All Soul's Day. Pray For the Church Suffering
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.
Did the early Christians really pray to the dead?
"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." (New Advent)