§ 20. Official Prayer of the Church for the Suffering Souls.
79. The official prayer of the Church has an essential and particular efficacy of its own. It is more powerful to obtain graces and benefits from God than the prayer offered privately by individual persons, however pious and holy they may be. Whom will a king hear more graciously, the spouse of his beloved only son, or a stranger? The Catholic Church is the Spouse of Jesus Christ; she serves God truly and faithfully, and God dearly loves her. Therefore He graciously hears her prayer, hears it more graciously than the prayer of individuals, however pious they may be; for no private individual possesses such dignity, and is so beloved by God, as His Church. Moreover, suppose the king were inclined to refuse a petition: would he do so, except for the most urgent reasons, if his beloved only son and his whole court, his best and most trusted friends, supported it? Now the prayer of the Church is ever united with the prayer of Jesus Christ and His saints; in other words, when the Church prays, our Divine Savior prays with her, He supports her prayer, and all the saints join in it, beseeching God to hear it. Therefore, if the petitions presented by the Church are conformable to the designs of God's Providence, which is undoubtedly the case when she makes intercession for the Suffering Souls, God willingly grants what she asks for.
80. This being so, in what veneration should we not hold, with what eagerness should we not be-speak the prayer of the Church for the Suffering Souls ? If we were ill, or otherwise in distress, and some saintly man would promise to pray for us, would we not be greatly consoled ? Would we not be inspired with renewed confidence.in God's help? And if a holy man, whose prayer in some instances was rewarded by miracles, were to give us his blessing and say a prayer over us—how grateful and confident we would be! No obstacle would prevent us from seeking his presence and his blessing. But is the blessing and prayer of the Catholic Church not more powerful and effective than the prayer and blessing of the most saintly individual ? And we are made partakers of this blessing and prayer when we employ, in a devout and trustful frame of mind, the means of grace offered to us by the Church. We must remember well that the obtaining of graces and benefits depends in a great measure on the good and devout disposition in which we employ these means. Hence when we have recourse to the prayers of the Church, let us do so in holy veneration and in the full confidence of receiving from God, for the sake of the prayers of the Church, whatever she desires for us, especially the relief and ransom of the souls in Purgatory, these holy spouses of Jesus Christ.
81. The Catholic Church is the great institution for our salvation, founded by Christ for the whole world and for all times. As such she has the sublime mission and task of continuing throughout the centuries Christ's work for the redemption of mankind, and to accomplish it by the conversion and salvation of all nations. It is the will of God that all men should receive heavenly light and life through the Church by being led by her to the knowledge of truth and to life everlasting. For this end our Lord dwells in and remains with the Church, living and operating in her "all days unto the consummation of the world" Therefore when God graciously hears our prayer, or the prayer of the Church, He hears it not for our sake, but for the sake of Jesus Christ, who is our Mediator and Intercessor, and who has merited for us by His life, passion and death the hearing of our prayer. Except for the merits of Jesus Christ our prayer would be in vain, it would not be heard. For this very reason the Church closes all her prayers with the words, "Through Christ, our Lord," thereby proclaiming the important truth that to Jesus Christ alone we owe the hearing of our prayer and our salvation in general.
82. The maternal solicitude of the Church for the speedy release of the souls in Purgatory is demonstrated by her ancient practices. There is not a moment of the day when she does not accompany her Divine Spouse to the portals of Purgatory by interceding for these souls in Holy Mass. At the offertory of every Mass she prays : "Accept, O holy Father, Almighty and Eternal God, this unspotted host, which I, Thy unworthy servant, offer unto- Thee, my living and true God, for my innumerable sins, offences and negligences, and for all here present; as also for all faithful Christians, both living and dead, that it may avail both me and them unto life everlasting. Amen." After consecration a special commemoration is made of the dead: "Be mindful, O Lord, of Thy servants N. and N., who are gone before us with the sign of faith, and rest in the sleep of peace." (Here particular mention is made of such souls as the priest intends to pray for; after which he continues): "To the^e, O Lord, and to all that sleep in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a' place of refreshment, light and peace." No Mass therefore is celebrated without a commemoration of the dead in general or in particular. The solicitude of the Church for the release of the Suffering Souls is proved also by the rubrics, which on certain days permit the celebration of the Mass of Requiem in black vestments. Such days are for instance the Monday of each week, and the first day of each month, when no feast occurs. The Church selects the first days because charity urges her to come to the aid of the Suffering Souls as soon as possible. To further show her solicitude for them, she ordains a special formula of the Mass for the third, seventh and thirtieth day, and for the anniversary of a death. The general anniversary of all the faithful departed is celebrated on All Sours Day, when as far as possible all the Masses are said in black vestments. On this day the universal Church makes a strenuous effort to secure the release of the Suffering Souls.
