13 April 2016

Can my eating slake your hunger? (2) The Transalpine Redemptorists

There is little point in reading this if you have not read Part 1
Pickstock, drawing heavily upon Bossy, emphatically demanded a positive answer to Luther's typically late medieval and individualistic question Can my eating slake your hunger? She demonstrated the profound authenticity of a corporate understanding of Christianity in which what we do does affect our fellow-members of the Body of Christ. You may wonder how anybody who had read I Corinthians 12 could possibly not be familiar with this truth. It is a measure of the intense individualism which Protestantism inherited from some of the latest strands in medieval thought, that the implications of S Paul's teaching were so long ignored. (It is relevant to recollect Dom Gregory 'Patrimony' Dix's demonstration, Shape pp 605 sqq., that the characteristic tropes of Protestant public worship constitute nothing other than the objectification and canonisation of what in late medieval piety had been the subjective devotion of the individual layman.)

This recovery of Pauline corporatism places in an entirely new and favourable intellectual context some of the most derided loci of medieval theology. You may indeed think of the Treasury of Merit and of Indulgences. I would like, today, to concentrate upon the medieval system of chantry Masses for the departed; and I might as well quote Pickstock.
"The doctrine of Purgatory permitted both the living and the dead both to be involved in one unfinished story of salvation and reciprocal aid. ... Such active charity was grounded in a concern with their members beyond the point where those members could possibly be seen to confer any positive, immediate or predictable benefits back towards the fraternity ... [and Pickstock goes on to speak of] the working out of salvation itself as a process of interpersonal support and reconciliation."

Above my desk as I write this I have a Certificate of Perpetual Membership of the the Purgatorian Archconfraternity in honour of The Most Holy Redeemer of Golgotha For the Relief of the Poor souls in Purgatory, maintained by the Transalpine Redemptorists who pray and work and live on the northern island of Papa Stronsay. I find it a source of great strength to know that both now and after my death I shall be in the fellowship of prayer which this represents, that the One Sacrifice will be offered again and again for me. Does it seem like a throw-back to a departed model of Catholic life, to a style of Catholicism which has faded like a dream in the clear dawn of the Spirit of Vatican II? Is there a danger even that some may value it merely because it has the charm of something retro? Or that we shall simply make lofty and detached observations about how the pendulum certainly seems to have swung back rather since the 1970s?

Of course, this culture of prayer for the departed is 'old' in the sense that it represents the ancient and authentic conviction of the Church that the Sacrifice of Calvary ought to be offered for the departed; that we and they remain one fellowship of life and prayer, members still together of Christ's Body. One remembers S Monica's last words to S Augustine and her other son: "Tantum illud vos rogo, ut ad Domini altare memineritis mei, ubicumque fueritis". One thinks with affection of the armies of Chantry Priests at their laudable work in our English parish churches during the Middle Ages. I have so far associated myself with this wholesome tradition as to add my name to the list of those who who offer Masses on behalf of those enrolled in the Rorate Confraternity!

But I thought there would be little harm in pointing out that this wonderful culture of interdependence is actually also the culture of the best liturgical thinking and rethinking of the last three decades. What the dear fathers and brethren on Papa Stronsay do is not only immemorially ancient; not only ineradicably founded in the teaching of the New Testament; not only rooted in the unavoidable command to apply the benefits of Christ's redemption to quick and to dead; but is also at the Cutting Edge!

God bless them and reward them for what they do on behalf of all of us.

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