Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Sure and Certain Hope

I was just doing a bit of research for a post which I hope to complete later today, when my eyes fell on a most interesting passage in Eamon Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars.

In reference to the new prayer book liturgies in England that were the product of the 16th century Protestant revolt, Duffy comments that the new funeral services were crafted to stress predestination. Duffy writes of the funeral service,

It was in many ways a starkly reformed service, speaking much of predestination, "beseeching thee, that it may please thee to accomplish the number of thy elect." Yet it required the minister to declare of every one he buried that they died in "sure and certain hope" of salvation.

Now, I'm having a hard time determining what Duffy's interpretation of these two ideas is. It is unclear to me whether he believes the phrases about "the elect" and the "sure and certain hope"
to be somehow opposite or complementary.

It seems to me, however, that they are meant to act in tandem. The idea of a "sure and certain hope" can be strictly interpreted in an orthodox manner, and yet next to the sentiments of predestination it can hardly be said to lend itself to such an understanding. It seems to me that this phrase might well have been inserted into the liturgy in order to appease any Catholic discontent.

Secondly, the concept of a "sure and certain hope" is nonsensical. At the very least, it's a strange way to put it. "I am certain that I hope." What's the point? I am not trying to denigrate Christian Hope; that is another matter entirely; I'm just trying to point out how weird this phrase it.

Finally--and astute readers may already have realized this--the very phrase "sure and certain hope" is in the Novus Ordo Funeral Mass, at the Rite of Commendation. This is true at least for the English translation. I do not know about the Latin. Does the inclusion of this phrase in the NOM cause anyone else some slight discomfort? Certainly, some of the context of the reformed services do not exist in the NOM (thankfully), but nevertheless some phrases do come off as presumptuous. For example, "...until we are with You and our brother/sister forever."

I do not know what a sure and certain hope is, but I do know that I am surely and certainly concerned about this troublesome phrase. Before you react to this post, ask yourself whether the poor souls in Purgatory benefit from this phrase or not.

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