With the Mass of Requiem is joined, at funerals or at the cenotaph, the ecclesiastical absolution. The Church returns in spirit to the death-bed of the deceased, where the judgment struck terror into his soul. She invokes God's mercy and implores Him to grant eternal rest to the departed soul and to receive it into paradise in the company of the angels. Then the coffin or cenotaph is sprinkled with holy water and incensed, the Church meanwhile reciting the Lord's Prayer and imploring God to refresh the soul with the dew of heaven and with celestial odors.
83. Besides the Holy Sacrifice and the absolution, the Church has ordained also the recitation of a special Office of the Dead. This is handed down to us from the earliest ages of Christianity, and gives evidence of the ardent charity and devotion with which the Church implores mercy at the throne of God and intercedes for her suffering children. The phraseology expresses the sentiments of the Suffering Souls, who as it were pray with and through the person reciting it. Everything referring to the latter is omitted, and the whole is concluded by intercessions, for instance, ''Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord ! May they rest in peace !" etc. In the Vespers we join in the yearnings of a soul assured of salvation, but beholding its felicity as yet in the far distance; knowing itself destined for the vision of God, but separated from Him till its stains are removed; knowing for certain that, once having entered the abode of bliss, it will join all the angels and saints in the praises of God's mercy. The versicles and responses are invocations replete with consolation, declaring these souls happy despite their torments, because their salvation is assured. The canticle and antiphon express the joyous confidence that the souls departed in the faith of Christ, but still in need of purification, will soon be admitted to the beatific vision of God. Already the Church hears them in the joyous strains of the Magnificat, and then falling on her knees she breathes forth the Preces, a series of invocations, which she closes with the Lord's Prayer. Then follows the 145th psalm, to evince her confidence of being heard.—Oh, how consoling to be permitted to call upon the Lord! He shows His mercy for the Suffering Souls, and admits them to the habitations of the eternal Sion.
84. In his book on the Suffering Souls, Ackermann relates the following: A nobleman once gave a considerable sum of money to the Superior of a Carthusian monastery to have prayers said for his deceased father. When the assembled choir sang nothing but the words Requiescat in pace —"May he rest in peace"-—he expressed his dissatisfaction at receiving so short a prayer in return for his money. The saintly Superior told the brethren to write those words on slips of paper, and putting the slips on one side of the scales, requested the nobleman to put the money on the other side. This being done, the nobleman was astonished to see the money rising high, whilst the slips of paper went down in the scales. By this miraculous occurence he was filled with confusion, and at the same time with consolation.—Mention of this occurence is also made in the Conferences of Pope Benedict XIII.
Because the clergy perform their ecclesiastical ministry in the name of the Church, it is evident that these prayers are not private ones of the priests, but the official supplication of the Church. As such they have a special intercessory value, by which their effect is attained independently of the state of the priest's conscience. Through the Sacred Heart of Jesus the Divine Spirit continually impels the Catholic Church to send up to heaven her powerful supplications for the souls in Purgatory. Contemplating the ineffable yearning of the Church for the release of the Suffering Souls, and the great efficacy of her prayer, will you not, Christian soul, follow the impulse of your heart, and do your part for their deliverance by joining assiduously in these prayers ? If you would but unite with the congregation in the aspiration of the Church, "Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord!" etc.—this alone would be a great consolation for the faithful departed.
In order to enable our readers to follow and join the Church in her liturgical suffrages for the dead, we subjoin in the Appendix a faithful translation of some prayers, and only regret that it is impossible to convey in the vernacular the full import of these supplications so beautifully expressed in the official language of the Church.
Let us, then, regard with profound veneration the prayer of the Church ; let us have great confidence in its efficacy and use its formulas with devotion. We shall thereby insure for ourselves the blessings of God for this life and eternal happiness in the life to come.