Praying for Faithful Departed

All Soul’s Day is close, the mutterings are about praying for the dead.

When we come to church for the Mass or Rosary we pray for the departed as a normal part of worship. However, that was not always the case. The reason goes back to the Reformation when the Church of England rejected praying for the dead, but the reasons were sound and reasonable, as the practice had become corrupt. The Church of the 14th & 16th Century starting to charge for the prayers to raise money. Pope Julius II (1503 to 1513), raised huge amounts of money to build St Peter’s in Rome by selling indulgences. For your donation, you obtained a certificate that pardoned the sins of your departed family. It raised money, but it was selling God’s free grace, which is outrageous. Luther protested this practice, hence the term, protestant was launched. The ban on praying for the dead and funerals became grim affairs that gave no comfort to those who mourned. Our first Prayer Books had a reasonable funeral service, but it was not widely used, and after the time of Oliver Cromwell, hardly at all. This was a case of throwing baby out with the bath water. Along with this was a teaching that salvation and damnation had already been decided by God – so need for prayer!

As usual, banning something causes problems and it caused personal problems for those who had no avenue to express grief and love by prayer. So, other avenues are also sought and by the end of the 17th Century it was common to consult occult means of contacting the dead and the rise of spiritualism in the 19th Century.

The Crimean War (1853-56), with 21,000 casualties started to change things as the Church had no means to deal with a nationwide grief. This was when crucifixes came back into the churches; the image of the God who died our death. In 1873 the Guild of All Souls was founded. Their goals were, to change barbaric funerals! They promoted proper and dignified funerals, to educate and promote the Church’s teaching regarding the departed, and intercessory prayer for them and the dying. The Guild was successful, as their goals have now become a normal part of Anglican parish life.

The understanding of these tasks was based on the life and teaching of Christ. We see this is in our Lord’s compassion to the Widow of Nain and his teaching at the raising of Lazarus. Our understanding of Christ is that all life is in his hands, yet it is through our prayerful cooperation with his will, and our desire for healing, wholeness and forgiveness for others, especially the departed, that accomplishes it.