Crossed The Tiber

An Evangelical Converts to Catholicism

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I was born into the Catholic faith. At 14, I was "born again" and found Jesus personally but lost His Church. After thirty years as an evangelical protestant, I have come full circle to find that He has been there all the time, in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I wish others to find the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith as I have found.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Happy All Souls Day!


Purgatory really freaked me out as a non-Catholic Christian. When my wife first started dabbling in Catholicism, she actually liked the doctrine and we had some pretty heated discussions about this. In my mind it conjured images of the sale of indulgences(always condemned by the Church) and called to mind the famous saying of the 16th century indulgence merchant, Johann Tetzel*: "A coin in the coffer rings and another soul from purgatory springs!"

(I must admit, I actually used this line as the chorus in an anti-Catholic blues rant I composed when I was 15 years old and a brand new born-again Christian)

When I first returned to the Church in April 2004, this was one of the last doctrines that I struggled with. Now I'm blogging about it and encouraging others to pray for the departed, and spend a portion of each day praying for my loved ones.

Prayers and "suffrages" on behalf of the departed believers have been prayed since the first century. The earliest liturgies of the Church contain prayers for the dead. From the Syriac liturgy of St James: "We commend into thy mercy all other thy servants, which are departed hence from us with the sign of faith and now do rest in the sleep of peace: grant unto them, we beseech thee, thy mercy and everlasting peace."

The catacombs from the first century contain inscriptions asking for prayers for the dead. The early Church fathers wrote about it.
St. Augustine: The universal Church observes this law, handed down from the Fathers, that prayers should be offered for those who have died in the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ when they are commemorated in their proper place at the Sacrifice(mass)"

16th century theologians:
"Dear God, if the departed souls be in a state that they yet may be helped then I pray that you would be gracious. When you have thus prayed once or twice, then let it be sufficient and commend them unto God." (Martin Luther)

"We commend into thy mercy all other thy servants, which are departed hence from us with the sign of faith and now do rest in the sleep of peace: grant unto them, we beseech thee, thy mercy and everlasting peace." (Church of England 1549)

  • The Jews before Christ prayed for the dead (Maccabees)
  • St. Paul prayed for the dead (Onesiphorus)
  • Early Christians prayed for the dead (catacomb inscriptions)
  • Church fathers wrote about prayers for the dead
  • The earliest reformers prayed for the dead including Luther and the Church of England
  • The Catholic Church continues this practice and has made a day to particularly honor the dead and keep them in our prayers.

I am no longer freaked out by it but am thankful to God for his grace and mercy towards us in that we have an opportunity to be purged of the last vestiges of sin that we are attached to before we step into His throne room.
So like CS Lewis once said, I now say : "Purgatory ? Our souls demand it, don't they!"

Check out this excellent article on First Things on the meaning of All Soul's Day

*Johann Tetzel was censured by the Catholic Church not for the teaching of indulgences but the practice of money being exchanged for them. The Church never apporoved the sale of indulgences.
To learn more about what the Church teaches on indulgences go here.

2 Comments:

Blogger Joyful Catholics said...

Fine post, TJ. I never knew what to think about purgatory, except that it sounded so odd to me as a non-Catholic, because "when you're saved, you're saved" why have to get 'washed' again ... right? Funny how THAT now is what sounds so "odd" and way off the rails to me! HA HA God's got a great sense of humor, doesn't He? They think nothing of saying when they "got saved," and how they remain "saved" (unless of course they fall away or worse, become Catholic!) but to believe in purgatory is 'pagan' and 'wrong' and to pray for our beloved dead is necromancy?? Oh God, save us from our fickle, prideful ourselves!

November 03, 2009 6:15 AM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Paul: Thanks for the link to that great site on the catacombs. I am hoping to use the site for further apologetic posts here.
Regarding the inscriptions from the first century here is my source:
New Advent encyclopedia site:
Monumental inscriptions: The inscriptions in the Roman Catacombs range in date from the first century (the earliest dated is from A.D. 71) to the early part of the fifth; and though the majority are undated, archaeologists have been able to fix approximately the dates of a great many by comparison with those that are dated. The greater number of the several thousand extant belong to the ante-Nicene period — the first three centuries and the early part of the fourth. Christian sepulchral inscriptions from other parts of the Church are few in number compared with those in the catacombs, but the witness of such as have come down to us agrees with that of the catacombs. Many inscriptions are exceedingly brief and simple (PAX, IN PACE, etc.), and might be taken for statements rather than prayers, were it not that in other cases they are so frequently and so naturally amplified into prayers (PAX TIBI, etc.). There are prayers, called acclamatory, which are considered to be the most ancient, and in which there is the simple expression of a wish for some benefit to the deceased, without any formal address to God. The benefits most frequently prayed for are: peace, the good (i.e. eternal salvation), light, refreshment, life, eternal life, union with God, with Christ, and with the angels and saints — e.g. PAX (TIBI, VOBIS, SPIRITUI TUO, IN ÆTERNUM, TIBI CUM ANGELIS, CUM SANCTIS); SPIRITUS TUUS IN BONO (SIT, VIVAT, QUIESCAT); ÆTERNA LUX TIBI; IN REFREGERIO ESTO; SPIRITUM IN REFRIGERIUM SUSCIPIAT DOMINUS; DEUS TIBI REFRIGERET; VIVAS, VIVATIS (IN DEO, IN [Chi-Rho] IN SPIRITO SANCTO, IN PACE, IN ÆTERNO, INTER SANCTOS, CUM MARTYRIBUS). For detailed references see Kirsch, "Die Acclamationen", pp. 9-29; Cabrol and Leclercq, "Monumenta Liturgica" (Paris, 1902), I, pp. ci-cvi, cxxxix, etc. Again there are prayers of a formal character, in which survivors address their petitions directly to God the Father, or to Christ, or even to the angels, or to the saints and martyrs collectively, or to some one of them in particular. The benefits prayed for are those already mentioned, with the addition sometimes of liberation from sin. Some of these prayers read like excepts from the liturgy: e.g. SET PATER OMNIPOTENS, ORO, MISERERE LABORUM TANTORUM, MISERE(re) ANIMAE NON DIG(na) FERENTIS (De Rossi, Inscript. Christ., II a, p. ix). Sometimes the writers of the epitaphs request visitors to pray for the deceased: e.g. QUI LEGIS, ORA PRO EO (Corpus Inscript. Lat., X, n. 3312), and sometimes again the dead themselves ask for prayers, as in the well-known Greek epitaph of Abercius (see INSCRIPTION OF ABERCIUS), in two similar Roman epitaphs dating form the middle of the second century (De Rossi, op. cit., II, a, p. xxx, Kirsch, op. cit., p. 51), and in many later inscriptions. That pious people often visited the tombs to pray for the dead, and sometimes even inscribed a prayer on the monument, is also clear form a variety of indications (see examples in De Rossi, "Roma Sotteranea", II, p. 15). In a word, so overwhelming is the witness of the early Christian monuments in favour of prayer for the dead that no historian any longer denies that the practice and the belief which the practice implies were universal in the primitive Church. There was no break of continuity in this respect between Judaism and Christianity.

Based on archaeological findings, I think we can both agree that the early christians prayed for their dead.

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November 03, 2009 10:40 AM  

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