On the Feast of All Souls
"It is a holy and wholesome thing to pray for the dead"
The prophet Job testified of the shortness of life, the certainty of death, and the guarantee of a resurrection—He asks: If a man die, shall he live again?—He answers that he will await the Lord’s call to come forth from the grave.
The tradition of the Roman Catholic Church, like the Greek Catholic and Oriental Catholic Churches, is to dress in black for remembrance of the dead. This is right and proper. It is a sign of mourning and a reminder that the wearer is in mourning and a reminder to pray for the dead.
This is vitally important because not only is it necessary to pray for the dead but, concomitantly, God has made our nature such that we have a psychological need to mourn and sorrow for our dead loved ones. This is natural, right and good.
Our Lord Himself did the same. When told of the death of Lazarus, as Holy Writ shews, our Lord wept for the passing of His friend. It is, on the other hand, wholly unnatural to suppress all desire to mourn. Thus the modern idea that we should not vest in black for funerals, requiems and on solemn days of remembrance of the dead, is an entirely false one and is, moreover, psychologically contrary to our nature as God made it.
It is curious, is it not, that the very moderns who chatter so much about psychology and bereavement and bereavement counselling and all the rest of the jargon that they overflow with, should reject or omit such an obviously sound, traditional, workable and practical manner of mourning and coping with bereavement as that of wearing black as a sign to oneself and to others to pray and condole.
As these same people would say in another context: let them mourn; allow them space to mourn and weep for their lost loved ones! Well, then, we reply: do not press them to wear white and to pretend that all is well when, in fact, it is a time of deep sadness and sorrow.
Remember, too, the Beatitude that tells us: "Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted".
So you modern liturgists: away with your whites and purples, your misplaced and ill-timed cheeriness and forced joviality. Spare us your inane chatter and impertinent invasion of our personal grieving.
Leave us to mourn, to wear black, and to pray for our loved ones who have died. Leave us space to grieve and sorrow as is only natural and as God intended. And do not think our ancestors such fools that they did not know what they were doing when they donned mourning clothes for the remembrance of their lost loved ones. In former times, when a close relative died, it was customary to mourn even for as long as 12 months, wearing black to remind all to pray for the deceased. This is profoundly Catholic and in keeping with human nature. One need not carry it as far as did Queen Victoria who wore black for the rest of her days, but nonetheless one should mourn for a decent space of time.
Nowadays death is regarded as a social faux pas, bad manners to speak of, something to be hidden and done behind closed doors. This is bizarre and inhuman. It merely stores up great anxieties and neuroses, or worse, for those who are thus not permitted space to mourn and to sorrow and to grieve. It also leads to attempts to hasten death so as to get it out of the way and out of our so easily offended gaze. This, in turn, can lead even to grotesque evils like euthanasia.
Why do priests, nuns and monks often wear black? Have you ever considered that? It is because they are making a public statement that they are dead to the world, and especially to the world of sin. They are publicly witnessing to the fact that they live a life of prayer for the living and the dead; and this is a "holy and wholesome thing".
"1 Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery.
2 He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth like a shadow, and continueth not.
3 And dost thou open thine eyes upon such an one, and bringest me into judgment with thee?
4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one.
5 Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass;
6 Turn from him, that he may rest, till he shall accomplish, as an hireling, his day.
7 For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease.
8 Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground;
9 Yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant.
10 But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?
11 As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up:
12 So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.
13 O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me!
14 If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.
15 Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands."
[Job 14]"25 For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and in the last day I shall rise out of the earth.
26 And I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I will see my God.
27 Whom I myself shall see, and my eyes shall behold, and not another: this my hope is laid up in my bosom."
These are among some of the striking lessons that are sung upon the Feast of All Souls by chapters, convents and abbeys at the austerely beautiful and solemnly awesome Matins of the Dead.
Parts of the Office of the Dead were retained by Cranmer in the Anglican Funeral service. They have become familiar lines often heard in old films as the mourners and clergyman gather round the grave of the recently deceased, the latter beginning "Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to live..."
So beautiful were these lines from the prophet Job that Cranmer and the Protestant reformers could not suffer them to be excised from the new service books as so much else was.
Memorials of our Catholic past abound even today in modern, neo-pagan, secular Britain, and have not yet been effaced by the new generation of unclean heathens that rule us, oppress us and threaten our very way of life. In truth they are simply too ignorant of their own history. So much so that they are unaware of these continuing memorials and so have not yet formed the idea of destroying them as they have so much else of our Christian past and identity - that which gave us all the things that we enjoy today.
One example of such a persisting remnant of our Catholic past is All Souls College, Oxford (pictured below).
Strictly, its name should have changed because the Protestant Reformers did not believe in praying for the dead because they did not believe in Purgatory despite Scripture's clear references to such a middle state of souls after death and to the even clearer mandate that it is a "holy and wholesome thing to pray for the dead" (2 Machab 12:46).
The naturally conservative and latently Catholic spirit of the English people caused them to adopt the Protestant Reform only grudgingly in an attenuated way - there over 150 uprisings against the new religion and the new service books. This is not surprising given that England had been, in the Middle Ages, regarded as one of the most Catholic countries in Europe. The result was the keeping of a great many ancient memorials of the Catholic past. One such was All Souls, Oxford.
All Souls, Langham Place, next to the BBC, is another. Ironically, it is a very Evangelical Protestant Church whose members would not believe in Purgatory and so would not pray for the souls of the dead. They are good folk but ironically they do not know that the name of their own church signifies the tradition of praying for the dead.
De Profundis (Psalm 131)
Out of the depths I have cried unto Thee, O Lord - Lord hear my voice! Let Thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication.
If Thou, O Lord, shalt mark our iniquities, O Lord, who can abide it? For with Thee there is mercy, and by reason of Thy law I have waited for Thee, O Lord.
My soul hath hoped in the Lord. From morning watch even unto night, let Israel hope in the Lord. For with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is plentiful redemption. And He shall redeem Israel from all its iniquities.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
V. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.
R. And let perpetual light shine upon them.
V. Let us pray.
O God, the Creator and Redeemer of all the faithful, grant to the souls of Thy departed servants the full remission of all their sins, that through our pious supplications they may obtain that pardon which they have always desired. Thou who livest and reignest world without end. Amen.