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THAT our suffrages may be of advantage to those for whom we offer them, theologians require certain conditions, as well on the part of those who offer them, as on the part of those in whose favour they are made. We shall in the present chapter speak only of the conditions required on the part of those who offer suffrages for others.
These conditions are three. First, that the person who offers the suffrage should be in the state of grace. Secondly, that he should intend by the work which he performs, to render assistance to an other. Thirdly, that this work should be such of itself, that it can be accepted by God as satisfaction.
I. It is necessary that he who offers suffrage for others, whether alive or dead, should be himself in the state of grace. This is positively laid down by Bellarmine, (De Purg. cap. XVII.) Suarez, (Sect. 8.) and many other authors. Bellarmine, for instance, says, (Cap. XVII.) that the one "who can assist souls by his suffrages is he who is just." The reason which he and the other theologians assign for this is, that when one is not just he cannot satisfy for himself; and that this being so, much less can he satisfy for another.
Some theologians, however, do not entirely agree with this doctrine. For example, Collet observes that it presents some difficulty if taken in the sense, that a work performed by the assistance of actual grace, but in mortal sin, is in no way at all satisfactory. Here are his precise words : (Cap. V. De modo adjuvandi animas defunctorum.) " But if it be understood in this sense that a work done in the state of sin, but by the assistance of actual grace, could be in no way at all satisfactory, then surely it contains no little difficulty, as is gathered from what is said in another work." Some theologians hold that a work performed with the aid of actual grace by one who is in mortal sin is satisfactory, not as they term it, de condiguo, or as a matter of justice, taking into account the order established by God; but de congruo, or as a thing that is suitable and becoming. However that may be, there are two things in which theologians in general agree;. First, that prayers said in the name of the Church, even by unworthy representatives or agents, have the force of impetration with God. Secondly, that Mass offered by one who may happen to be unworthy, and alms given by a just master or owner through a sinful servant or agent, for the dead, are profitable to these. Let us dwell a little on each of these points.
1. The prayers which are said in the name of the Church, even by unworthy representatives or agents, such as a Chapter—if you can suppose the whole of such a body to be unworthy—retain their impetratory virtue with God. The reason is, that such ministers or agents are but the representatives of the Church, and operate or pray in her name. When one becomes the representative of another, and acts in his name, his work borrows its value, not from his own worth or dignity, but from the worth or dignity of the person in whose name he acts. Sup pose a king to send a messenger or ambassador to ask a favour of the Pope, the worth or dignity of the petition does not depend upon the condition or rank of the messenger or ambassador, but upon the majesty of the king in whose name the petition is made. In granting such a petition the Pope would take into account, not the condition or rank of the person through whom it is presented, but the dignity and majesty of the king in whose name it is made So it is with the prayers that are said in the name of the Church. They derive their value not from the persons who say them, but from the dignity of the Church, which is holy and pleasing to God. Such prayers are accepted by God on account of the dignity and sanctity of the Church in whose name they are offered.
But though prayers offered up by unworthy agents or representatives in the name of the Church have the force of impetration, they are not thought by theologians to have any value by way of satisfaction or payment of debt. That a work may be satisfactory it must, as we have observed in a former page, be penal. Further, it must be penal in as-much as it is done by the person who in doing it suffers or endures labour. Thus it must be penal as far as it is the work of the person who performs it. The work which is done by a minister of the Church is not penal and has not the nature of a penal work inasmuch as it is its work, but relatively to the person who performs it. Therefore, when a person who is in sin performs a work in the name of the Church, though this work, as far as done in her name, has the force of impetration, it has not the force of satisfaction or payment of punishment.
Though impetration and satisfaction may be made by the same prayer, the reader will observe that there is a great difference between them. In as far as a prayer is a simple petition to God and an expression of the desires of the Church,it constitutes impetration. The Church forms one mystic body, and as such can speak through this or that member, through this r r that minister. This speech or discourse of the Church receives from her a certain force of impetration. But the same discourse or prayer, in as far as it is a penal work, constitutes satisfaction. Considered under this respect, that is as a penal work, prayer is not referred to the Church, nor, so to speak, said in her name. A penal work is not suffered or endured by the Church, but by the person who performs it.
Those suffrages which are instituted by the Church are not impetratory ex opere operato, or necessarily, in the sense already explained. They are impetratory only, as it is termed, ex opere operantis, that is, as the work of the person who performs them. But this is to be understood in the sense that the person who acts or prays is the whole Church, which acts or prays through the mouth of its minister. Though the Church impetrates through her minister, it could not be said in the same way that she makes satisfaction through him.
2. Mass offered by one who may happen to be unworthy, and alms given by a just master through a wicked servant, for the dead, are profitable to these by way of satisfaction. In this theologians agree, not only as to the sacrifice of the Mass, but also as to the latter kind of suffrages. In these cases the suffrages are profitable to the dead, because it is not the wicked agent or servant, who is merely a representative, but it is the lord or master himself, who offers them. Such suffrages are properly the works of the master, who is just. It would be a different thing if a superior should prescribe a work which would not be, properly speaking, his own, but that of the subject who would perform it. Let me suppose a bishop to command fasts or prayers to his subjects, these are, to speak properly, the works not of the bishop who commands them, but of the subjects who perform them. These works, fasting or praying, do not derive their merit from the prelate who prescribes them, but from the subjects who perform them. If these subjects be in sin their work does not avail as a suffrage. It is for this reason St. Jerome (Lib. contra Vigilantium.) observes that it is more advantageous to give alms to a poor person who is just, than to a poor person who is in sin. The prayers of the former for his benefactors are heard ; the prayers of the latter are not heard, at least in this sense that there is no reward due in strict justice to them. But it is quite a different thing when a subject, or servant, or other representative, acts in the name of his superior, or master, or some other person. For instance, when a servant gives alms out of the money or goods of his master, this is properly the work of the master and not of the servant, and it ought not to be vitiated by the malice of the servant.
II. The second condition required on the part of him who offers suffrage is that he should intend by his work or action to assist another. The fruit, or effect of the work, is the right of the person who performs it. But the right or goods of one person cannot without his consent be transferred to another. To transfer the right or goods of one person to an other is an alienation, which cannot take place with out the consent of the former. Hence it would seem that theologians agree with Suarez (Sect. 8, n. 23.) in the three following points:—First, that if a person who performs a good work gives away all the fruit of it, though he will merit for himself, he will not make satisfaction for himself or pay the punishment due of him. Secondly, if he bestows the fruit of his work, whether by way of suffrage or of impetration on one or two, these will receive it, but in a less degree if it be divided between many. And thirdly, that if a person makes no application of the fruit of his work to another himself alone will profit by it.
III. The third condition required on the part of him who offers suffrage for another is, that his work of itself may be such that it can be accepted by God as a satisfaction of temporal punishment. For that object it is necessary that the work which is performed may be of itself proportioned to the satisfaction. There are three works of this description which are commonly assigned by theologians. They are prayer, fast, and alms. Though these three are commonly assigned, yet you can scarcely imagine any virtue, the practice of which is not penal. The performance of every good work in general is penal to man. Hence there is no good work which cannot be performed in satisfaction for temporal punishment.