Mrs. James Sadlier.

Purgatory online

. (page 17 of 35)
Online LibraryMrs. James SadlierPurgatory → online text (page 17 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

on the manner of behaving at table, wherein one is warned never to
arise from a meal without praying for the dead. This treatise was
translated by William Caxton.

"Priez Dieu pour les trepassés,
Et te souveigne en pitié
Qui de ce monde sont passez,
Ainsi que tu es obligez,
Priez Dieu pour les trepassés!"

[We subjoin a rough translation of the verse.

To God, for the departed, pray
And of those in pity think
Who have passed from this world away,
As, indeed, thou art bound to do,
To God, for the departed pray.]

Speaking of his early education, Caxton says:

"Whereof I humbly and heartily thank God, and am bounden to pray for my
father and mother's souls, who in my youth set me to school." [1]

[Footnote 1: "Christian Schools and Scholars."]

In 1067, William the Conqueror founded what was known as Battle Abbey,
which he gave to the Benedictine Monks, that they might pray for the
souls of those who fell in the Battle of Hastings. Speaking of William
the. Conqueror, it is not out of place to quote here these lines from
the pen of Mrs. Hemans:

"Lowly upon his bier
The royal Conqueror lay,
Baron and chief stood near,
Silent in war's array.
Down the long minster's aisle
Crowds mutely gazing stream'd,
Altar and tomb the while
Through mists of incense gleamed.

"They lowered him with the sound
Of requiems to repose."

These stanzas on the Burial of William the Conqueror lead us naturally
to others from the pen of the same gifted authoress on "Coeur de Lion
at the Bier of his Father."

"Torches were blazing clear,
Hymns pealing deep and slow,
Where a king lay stately on his bier,
In the Church of Fontevraud.

* * * * *

"The marble floor was swept
By many a long dark stole
As the kneeling priests, round him that slept,
Sang mass for the parted soul.
And solemn were the strains they pour'd
Through the stillness of the night,
With the cross above, and the crown and sword,
And the silent king in sight."

We forgive the ignorance of the gentle poetess with regard to the Mass,
for the beauty and solemnity of the verse, which is quite in keeping
with the nature of the subject.

We read, again, of tapers being lit at the tomb of Henry V., the noble
and chivalrous Henry of Monmouth, for one hundred years after his
death. The Reformation extinguished that gentle flame with many another
holy fire, both in England and throughout Christendom.

We shall now pass on to another period - a far different and most
troublous one of English history, that of the Reformation.

In the Church of St. Lawrence at Iswich is an entry of an offering made
to "pray for the souls of Robert Wolsey and his wife Joan, the father
and mother of the Dean of Lincoln," thereafter to be Cardinal and
Chancellor of the Kingdom. An argument urged to show the Protestantism
of Collet, one of the ante-Reformation worthies, is that he "did not
make a Popish will, having left no monies for Masses for his soul;
which shows that he did not believe in Purgatory." The dying prayer of
Sir Thomas More concludes with these words: "Give me a longing to be
with Thee; not for avoiding the calamities of this wicked world, nor so
much the pains of Purgatory or of hell; nor so much for the attaining
of the choice of heaven, in respect of mine own commodity, as even for
a very love of Thee." The unfortunate Anne Boleyn, who during her
imprisonment had repented and received the last sacraments from the
hands of Father Thirlwall, begs on the scaffold that the people may
pray for her. In her address to her ladies before leaving the Tower,
she concludes it by begging them to forget her not after death. "In
your prayers to the Lord Jesus forget not to pray for my soul." In the
account of the death of another of King Henry's wives, the Lady Jane
Seymour, who died, as Miss Strickland says, after having all the rites
of the Catholic Church administered to her, we read that Sir Richard
Gresham thus writes to Lord Cromwell:

"I have caused twelve hundred Masses to be offered up for the soul of
our most gracious Queen.... I think it right that there should also be
a solemn dirge and high Mass, and that the mayor and aldermen should
pray and offer up divers prayers for Her Grace's soul."

