Saturday, 14 February 2015

The Condition of the Suffering souls in Purgatory, by Rev. John A. Nageleisen. On the Means of Relieving the Suffering Souls. part 2.


§ 18. Catholic Burial.

68. Generally speaking, the first effect of a beloved person's death is weeping and lamenting by the relatives. Then follow the preparations for burial, the ordering of mourning apparel, a pompous funeral, and visits of condolence, which latter are in most cases a mere courtesy made for the sake of appearances. The corpse is clothed in expensive robes, placed in a rich casket, covered with costly flowers and buried under a splendid monument. In truth, the whole performance is very often nothing but a pagan spectacle arranged with a view of resulting in honor and praise for the surviving relatives, while not the least is done to hasten the release of the soul from the torments of Purgatory. The Suffering Souls do not receive the least benefit or consolation from a showy funeral. On the contrary, they are grieved at witnessing how satan is served and ambition flattered thereby. At baptism, to the question: "Dost thou renounce satan?" answer was made in the name of the soul, "I do renounce him."—"And all his pomps?" —"I do renounce them." And we imagine to do honor to a soul that departed this world fortified by the holy sacraments, that was intent during life on laying aside everything ungodly and un-Christian, by bestowing more attention on the mortal remains than on the immortal soul, by following instead of renouncing satan's works and pomps, rather than seeking God and His divine pleasure! The soul protests : "I renounce all satanic pomps," and nevertheless its lifeless body is surrounded with the impious splendor of the adversary of God; silken shrouds, costly caskets, expensive floral decorations seem indispensable; the funeral cortege must be of the grandest order to render tribute not so much to the memory of the deceased as to the vanity of the surviving family. Even the house of God is trespassed on by these vain demonstrations, the minister of God even is expected to make himself subservient to them by lauding the virtues of the deceased in an affecting funeral address— and all this while the poor departed soul is languishing for assistance. Could the deceased speak, he would proclaim loudly from out of his coffin: "I renounced all this; how can you thus dishonor me?" Not satisfied with paying tribute to satan by the funeral cortege and appurtenances, and by a show of excessive grief and lamenting, the world also must have its share of folly: a costly monument must announce to every passer-by what a rich harvest satan reaped in the vanity displayed over the remains of the deceased.—"To what purpose is this display at funerals?" asks St. Jerome; "must vanity take the first place even amid tears and mournings ?"—There can be no greater dishonor shown to the memory of a great man, than to arrange mourning celebrations that are in contrast with all his life and principles. Thus it would be an effront to Washington, the Father of our Country, were anarchists to celebrate his memory.—What greater ignominy could be heaped on the blessed memory of the saintly Pius IX., than to raise for him an anti-Christian monument?—But this is the spirit animating the actions of those that give the first place to worldly pomp at the funerals of their relatives. The deceased renounced satan, all his works and all his pomps, and they exhibit in a most unwarrantable manner all his tokens at the funeral! Worldly pomp is in its right place at the funeral of an enemy of God, but not at the burial of a follower of Christ, ''whose kingdom is not of this world."

69. As severely as the holy Fathers condemn the practice of pompous funerals, as earnestly do they exhort us to aid in having burials performed according to the rites of the Church, in a manner befitting the character of the deceased; for to bury the dead is a spiritual work of mercy. The departed soul is the chief gainer at an ecclesiastical burial. The ceremonies of the Church, the bearing of the cross, the ministers in their sacred vestments, the blessings, incense, holy water, blessed candles, ringing of the bells, the consecrated burial ground—all is replete with sweet and abundant consolation for the departed soul; for all is done to its former abode, the body, now loved by it more truly than in life as the master-piece of the Creator's hand, the sacred temple of the Holy Ghost, the future companion of its glory in eternal bliss.

