DOGMATIC AND SCHOLASTIC - THE VARIOUS QUESTIONS CONNECTED WITH IT CONSIDERED AND PROVED.
CHAPTER XI. IT IS FURTHER PROVED FROM THE PRACTICE OF THE EARLY IRISH CHURCH.
IT is abundantly proved that the ancient Church of Ireland believed in the existence of Purgatory. Even Protestant writers, such as Archbishop Usher, have admitted this. Forced by the irresistible testimony of our canons, liturgies, and writers, Usher was obliged to admit that the ancient Irish were accustomed to offer up the Eucharistic sacrifice for the dead, and that Requiem Masses, or those offered for the faithful departed, were celebrated daily.
I. The surest and most indisputable means, to find the faith and practise of any national Church, are the public acts of that Church ; that is, the canons which were passed in its synods, and are still extant. If we refer to the ancient Canons of the Church of Ireland, it will appear to us, as clear as the sun over our head, that she was accustomed to offer the sacrifice of propitiation, and to pray for the dead. In D'Achery's collection (Lib. 2, chap. xx.) an ancient canon is given, in which the synod expresses its mind thus : " The Church offers for the souls of the deceased in four ways : for the very good the oblations are simply thanksgivings; for the very bad they become consolations to the living ; for such as were not very good, the oblations are made in order to obtain full remission ; and for those who were not very bad, that their punishment may be rendered more tolerable" Here we have in unequivocal terms the doctrine of Purgatory. The holy sacrifice was offered up for the full remission of those deceased souls who were not very good; and that their punishment may be rendered more tolerable for those who were not very bad. This establishes in the clearest manner, that the Catholic tenet of praying for the dead was universally believed and practised in the ancient Church of Ireland. Usher was well acquainted with the above important canon; and yet he did not produce it, because he knew right well that such a public document, such a solemn attestation of the whole Irish Church, would destroy his cause, and that he could no longer impose on the credulity of his dupes.
II. To the aforesaid canon, we may subjoin a more ancient one, which is entitled "Of the oblation for the dead." It is the twelfth among the canons of the synod of St. Patrick. It is couched in these words : " Hear the Apostle saying, there is a sin unto death, I do not say that for it any one do pray. And the Lord : Do not give the holy to dogs. For he who will not deserve to receive the Sacrifice during his life, how can it help him after his death ? " It follows from the canon, that the Holy Sacrifice was accustomed to be offered for the purpose of helping persons after their death. What else is this but a profession of faith in Purgatory ? The sin unto death, referred to in the canon, is final impenitence. They, who die with final impenitence in their heart, are cast into hell; and therefore the Sacrifice is of no help to them. " For," the canon says, " he who will not deserve to receive the Sacrifice during his life, how can it help him after his death?" From this it is clear that, according to the canon of the synod, he who deserved to receive the Sacrifice during life could obtain help from it after his death. Hence there is a state in which souls need, and can receive this help ; or in other words there is a Purgatory. Usher also omitted to give this canon, for he l saw it would not suit his purpose.
III. The Liturgies of the ancient Irish Church in like manner breathe the doctrine of Purgatory. We shall draw the attention of the reader only to one of them. This is the ancient Irish Missal, the Cursus Scotorum. It was the only Missal in use in this country until about the close of the sixth century, when, probably, the Gallican Liturgy, the Cursus Gallorum, was introduced. The Cursus Scotorum was brought to Ireland by St. Patrick. Thus it was in universal use in the time of the first class of Irish saints. It is supposed to have been the Liturgy which was originally drawn up by the Evangelist St. Mark, and used by him. St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Basil, and other Greek Fathers adopted it; as did also Cassian, Honoratus of Lerins, St. Caesar of Aries, St. Lupus of Troies, and St, German of Auxerre. It was from the last named that St. Patrick received it, as he was about to start on his mission to Ireland. Mabillon found a copy of it, which he believed to have been then at least a thousand years old, on his visit to the famous monastery of Bobbio, in Italy, which was founded by one of the greatest of our Irish saints, Colombanus.
This Liturgy has two Masses for the Dead ; one is a general Mass, and the other is a Mass of a deceased Priest (Missa Sacerdotis Defuncti). Now, what was the object of these Masses, unless it was the belief of the Irish Church, that the dead could be relieved by such Masses, and consequently that there was such a place as Purgatory ?
In order to enter more in detail into these Masses for the dead, we must turn our attention to some of the prayers, or, as the Missal itself styles them, coniestationes, that are contained in them. In the Mass for the dead, which is entitled " Pro defunctis," is found the following prayer:—"Grant, O Lord, to him, thy servant deceased, the pardon of all his sins, in that secret abode, where there is no longer room for penance; do Thou, O Christ, receive the soul of thy servant, which Thou hast given, and forgive him his trespasses more abundantly than he has forgiven those who have trespassed against him." There is the belief of the ancient Irish Church in Purgatory, and in the utility of prayer for the dead, in order to obtain pardon of all their sins.
This ancient Missal has also a Mass for the living and the dead. In this Mass, which is entitled " Pro vivis et defunctis," is found the following prayer;—
" Propitiously grant that this sacred oblation may be profitable to the dead in obtaining pardon, and to the living in obtaining salvation; grant to them (the dead as well as the living) the full remission of all their sins, and that indulgence which they have always deserved." This prayer supposes, or perhaps I should rather say, states that the holy sacrifice is profitable to the dead, in the sense of obtaining pardon. Hence there are some just souls who, after departing this life, are liable for some sins or debts, from which they must be freed or discharged before they can enter heaven.
IV. To revert again to the testimony drawn from Synods, we may call the reader's attention once more to D'Achery's collection of the Canons of the ancient Irish, in which is found the foil-owing one : (Lib. 2, chap. xx.) " The Synod says : The Church now offers the sacrifice to God in many ways (for many reasons); first, for itself; secondly, for the commemoration of Jesus Christ; and, thirdly, for the souls of the departed" In the clearest manner possible it is said, that the Irish Church of old offered up the holy sacrifice for the faithful departed. Here in an express Canon, we have the faith of the whole Church of Ireland. We could have no clearer, and certainly no more authoritative exposition of her faith. According to that faith, she held that there was a Purgatory ; and she offered up her Masses and her prayers for the souls that were suffering in it. It would be sheer folly then to deny, that the early Irish Church believed in Purgatory.
V. In the ancient life of St. Ita, who lived in the sixth century, and whose name is so closely associated with the diocese of Limerick, where she is venerated as a patroness, and honoured with a special Office since the early years of the rule of the present revered Bishop, it is recorded that " she had constantly prayed for the soul of her uncle, and that alms had been given by his sons" for the same purpose. It is stated in the life of St. Brendan "That the prayers of the living profit much the dead." In the life of St. Pulcherius (Lib. 2, chap. xx.) it is related that "he was accustomed to pray for the repose of the soul of Ronan, a chieftain of Ele, and that he had frequently recommended the soul of the same chieftain to the prayers of the faithful." Were it necessary, similar authorities, without number, could be produced to show the faith of the early Irish Church in the existence of Purgatory, as well as in the utility of our suffrages for those who are detained there.