Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Durandus on Prayer for the Dead (Part 3): the Mass and Divine Office

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 is being presented in several parts over the course of this month especially dedicated to prayer for the dead; click here to read part 1 and part 2. On four occasions, Durandus refers his reader to other parts of the Rationale where he has already explained something; the reference numbers to these are given in red at the beginning of the relevant paragraphs.

The Office of the Dead imitates the three days of Christ’s burial in every way, for just as on the Triduum, so also in this Office we omit all the songs of praise, and take away all the signs of solemnity. In the Mass, we do not ask for blessings from the bishop (or priest), and in the Office, we do not say “Lord, thou shalt open my lips”, nor “God, come to my assistance” nor “Let us bless the Lord”, nor even the invitatory (unless the body is present), nor “Glory be to the Father” at the responsories and the end of the Psalms, nor do we ask for or give a blessing at the lessons, nor do we say “Tu autem, Domine” or “Thanks be to God”; in the Mass, we do not say Alleluja, nor the Gloria in excelsis, nor Ite, Missa est. For in the old Law it was prohibited to offer the oil of rejoicing and the incense of sweetness for sin. Death is the avenging of sin, and for this reason, where there is sin, there is also darkness, nor should there be rejoicing or the singing of the joyful songs where there is mourning and sadness of the spirit, and funeral rites are celebrated for the dead with mourning.

The Burial of Christ, ca. 1865-79, by the Danish painter Carl Bloch (1834-90). (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Again, we suppress praises because, not knowing where the dead go, we do not know whether we ought to praise God for his justice or his mercy; we suppress joy because we enter into this world with sadness, and go out of it with greater more sadly. Therefore, a Sequence also ought not to be said, since it is the song of rejoicing. (Durandus wrote this before the universal adoption of the Dies irae into the Requiem Mass.)

Furthermore, although in a Mass for the living all should be incensed, to signify that their prayers are directed towards heaven, nevertheless, in the Mass for the dead, the altar and the choir incense should not to be incensed, but only the body… Therefore no one is incensed in this service, to signify the dead can no longer merit anything by their praises, whence the psalmist says (113, 25), “the dead shall not praise thee, o Lord.”
The deacon incensing the catafalque during the Absolution in the Ambrosian Rite
The bodies of the dead are incensed and sprinkled with blessed water, not so that their sins may be taken away, which at that point cannot be taken away for such things, but so that all presence of unclean spirits maybe warded off. These things are also done as a sign of the society and communion of the sacraments which they had with us while they were alive. For this reason also, Denis (the Areopagite) tells that in ancient times, the living would kiss the dead as a sign of the unity which they had with them. These things and others like them benefit them to the degree that through such things, reverence is offered to God himself.
6.52.2 At the Introit of the dead Requiem aeternam, two verses are said, because we pray for the dead, asking that they be given rest of both body and soul. The second verse is said in place of “Glory be to the Father…”, which is omitted in the Office of the Dead, since the dead can no longer praise the Trinity…
4.15.16 In Masses for the dead, the collect for the living, as it is called, should not be added, not even the common one composed by Augustine, “God, who rulest over the living and the dead”, to signify that the dead cannot help the living in this life, not even to implore eternal life (for them)…
The Peace is not given for three reasons. The first is that this service … follows the three days of Christ’s burial, when the Peace is not given in detestation of Judas’ kiss. Second, because we have no communication with the dead, since they cannot answer us… This is the reason why a body should never be in the church as long as the Mass of the day is being celebrated. Indeed, if it were there before, it ought to be taken outside the church into the vestibule, however great the authority of the deceased was while they were living, and afterwards be brought back in for the Mass for the dead.
The third is that just one bread is made as from many grains gathered together, and one wine is distilled from many clusters of grapes, so also the one Church is built and united from many faithful, some of whom are good and some bad. Therefore, because we do not know whether a dead man is in union with the Church and has peace and reconciliation with his Creator, we do not give the Peace at Mass, nor do we bring forth any praises for the dead, … for their rest is not yet apparent.
4.53.8 In the Mass for the dead the peace is not given, because the faithful souls are no longer in the tribulation of this world, and never will be again, but are already resting in the Lord; and for this reason, the kiss, which is the sign of peace and harmony, is not necessary for them. For the same reason, in that Mass the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ who gave peace to your apostles” is not said, nor does the priest receive the peace from the altar. … this is also the reason why among monks the peace is not given, since they are counted as being dead to the world.
… the Office of the Dead begins with Vespers, after which follow the vigils, which are of three kinds. In some churches, nine readings are done from Job… in others, they are taken from the book of Wisdom … but in others from a sermon of Augustine. But wherever they are taken from, they begin without a title or blessing, and without “Tu autem, Domine”, following the custom which is observed in the funeral rites which we celebrate for Christ on the Triduum. But in some churches, in place of “Tu autem, Domine”, the readings end with “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord,” from the book of the Apocalypse (14, 13).
The readings described below in a breviary according to the Use of Bamberg, printed in 1501. 
“From the book of Wisdom” – Durandus is here referring to a set of brief readings which some churches had for the daily celebration of the Office of the Dead, the first three of which are taken from the books of Wisdom. (Proverbs 5, 9-11; Ecclesiastes 7, 2-3; ibid. 12, 1 and 7). The next three, however, are from the Prophets (Isaiah 26, 19; Hosea 13, 14-15; Daniel 12, 2-3), and the last three from the New Testament (1 Corinthians 15, 22-23; ibid. 51-52; 1 Thessalonians 5, 2-5 and Apocalypse 14, 13).
The Psalm “A hymn becometh Thee, o God” (64), is frequently said in this service, because it treats of the return of the sons of Israel from captivity to the promised land; so also the dead go from the misery of captivity to eternal life. …
5.9.10 The Office of the dead … does not have second Vespers, to signify that it will have an end, and the souls of those who shall be saved, delivered from every pain, shall enjoy eternal blessedness.
At the council of Toledo, it was established that a priest who celebrates Mass for the dead so that his enemy may meet his death should be deposed, and both he and the one who incited him to do this should be punished with perpetual exile.

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