20 May 2020

A bit messy?

Those familiar with Vespers of the Dead (Old Rite) and the old propers for the Departed, and with one of the old Masses for a Confessor Bishop, may have shared puzzlements of my own with regard to what some people call The Afterlife. Here are two.

(1) I refer firstly to all those old texts which ask that the departed be delivered from Hell. Such texts do not, I think survive into the postconciliar texts, presumably 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? Or that the same Place might prove to have been Hell to those who never emerge from it but Purgatory to those who get out!?! This is the view explicitly taken by C S Lewis in The Great Divorce. Is it capable of being squeeezed under a Catholic umbrella? I simply love his picture of the Liberal, Apostate bishop, who persists in refusing Joy and Mercy.

(2) Secondly: the Common Sacerdotes tui in the Old Missal. The second set of texts, in the Secreta, asks 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?

Perhaps the relationship between God and Time ... Perhaps ... ... Perhaps  ...

Are such Perhapses 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 and prescriptive world than Bugnini-style scholasticism and its passion for being Safe and Tidy.

I'm glad one can still buy unpasteurised cheese, even though, given my age, I steer clear of it.


Titus said...

Is (1) the result of indeterminacy in translation, rather how we say "descended into Hell" when we mean "descended into the Limbo of the Patriarchs, not the Hell of the damned." Are the Latin versions of these prayers amenable to being read as "deliver the soul from a place of unpleasantness in the hereafter?"

Of course, I have read some of these prayers, and at least some of them, at least in the traditional English renderings, speak in general terms. "O Lord, deliver the souls of Thy faithful from Hell," or some such. I generally construed those as being prayers for the living that were fitting accompaniments to prayers for the dead. It is as if the Missal or Rituale were saying to the reader, "Look here, while you're thinking about death, and this dead fellow, be sure to think on your own death and that of the other people still breathing around you."

Barring either of those, it has to be an implicit reference to God's action outside of time, a theme, incidentally, touched on in today's Breviary readings from Matins.

Chrysologos said...

Can not the Almighty, out of, and not limited by, time, and mindful of the prayers for the deceased, bestow upon the deceased during his earthly life the graces to avoid damnation?

Fr PJM said...

Since there is additional rejoicing among the saved Angels over a repentant sinner, our prayers and devotions on earth can bestow an "accidental" joy on the blessed, perhaps?

Michael Leahy said...

Aren't we created free, so no amount of Divine Grace can keep us from Hell if we reject it?