Anne of Cleves some two years before her death likewise embraced the
Catholic faith. At her funeral Mass was sung by Bonner, Bishop of
London, and many monks and seculars attended her obsequies. The
infamous Thomas Cromwell, converted, as it seems evident from
contemporary witnesses, on his death-bed, left what might be called
truly a "Popish will." After bequeathing money or effects to various
relatives and friends, he speaks of charity "works for the health of my
soul." "I will," he says, "that my executors shall sell said farm
(Carberry), and the money thereof to be employed in deeds of charity,
to prayer for my soul and all Christian souls." Item. "I will mine
executors shall conduct and hire a priest, being an honest person of
continent and good living, to sing (pray) for my soul for the space of
seven years next after my death." Item. "I give and bequeath to every
one of the five orders of Friars within the Citie of London, to pray
for my soul, twenty shillings. ..." He further bequeaths £20 to be
distributed amongst "poor householders, to pray for his soul."

In this he closely resembled his royal master, Henry VIII., who
ordained that Masses should be said "for his soul's health while the
world shall endure." And after his death it was agreed that the
obsequies should be conducted according to the observance of the
Catholic Church. Church-bells tolled and Masses were celebrated daily
throughout London. In the Privy Chamber, where the corpse was laid,
"lights and Divine service were said about him, with Masses, obsequies,
etc." After the body was removed to the chapel it was kept there twelve
days, with "Masses and dirges sung and said everyday." Norroy, king at
arms, stood each day at the choir door, saying: "Of your charity pray
for the soul of the high and mighty prince, our late sovereign lord and
king, Henry VIII." When the body was lowered into the grave we read of
a _De Profundis_ being read over it. God grant it was not all a
solemn mockery, this praying for the soul of him who was styled "the
first Protestant King of England," and who by his crimes separated
England from the unity of Christendom! May these "Popish practices,"
which were amongst those he in his ordinances condemned, have availed
him in that life beyond the grave, whither he went to give an account
of his stewardship!

The Catholic Queen, Mary, after her accession to the throne, caused a
requiem Mass to be sung in Tower Chapel for her brother, Edward the
Sixth. Elizabeth, in her turn, had Mary buried with funeral hymn and
Mass, and caused a solemn dirge and Mass of Requiem to be chanted for
the soul of the Emperor Charles V.

With this period of spiritual anarchy and desolation we shall take our
leave of England, passing on to pause for an instant to observe the
peculiar _cultus_ of the dead in Corsica. It is represented by
some writers as being similar to that which prevailed amongst the
Romans. But as a traveller remarks, "it is a curious relic of paganism,
combined with Christian usages." Thus the dirge sung by women, their
wild lamenting, their impassioned apostrophizing of the dead, their
rhetorical declamation of his virtues, finds its analogy among many of
the customs of pagan nations, while the prayer for the dead, "the
relatives standing about the bed of death reciting the Rosary," the
Confraternity of the Brothers of the Dead coming to convey the corpse
to the church, where Mass is sung and the final absolution given, is
eminently Christian and Catholic. In the Norwegian annals we read how
Olaf the Saint, on the occasion of one of his battles, gave many marks
of silver for the souls of his enemies who should fall in battle.

A traveller in Mexico relates the following: "I remember to have seen,"
he says, "on the high altar of the dismantled church of Yanhuitlan a
skull as polished as ivory, which bore on the forehead the following
inscription in Spanish:

'Io soy Jesus Pedro Sandoval; un Ave Maria y un Padre Nuestro, por Dios,
hermanos!' [1]

[Footnote 1: Ferdinand Gregorovius, "Wanderings in Corsica," translated
by Alexander Muir.]

'I am Jesus Pedro Sandoval; a Hail Mary and an Our Father for the love
of God, my brother.'

"I cannot conceive," he continues, "anything more heart-rending than
the great silent orbs of this dead man staring me fixedly in the face,
whilst his head, bared by contact with the grave, sadly implored my
prayers." [1]

[Footnote 1: "Deux Ans au Mexique," Faucher de St. Maurice.]

