DOGMATIC AND SCHOLASTIC - THE VARIOUS QUESTIONS CONNECTED WITH IT CONSIDERED AND PROVED.
CHAPTER VIII. IT IS PROVED FROM THE LITURGIES.
LITURGY is a Greek word which means public ministry or office. Taking it in its strict ecclesiastical sense, it is understood to mean a certain order of prayers and ceremonies, which is adopted in the Mass, and according to which that holy sacrifice is performed. Rites and prayers, among which the words of Christ in instituting it held a conspicuous place, were always used by the officiating priest. Yet the discipline of the different churches in this matter was not always the same. Hence several liturgies came to be in use.
In the Mass, the most solemn act of religious worship, the Church, from the very beginning, has been always accustomed to pray for the dead in her various liturgies. Then prayer for the dead must be no human rite, but it must have divine sanction.
Though the liturgies, like the Symbol and the forms of The Sacraments, were not committed to writing be fore the fourth or fifth century (at least this is the opinion of Le Brun, though he is contradicted by Muratori, Devoti, and others, of whom the first says, that the prayers and rites were committed to memory). still they were observed before that time. As there, was always a sacrifice in the Church, so was there always a rite according to which it was offered up. This rite may have differed in accidental, but it was the same in substantial matters. It came down from the dawn of Christianity. This is why St. Epiphanius (Haer. 79, n. 13.) says of the Apostles, that they were " the authors and makers of mysteries." The order of offering sacrifice, as Cardinal Bona observes, was received from the Apostles, and then spread abroad through the earth. For this reason, though the liturgies may differ in some points, they agree in many. They all have the Confiteor, the Introit, or beginning, the Psalms, the Lessons from Scripture, the Gospel, the Symbol, the washing of hands, the Commemoration and Invocation of the Saints, prayers for the living and the dead, re turning thanks, and benediction, in addition to the essential parts, the offertory, the consecration and communion. This consent of the different churches, so far apart from each other, especially in ages when the means of transit and communication between them were very difficult, can be accounted for only on the supposition that it was the work of the Holy Ghost.
I. That the Church, in all its liturgies, poured forth its prayers for the dead who died in the Lord, and did this, as Pope Celestine I. said,(Epist. ad Gall, episc., chap ii.) so "uniformly that the law of supplicating may lay down, the law of believing," is proved in the first place from the Roman Liturgy. Pope Innocent I., (Epist. ad Decentium) in the early years of the fifth century, attributed this liturgy to St. Peter: " It has been delivered by the Prince of the Apostles, Peter, to the Roman Church.".Pope Vigil, (Epist. ad Profut.) in the sixth century, is of the same opinion. It has been never doubted' in Rome that this liturgy has come down by tradition from St. Peter. In this Roman Liturgy we find the same prayer—the very same Memento— for the dead, that is said in the Mass at the present day: " Remember, also, O Lord, thy servants and thy maid-servants, &c. To them, and all that rest in Christ, we pray Thee to grant a place of refreshment and light." What words conceived, or put in print, at the present day, could express belief in Purgatory with more clearness ? In the holy sacrifice of the Mass, the most solemn function performed by a Christian priest, he makes a commemoration of the dead, and prays God to grant them rest, and he does this in the very same words that are in use at present on the same occasion of offering up the body and blood of our Lord.
II. Prayer for the dead is found, in the second place, in the Gallican liturgy. This is the liturgy which was in use in the churches of Gaul until the year 758. It is thought to have been originally introduced there by those eastern saints who brought the light of the Gospel into that country. Though it differs in some points from the Roman liturgy, it has the same Memento, or commemoration of the dead, as the latter.
III. The Ambrosian liturgy, observed in the church of Milan, also bears witness to the custom of praying for the dead. This liturgy is ascribed by some to St. Ambrose, and by others to St. Barnaba, either a very safe authority for what maybe the custom or faith of the Church. Like ours, the Ambrosian liturgy has its Masses for the dead. In one of the prayers at the Offertory it entreats rest and peace for the faithful departed.
IV. The Mozarabic liturgy attests the faith of the Spanish Church with regard to prayer for the dead. mozarabic is the adjective form of Mozarabes, which is a word corrupted from Mixlarabes, a name given to the Christians who mixed up with the Moors or Arabs, by whom the fair provinces of Spain had been overrun. The Mozarabic liturgy has this prayer : " We offer to Thee, O God, the immaculate host .... for thy holy Church .... and the rest or indulgence of the faithful departed, that having changed the lot of sad mansions, they may enjoy the happy society of the just."
V._The eastern, as well as the western, liturgies afford us examples of prayer for the dead. There is no liturgy of any sect of Oriental Christians, some of whom have been separated from the Church since the fifth or sixth century, but has such prayer. A very ancient fragment of a liturgy is extant in the Apostolic Constitutions in which occurs this prayer for the dead : " For our brethren who have gone to rest in Christ, let us pray that God, the lover of men, who hath received the soul of a dead man, may remit to him every voluntary and involuntary sin, and, being rendered propitious and clement, may place him in the region of the pious who rest in the bosom of Abraham.
