Wednesday, November 08, 2023

Durandus on Prayer for the Dead (Part 2)

The following is taken from the entry on All Souls’ Day in William Durandus’ Rationale Divinorum Officiorum (7.35), the Summa Theologiae of medieval liturgical commentaries. This is one of the longest sections of the seventh book, which covers the Sanctoral cycle, and will be presented in several parts in this month especially dedicated to prayer for the dead. Click here to read part 1.

On a (major) feast day, an anniversary Requiem ought not to be celebrated, nor should a Mass for the dead be said unless the body is present. But in every season the Mass for the dead can be celebrated if the cadaver is present, except on Good Friday, since on that day the body ought not to be buried, but rather reserved for the next day. And then on Saturday the Mass can be sung for it, and the body buried. Likewise, if anyone should die on Easter, let his body be laid aside for the next day, and then be buried with the celebration of the Mass, for a body ought not to be buried without a Mass, although the contrary is done in very many places.

And although according to the Council of Chalon, prayer and sacrifice should be offered for the dead daily, on the aforementioned days (the third, seventh and thirtieth after burial, and on the anniversary), this is done especially by the friends (of the deceased). Indeed, some people generally pray for the dead at the evening and morning Office in all seasons, excepting only feast days; others celebrate Mass for them daily, others at the beginning of each month sing nine psalms, nine readings and nine responsories (i.e. the Office of the dead with three nocturns at Matins), and indeed, it is a holy thought and profitable to salvation to pray for the dead, that they may be released from sin. (2 Macc. 12, 46; from the Epistle for the anniversary Requiem.)

In some places the Office of the dead is not said in church from Holy Thursday until the octave of Pentecost, since they say that all the offices of that time ought to be brief, and also not on Sundays. And the story is told that a certain abbot prohibited his monks from celebrating for the dead on Sundays, but because of this, the dead themselves afflicted him with harsh beatings, and therefore he revoked this prohibition.
Note also that the prayers which are offered in the churches for the dead who are very good are acts of thanksgiving; for those souls which are perfectly good, as soon as they go out of their bodies, fly to the heavens and have no need of our assistance. For the moderately good, expiations are made, or mitigations of their pains, since they enter purgatory, because while they were alive, they did not complete the penance enjoined upon them, by means of which the alms, prayers, fasts and sacrifices which are done for them benefit them. … as for the very evil, prayers are rather consolations of the living, for the help we proffer does them no good, since their souls immediately go down to hell.
Also note this, that according to Jerome, when a psalm or Mass is said for all souls, it is received no less than if it were said for each one of them … but if they are said for a specific intention, they benefit those for whom they are especially made, rather than others. If they are done in general or in common, they benefit rather those who had greater merit in this life… For according to Augustine *, although they do not benefit all those for whom they are done, nevertheless, because we do not know whom they benefit and whom they do not, they ought to be done for all, so that no one may be left out. For it is better that they be superfluous to those they neither harm nor benefit, and that they should be lacking to those whom they benefit, and therefore the anniversary day is celebrated, as is said above.
* De cura pro mortuis gerenda, chapter 18, a passage added to the Office of the Dead for All Souls by the breviary reform of St Pius X.
The Four Latin Doctors of the Church, 1632, by the Dutch painter Abraham Bloemaert (1564-1651). Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
But can the prayers of him who because of mortal sin is not in charity benefit one who died in charity? I answer that sacramental works such as the Mass, the Office of the dead, the collection of alms, and the like, done by such a one, are very powerful, and do benefit the dead, both because they have their efficacy from God, and not from the one who does them, and because he does them not in his own name, but as the representative of all, which it to say, he acts in the name of the whole church…
For if we condemn the prayers of men whose conscience reproves them for sin, the dead will be helped by the prayers of few. Therefore, it seems we ought to say that the prayers of the man who is still in faith, even though he is not in charity, do not benefit the one who dies in charity from the merit of the life of the one who makes them; nevertheless, because these prayers are made according to the teaching of the Church, through one who is in faith, and for one who has merited to receive such benefits, where the charity of the doer fails, the merit of faith supplies, as does the charity of the Church that commands him to make the prayer, and the capacity of the dead man who receives them, and also the generosity of the merciful God, who according to Ambrose does not revoke His benefits, but rather makes even greater His overflowing generosity, and in that generosity, considers a good work done by someone as if it were done by the one whom it benefits.
For even according to the laws (of man), if someone pays the debt of another, the debtor himself is set free … and according to Augustine, even though nothing is begotten from a stone trough, nevertheless, the water that passes through it makes the earth fertile. And Jerome says, “If perchance you see someone do things that are just, even in the midst of many sinful works, nevertheless God is not unjust, such that He should forget the few good things for the sake of the many evil ones.”
Dante and Vergil converse with the envious on the second ledge of Purgatory. Illustration by Priamo della Quercia, in a manuscript of the Divine Comedy produced in Siena in the mid-15th century, now known as the Yates Thompson Dante. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
The dead know of the prayers which are done for them in three ways according to Augustine: first, by divine revelation, when God reveals this to them; second, through the representation of good angels, for the angels who are always present here with us … can go down to them and announce them to them immediately; third, through what they learn from those souls that depart from the earth (i.e. the newly arrived in Purgatory); fourth, by experience, namely, when they feel that they are released from their pains.
It should be known that the dead who are very bad do not know what is done by the living, except insofar as it is permitted to them to know it. Likewise, neither do the moderately good know, those who are still in the fire of purgatory, and do not yet enjoy the vision of God, except insofar as it is permitted to them to know by one of the ways mentioned above. But the very good, who now enjoy the vision of God, know very well what is going on here on earth, according to what Gregory say, “What is there that they do not know, those who see the One who sees all things?” Nevertheless, others say that they know all the things which are necessary to them, but not other things…
As to whether the dead have any care for the living, Augustine treats of this extensively in his book On the care to be taken for the dead. Furthermore, as Augustine says, “Many believe that some of the dead appear to the living, either in dreams or in some other way”, and we find in Gregory’s Dialogues that they have often given indication where their bodies lay unburied, or urged that burial be arranged for them, and countless other things of this sort, and those things are true, and so it is found in a great many other authentic writings.
Nevertheless, as the same Augustine says in the aforementioned book, although the dead seem to indicate or ask such things in dreams, we ought not therefore to think that they know of these things. For the living also very often appear in dreams to those who are asleep, but do not know that they appear to them, … for which reason, we ought rather to believe that these are the workings of angels, done through God’s Providence for some form of consolation of the living. ….

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