It would be impossible to conclude our _olla podrida_, if I may
venture on the expression, of historical lore, relating to the dead,
without referring, however briefly, to the two great deaths, and
consequently the magnificent obsequies which have marked this very year
of 1885, in which we write. Those of Archbishop Bourget, of Montreal,
and of His Eminence, Cardinal McCloskey, of New York. They were both
expressions of national sorrow, and the homage paid by sorrowing
multitudes to true greatness. On the 10th of June, 1885, the venerable
Archbishop Bourget died at Sault-au-Recollet, and was brought on the
following morning to the Church of Notre Dame, Montreal. The days that
ensued were all days of Requiem. Psalms were sung, and the office of
the dead chanted by priests of all the religious orders in succession,
by the various choirs of the city, by the secular clergy, and by lay
societies. Archbishops and bishops sang high Mass with all the pomp of
our holy ritual, and the prayers of the poor for him who had been their
benefactor, mingled with those of the highest in the land, and followed
the beloved remains from the bed of death whence they were taken down
into the funeral vault. On the 10th of October, 1885, His Eminence the
Cardinal Archbishop of New York passed peacefully away, amidst the
grief of the whole community, both Protestant and Catholic. Again,
there was a very ovation of prayer. The obsequies were marked by a
splendor such as, according to a contemporary journal, had never before
attended any ecclesiastical demonstration on this side of the water.
The clergy, secular and religious, formed one vast assemblage, while
layman vied with layman in showing honor to the dead, and in praying
for the soul's repose. "All that man could do," says a prominent
Catholic journal, "to bring honor to his bier was done, and in honor
and remembrance his memory remains. All that Mother Church could offer
as suffrage for his soul has been offered."

That is wherein the real beauty of it all consists. Honor to the great
dead may, it is true, be the splendid expression of national sentiment.
But in the eyes of faith it is meaningless. Other great men, deservedly
honored by the nations, have passed away during this same year, but
where was the prayer, accompanying them to the judgment-seat, assisting
them in that other life, repairing their faults, purging away sins or
imperfections? The grandeur that attended Mgr. Bourget's burial and
Cardinal McCloskey's obsequies consisted chiefly in that vast symphony
of prayer, which arose so harmoniously, and during so many days, for
their soul's welfare.

Devotion to the dead, as we have seen, exists everywhere, is everywhere
dear to the hearts of the people, from those first early worshippers,
who, in the dawn of Christianity, in the dimness of the Catacombs
prayed for the souls of their brethren in Christ, begging that they
might "live in God," that God might refresh them, down through the ages
to our own day, increasing as it goes in fervor and intensity. We meet
with its records, written boldly, so to say, on the brow of nations, or
in out-of-the-way corners, down among the people, in the littleness and
obscurity of humble domestic annals. In the earliest liturgies, in the
most ancient sacramentaries, there is the prayer for "refreshment,
light, and peace," as it is now found in the missals used at the daily
sacrifice, on the lips of the priest, in the prayers of the humblest
and most unlettered petitioner. It is the "low murmur of the vale,"
changing, indeed, at times into the thunder on the mountain tops,
amazing the unbelieving world which stands aloof and stares, as in the
instances but lately quoted, or existing forgotten, and overlooked by
them, but no less deep and solemn. It is a _Requiem Æternam_
pervading all time, and ceasing only with time itself, when the
Eternity of rest for the Church Militant has begun.



The Anglo-Saxons had inherited from their teachers the practice of
prayer for the dead - a practice common to every Christian Church which
dates its origin from any period before the Reformation. It was not
that they pretended to benefit by their prayers the blessed in heaven,
or the reprobate in hell; but they had never heard of the doctrine
which teaches that "every soul of man, passing out of the body, goeth
immediately to one or other of those places" (Book of Homilies. Hom.
VII. On Prayer). And therefore assuming that God will render to all
according to their works, they believed that the souls of men dying in
a state of less perfect virtue, though they might not be immediately
admitted to the supreme felicity of the saints, would not, at least, be
visited with the everlasting punishment of the wicked. [1] It was for
such as these that they prayed, that if they were in a state of
imperfect happiness, that happiness might be augmented; if in a state
of temporary punishment, the severity of that punishment might be
mitigated; and this they hoped to obtain from the mercy of God, in
consideration of their prayers, fasts, and alms, and especially of the
"oblation of the most Holy Victim in the Sacrifice of the Mass."

[Footnote 1: "Some souls proceed to rest after their departure; some go
to punishment for that which they have done, and are often released by
alms-deeds, but chiefly through the Mass, if it be offered for them;
others are condemned to hell with the devil." (Serm. ad. Pop. in Oct.
Pent.) "There be many places of punishment, in which souls suffer in
proportion to their guilt before the general judgment, so that some of
them are fully cleansed, and have nothing to suffer in that fire of the
last day." (Hom. apud. Whelock, p. 386.)]