VI. Next comes the liturgy bearing the name of St. James, which was observed not only in Jerusalem but also through out all Syria. There is no doubt as to its early antiquity, for it was treated on by St. Cyril of Jerusalem in his Mystagogic Catechism in the year 347 or 348. The orthodox and the heterodox alike have held this Apostolical monument in the utmost respect. In it is preserved the following prayer: " Remember also, O Lord, the orthodox priests, long ago deceased, the deacons and the sub-deacons .... Give rest to their souls, bodies, and spirits .... rendering them worthy of the joy which is in the bosom of Abraham.
VII. The two principal liturgies followed by the Greeks subject to the Patriarchate of Constantinople are those of St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom. There is no doubt that St. Basil was the author of one of them, whilst the other, which till then was named the liturgy of the Apostles, was attributed to St. John Chrysostom only three hundred years after his death. The latter is followed not only by all the Greek churches of the Ottoman empire which are subject to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, but also by the Polish and Russian churches. In these liturgies, so universally, especially the latter, followed by the Greek churches, we have this prayer; " Give rest, O Christ, with the pious and just to the souls of the dead, who, separated from us, have gone out of this world. Let thy cross be to them a bridge, and thy baptism a covering, thy body and thy holy blood be a way that may lead to thy kingdom." So we see the Church everywhere, he it east or be it west, be it in the city by the Bosphorus or in the more renowned city by the Tiber, be it on the banks of the Volga or on the banks of the Tagus, be it amid the valleys of Syria, or in the interesting land of the Gaul, adopting formulas substantially the same, indicative of her faith in Purgatory. What the Church everywhere and in every age professes it shows a great want of shrewdness to deny.
It requires some explanation that the Church, in some of these liturgies, begs " rest for the souls, bodies, and spirits" of the dead, "delivering them from infinite damnation." This prayer, according to the mind of the Church, refers to those who are at the very moment of death. The Church to-day prays that the dead may be delivered from the pains of hell, from the profound pit, and from the mouth of the lion ; and yet no one is so ignorant of her faith as to imagine that she believes that the damned can be relieved by our prayers. When she presents such a form of prayer for the dead it is for those who are at the very point of death. If such be the mind of the Church to-day, the same was its mind always, for, as Bossuet remarks, what was once believed in the eternal Church was always believed in it.
It may be observed also that when the Church prays to God to spare "sinners in the day of judgement," that is, because scarcely the just shall be saved on that day; because, but for the divine mercy, there would be reason to fear even for one who had led a life worthy of all praise; and, also, because there shall be persons—such as those who will be alive till then—who shall not have paid, or even commenced to pay, the punishment due to sin in Purgatory.
Another point requiring explanation is this, that the Syriac liturgy prays that God " may grant rest and good remembrance to the prophets, the Apostles, and especially the most holy Mother of God, Mary." The explanation is this, that it is one thing to make a remembrance of the saints, and another thing to ask rest for the dead. The ancient Church made this distinction. St. Epiphanius (Haer. 75, n. 7.) says : " We make mention of the just and sinners alike: of the sinners indeed, that we may obtain mercy of the Lord for them, but of the just . . .Apostles. . . martyrs, that, rendering a certain singular honour to our Lord Jesus Christ, on account of the benefits conferred on them, we may separate them from the order of other men." St. Cyril of Jerusalem says ; (Catech. Mystagogica 5, p. 241. ) " We offer this sacrifice to Thee, that we may remember also those who have gone to sleep before us, first, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, that God, by their intercession, may receive our prayers ; then for the dead fathers." St. Augustine also says :(Serm. 159, n. i.) " The ecclesiastical discipline obtains that the faithful know well, when the martyrs are recited in that place at the altar of God, that prayer is not offered for them, but for the other commemorated persons prayer is offered." It is clear, then, that the Syriac liturgy, which is the only one that entreats rest and glory for the dead without, distinction between the saints and the souls in Purgatory, must be understood in an accommodated sense, so as to mean that, while it prays for rest for some, it felicitates the others on having already obtained glory. This distinction or distribution of sense is found in this liturgy itself. After the commemoration of the Blessed Virgin, it continues : " In whose honour and favour this oblation is offered." Then, in reference to the ordinary dead, or the souls in Purgatory, it proceeds: " Receive the souls of thy servants, of whom we make a commemoration, and place them, O Lord .... in the blessed mansions of thy Father with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, thy friends, and with all thy saints." It is not enough for us to admit with Calvin that for "more than thirteen hundred years " before his time " it was the custom to offer prayers for the dead ;" or to assert with Peter the Martyr (so styled) that "the Church had always prayed for the dead," but we must proclaim with tin; whole Church of Christ on earth for ever, that " it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins."