (without having perfectly acquired it) he must needs lay aside the passions before he can pass into his own mansion. Our believer therefore, having put off his passions by much discipline, will pass into the mansion next above his former one, bearing for his greater punishment, his special penitence for the sins committed by him after baptism. His sorrow is made the greater by not possessing fully what he sees others enjoying, while he feels the utmost shame for his sins. At some point the chastisement comes to an end, according as each man's expiation is complete and he is wholly purified (accepts and realizes the will of God)."

Origen says, "And as I believe we all must come to [71/72] those fires. Even a Paul or a Peter comes to that fire, but to such as they it is said, 'Though thou pass through the fire it shall not burn thee.' If, however, it be a sinner like me, he shall come to the fire like Peter or Paul, but he shall not pass through it like Peter or Paul. For my part I believe that even after the resurrection from the dead we shall need a cleansing and purifying, for no one will be able to rise without stain and that no soul can be found that will at once be free from all their faults."

St. Augustine tells us that his mother, St. Monica, was not concerned about where her body should be buried and other arrangements for her burial. She "gave no injunctions concerning such things as these, but desired only that a memorial of her might be made at Thine altar." Here he is referring to prayers for the dead in union with the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and he adds, "May she rest, then, in peace together with her husband. And inspire, O Lord my God, my brethren, that so many as shall read these pages, may at Thy Altar remember Thy handmaid Monica, with Patricius." (Confessions 9: 13.) In another place, St. Augustine also says, "Not all those who are put to shame after this life will be effectively cleansed (saved), while some will be saved by it." Again, he says, "Temporal punishments are endured by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both now and then. Not all who suffer punishment after death come to the everlasting punishment which follows after the dread judgment; for some who are not forgiven in this life are forgiven in the world to come. At the resurrection of the dead, there will be some to whom after the punishment which the spirits of the dead receive, mercy will be shown, in their not being sent into eternal doom; for it would be misleading to say of some that, 'They are neither forgiven in this world nor in the world to come,' if there [72/73] were not some who are forgiven in the world to come."

Let me give one more quotation from St. Augustine, in commenting on St. Matthew 12: 32. "Our blessed Lord certainly seems to hold out such hope, when he says, Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him in this world, neither in the world to come."

From these quotations from the ancient Fathers, let us come down to our own Dr. Pusey, who says, "Unless there were, in the Word of God, an absolute prohibition of prayer for the departed, how should we go on praying for those whom we love until they are out of sight, and then cease for an instant, as if 'out of sight, out of mind' were a Christian duty? How should we not rather follow the soul to the Eternal Throne, with the Apostles' prayer, 'The Lord grant that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day'? The departed are included in our Eucharistic prayer, 'by the merits and death of Thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in His blood, we and all Thy whole Church may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of His passion.' That we have for the time, no more to do with those who loved us here, and whom we loved, must be false, because it is so contrary to love. It belongs to the Communion of Saints, that they, in the attainment of certain salvation and incapable of a thought other than according to the mind of God and filled with His love, shall pray and long for us, who are still on the stormy sea of this world, our salvation still unsecured; and that we, on our side, should pray for such things, as God in His goodness wills to bestow upon them." (Address to the Companions of the Love of Jesus, pp. 126, 127.)

Our prayers for the faithful departed should not only be offered in our private devotions, but also at the Mass. [73/74] A requiem is a Mass with special intention for the departed, with Collects, Epistle, and Gospel, etc., appropriate to that intention. The highest act of prayer is sacrifice. As for the living, so also for the dead, the most powerful thing that we can do for them is to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar.

