8 April 2011

A bit messy?

Those familiar with Vespers of the Dead (Old Rite) and the old propers for the Departed; and with the EF commune Sacerdotes tui, may have shared my puzzlements. The first set me thinking about all those texts which ask that the departed be delivered from Hell. Such texts do not, I think survive into the postconciliar texts, because of the assumption that, immediately after death, the eternal destiny of the defunctus is definitively and tidily settled. Either he is in Hell or he will eventually be in Heaven. Do the ancient texts suggest rather that in the journey his soul is undergoing it might yet fall eternally? Or even that in the mysterious working of divine mercy Hell might not, for everybody there, be the last word? Is it true that in some parts of Europe there are beliefs that the soul is not judged immediately after death? Are there parallels in Byzantine euchology?

The second set of texts, in the Secreta, asked God that our oblations might 'be profitable unto [the holy bishop] for the reward of blessedness'. How does this fit in with the idea that there is a tidy distinction between those who need our prayers and those who are fully in blessedness and pray for us? Could it be that even the Saints have yet progress to make in God's grace?

Are these speculations contrary to the Magisterium? Of course, I have no desire to be anything but an obedient servant of what has been defined. But there is, surely, something amusing about the fact that such speculations can be suggested by the Old Rite but not the New; as if the great prayer-bag of Tradition is an older, freer, more thought-provoking, less narrow world than Bugnini's.

I'm glad one can still buy unpasteurised cheese.


Matthew the Curmudgeon said...

interesting to ponder, eh?
What if the whole of the story is deeper and darker than we believe?

Священник села said...

Are there parallels in Byzantine euchology?

The Apostle tells the Thessalonians, who have noticed that there is a growing gap between the death of their loved ones and the anticipated second coming of the Lord that they ought not to worry, since - I paraphrase - those departed loved ones are mysteriously alive in Christ and will participate in all the Big Events with everyone when He comes.

From the point of view of those of us in time, whatever one may think about an Eternal Now and God's perspective outside of time, we experience a gap between our dying and the Four Last things.

In the Orthodox rite it is clear, if stated poetically rather more than in discursive dogma, that the departed are in Christ, awaiting the the General Resurrection. We wish for them a place of brightness, refreshment, repose, where all sickness, sighing, and sorrow have fled away. This wish suggests that something else is possible, that is, that while there are those whose experience of Christ in Whom they repose is precisely repose and light and life, there are likely those for whom the experience of repose in Christ is something rather other and unpleasant. For some the flame gives light and warmth, for others the flame burns... There must be some calculus by which the inter-relatedness of divine grace and personal character shape this experience.

In any event, the fact that we are praying for the departed that they be granted the one experience rather than the other highlights the believer's intuition / sense / optimism that there is some measure of gracious wiggle-room. We pray pardon every transgression which they have committed, whether by word or deed or thought and that they be granted all the good things of their repose.

In short, there seems a space between the disposition of departed as they go to rest and the ultimate determination of their eternal destiny when the denouement finally comes about.

It is not good to live heedlessly, hoping that the love and prayers of others will achieve for you what you rather miserably failed to do, but it is a somewhat comforting Plan B.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Fr. Hunwicke, for this very thoughtful post regarding the mysteries of life after death as presented in our ancient liturgical texts and rites. And thanks to Sviascennik siela for his very beautiful description of what we Latins refer to as purgation of the soul after death. This is excellent material for catechesis and meditation.

Jonathan said...

My understanding is that this issue has been defined in the papal bull below: The personal judgement is immediate and permanent. I remembered the issue because it answered a question of mine on papal infallibility. The pope immediately before Benedict XII had personally held the opposite opinion.