70. After death there is question not only of consolation for the soul, but also of abbreviation of its punishment. The Church prays, and every prayer of faith, even that of individuals, has expiatory power. Practised in the spirit of the Church, prayer hastens the expiation and atonement of the deceased. Moreover, some of the Church's means of suffrage have the character of a sacramental, for instance holy water, consecrated ground, etc. We have seen that a pompous worldly funeral is painful to the soul of the deceased. On the other hand, its joy is great at being treated by the Church as a child of God, and at obtaining mitigation of its sufferings in Purgatory by her mediation. Over the grave the cross, the plain cross, is to be raised, victoriously proclaiming to the world that here rest the mortal remains of a soldier of Christ.—We never witnessed a more consoling, a more affecting sight than that of a Catholic cemetery on Long Island, New York, where a plain cross over every grave proclaims to the world that there a truly Christian spirit has triumphed over the enemy of God, over his pomps and works. There external splendor does not distract the visitor when he breathes the short but fervent prayer, "Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord !"—We know of congregations that have honored their deceased pastors by the erection of costly monuments—but is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass celebrated for the repose of their souls? At present, perhaps, the members of the congregation pray for their deceased pastor; that in the course of years the present generation will pass away, and he is forgotten. Had monthly or annual Masses been founded for the benefit of his soul, his memory would have lived in the congregation; it would remain united with him in a charity not bounded by the limits of mortal life.

71. Do you then wish, Christian soul, to confer a real benefit on the souls of the departed? Do you desire to demonstrate your love and kindness for them ? —Pray for them !—St. Chrysostom observes: "Do you wish to honor the dead ? Give alms for them ! For what will weeping alone avail ? What good can a pompous funeral and vain display achieve? Rather be intent with all your might to assist the departed soul by alms-deeds, prayer and Holy Masses. Let mourners weep arid show their grief; let them find consolation in tears: but let them not forget to come, with still greater zeal, to the aid of the departed by the Holy Sacrifice, by prayer and alms-deeds." St. Augustine, though exhorting earnestly not to neglect the decent burial of and appropriate monuments for the dead, nevertheless declares, "Pompous funerals and costly tombs may console the living, but do not assist the dead." He reproves too great display on such occasions and reminds Christians to act according to their profession, and not to imitate the heathens, but rather to pray for the relief of the souls in Purgatory. Touchingly describing the last moments of his sainted mother Monica, he writes : "When the day of her dissolution was at hand, she had no thought for the sumptuous covering of her body, or the embalming of it, nor had she any desire for a fine monument, nor was she solicitous about her sepulchre in her own country. None of these things did she recommend to us, but only desired that we should make a remembrance of her at the altar of God, at which she had attended the sacrifice without one day's intermission, whence she knew was dispensed that Holy Victim by which was cancelled the handwriting that was against us. (Colos. II.) Let her therefore rest in peace, together with her husband whom she dutifully served in much patience, that she might gain him for the Lord. And do Thou, O Lord God, inspire Thy servants, my brethren; do Thou, O my Master, whom I serve with my voice, my heart and my writings, incite Thy children : that those who will read this may remember at Thy altar Thy handmaid Monica, and Patricius, formerly her husband. These were my parents in this transitory life. May they be remembered with pious affection, so that, what my mother asked of me as her last request, may be more plentifully performed for her through these my confessions and prayers." {Confess, Book ix.)

Let every Christian assist at funerals with similar dispositions. Let him enwreathe the departed with the immortelles of good works and with a garland of the roses of prayer, more beautiful in the sight of God than any floral decorations that can be offered. If an address is to be made, let him not dictate what is to be said, but leave this to the pastor, who will avoid vain praise of the deceased, and rather remind his hearers of the duties, obligations and hopes of a Catholic, consoling them by the promise of resurrection in Christ, who is our leader and light in life, our consolation in affliction, our hope in death, in whom alone true happiness is to be found. Thus will the departed soul receive consolation and relief by the prayers of the attendants, and by the Holy Sacrifice and ceremonies of the Church.