Heaven and earth meet at Mass. Every time we celebrate these sacred mysteries, Heaven comes down to earth, or rather, earth is caught up into Heaven. Thus is the prayer fulfilled, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Our Lord came down from Heaven to show us what they do up there, in order that we might know what Heaven is like. In the night in which He was betrayed, He made this revelation. After Pentecost the Apostles offered the Holy Sacrifice every Lord's day, and many things would seem to indicate that wherever possible it was their daily practice. St. Paul says, "I die daily." He undoubtedly refers, from the moral standpoint, to his daily death to sin and his daily rising again to righteousness, which is that steady process of conversion leading to sanctification. But I think it is not stretching the context to give these words also a Eucharistic interpretation. We might thus paraphrase, I am not afraid to die. It is just what I do every day. I place upon my head the helmet of salvation, and put upon me the robe of purity of Christ, gird up my loins with the truth, take upon me the yoke of Christ, with the maniple of humility, placing over it all the seamless robe of the High Priesthood of Christ, and leave this world, and enter into Heaven itself.

The Book of Revelation is to many people a closed book. It seems to be a collection of various things which were revealed to St. John. Perhaps this is the reason that we often hear the book referred to as "The Revelations of St. John." It is not a string of revelations, for [74/75] it has one great purpose which runs through the whole inner structure of it. It is the revelation of the worship of Heaven. St. John was in exile. It was the Lord's day. To put it in modern language, it was Sunday, and St. John could not have the opportunity of saying Mass, which was the habit of his long lifetime. Since he could not go to Mass on earth, God was gracious to him, and opened the doors of Heaven, and, if we may so express it, let him go to Mass in Heaven. What he saw in Heaven was exactly what he had faithfully done through all these years on earth. He saw a Throne, high and lifted up, and One sat upon the Throne like unto the Ancient of Days. Round about the Throne were seven golden candlesticks, and among these candlesticks he saw the Son of Man. Upon the Throne was the Lamb as it had been slain. Note that this is the sacrificial symbol of our Lord. Flowing forth from the Throne was the river like unto crystal. Round about the Throne were the four and twenty elders and the four evangelists. The Saints under the Altar cried, "How long, O Lord, how long!" The incense of the prayers of the Saints rose continually before the Throne. The book with the seven seals only the Lamb could open. The Heavenly worshippers cast their crowns to the ground and prostrated themselves before the Lamb in worship and adoration, while the angels sang their thrice holy hymn. The sermon had its place, for prophecy is not primarily foretelling the future, but is in its essence the preaching of righteousness, or the telling forth of the will and purpose of God. From the presence of this Heavenly Worship, the angels, that is the messengers, were sent forth into the four corners of the earth to do God's bidding. I need not take your time to make application of this to the Mass. It is so self-evident. If you will go to the Book of Revelation and carry to it this Eucharistic interpretation, [75/76] it will clarify many things, and give to that book a tremendous new meaning.

We Anglicans love a Gothic church with its three parts, nave, choir and sanctuary. Though the building be divided into three parts, all worshippers are together before the same altar, adoring the same Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, and joining in the same offering of the Sacrifice, and we answer back and forth in antiphonal worship in bidding one another to prayer as well as in praying for one another. If from the family pew in the nave, some lad should join the choir, his presence in that family pew might be missed, but he is not separated, for he is still in the same church and joining in the same worship as the rest of the family back in the nave. Should he then still pass on further into the privileges of being an acolyte and serving in the sanctuary, and should he still further progress, and stand eventually as a priest at the altar, he is still in the same church and in the same presence with his brothers in the choir and his loved ones in the nave. He prays for them, and they pray for him, and they ask one another's prayers in whatever part of the church they may be.

The whole Church, which is the company of all the faithful, is divided into three parts, but death cannot separate us. We are all together, no matter which one of the three parts we may happen to be in at the time. Our worship is the same, for Heaven and earth meet at the offering of the Holy Sacrifice, if we here come into the presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, and those who are awaiting are enjoying an ever-increasing nearness to Him, and those in Heaven are in His presence, it is the same Lord, and if we are each in His presence, then we are all together with one another. Thus the three parts of the whole Church join continually in [76/77] the antiphonal worship, answering back and forth to one another, we praying for the faithful departed, and asking the prayers of the Saints, and they, in turn, praying for us, so that they and we, with angels and archangels and with all the company of Heaven, laud and magnify Thy glorious name, evermore praising Thee and saying, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts, Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory."

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