This was a favorite form of devotion with our ancestors. It came to
them recommended by the practice of all antiquity; it was considered an
act of the purest charity on behalf of those who could no longer pray
for themselves; it enlisted in its favor the feelings of the survivor,
who was thus enabled to intercede with God for his nearest and dearest
friends, and it opened at the same time to the mourner a source of real
consolation in the hour of bereavement and distress. It is true,
indeed, that the petitioners knew not the state of the departed soul;
he might be incapable of receiving any benefit from their prayers, but
they reasoned, with St. Augustine, that, even so, the piety of their
intentions would prove acceptable to God. When Alcuin heard that
Edilthryde, a noble Saxon lady, lamented most bitterly the death of her
son, he wrote to her from his retreat at Tours, in the following
terms: - "Mourn not for him whom you cannot recall. If he be of God,
instead of grieving that you have lost him, rejoice that he is gone to
rest before you. Where there are two friends, I hold the death of the
first preferable to that of the second, because the first leaves behind
him one whose brotherly love will intercede for him daily, and whose
tears will wash away the frailties of his life in this world. Be
assured that your pious solicitude for the soul of your son will not be
thrown away. It will benefit both you and him - you, because you
exercise acts of hope and charity; him, because such acts will tend
either to mitigate his sufferings, or to add to his happiness."

[Footnote 1: Ep. Cli Tom. I, p. 212.]

But they did not only pray for others, they were careful to secure for
themselves, after their departure, the prayers of their friends. This
they frequently solicited as a favor or recompense, and for this they
entered into mutual compacts by which the survivor was bound to perform
certain works of piety or charity for the soul of the deceased. Thus
Beda begs of the monks of Lindisfarne that, at his death, they will
offer prayers and Masses for him as one of their own body; thus Alcuin
calls upon his former scholars at York to remember him in their prayers
when it shall please God to withdraw him from this world; and thus in
the multifarious correspondence of St. Boniface, the apostle of
Germany, and of Lullus, his successor in the See of Mentz, both of them
Anglo-Saxons, with their countrymen, prelates, abbots, thanes, and
princes, we meet with letters the only object of which is to renew
their previous engagements, and to transmit the names of their defunct
associates. It is "our earnest wish," say the King of Kent and the
Bishop of Rochester in their common letter to Lullus, "to recommend
ourselves and our dearest relatives to your piety, that by your prayers
we may be protected till we come to that life which knows no end. For
what have we to do on earth but faithfully to exercise charity towards
each other? Let us then agree, that when any among us enter the path
which leads to another life (may it be a life of happiness), the
survivors shall, by their alms and sacrifices, endeavor to assist him
in his journey. We have sent you the names of our deceased relations,
Irmige, Vorththry, and Dulicha, virgins dedicated to God, and beg that
you will remember them in your prayers and oblations. On a similar
occasion we will prove our gratitude by imitating your charity."

Such covenants were not confined to the clergy, or to persons in the
higher ranks of life. England, at this period, was covered with
"gilds," or associations of townsmen and neighbors, not directly for
religious purposes, but having a variety of secular objects in view, -
such as the promotion of trade and commerce, the preservation of
property and the prosecution of thieves, the legal defence of the
members against oppression, and the recovery of bots, or penalties, to
which they were entitled; but whatever might be their chief object, all
imposed one common obligation, that of accompanying the bodies of f the
deceased members to the grave, of paying the soul-shot for them at
their interment, and of distributing alms for the repose of their
souls. As a specimen of such engagements, I may here translate a
portion of the laws established in the gild at Abbotsbury. "If," says
the legislator, "any one belonging to this association chance to die,
each member shall pay one penny for the good of the soul, before the
body be laid in the grave. If he neglect, he shall be fined in a triple
sum. If any of us fall sick within sixty miles, we engage to find
fifteen men, who may bring him home; but if he die first, we will send
thirty to convey him to the place in which he desired to be buried. If
he die in the neighborhood, the steward shall inquire where he is to be
interred, and shall summon as many members as he can to assemble,
attend the corpse in an honorable manner, carry it to the minster, and
pray devoutly for the soul. Let us act in this manner, and we shall
truly perform the duty of our confraternity. This will be honorable to
us both before God and man. For we know not who among us may die first;
but we believe that, with the assistance of God, this agreement will
profit us all if it be rightly observed."

But the clerical and monastic bodies inhabiting the more celebrated
monasteries offered guildships of a superior description. Among them
the service for the dead was performed with greater solemnity; the
rules of the institute insured the faithful performance of the duty;
and additional value was ascribed to their prayers on account of the
sanctity of the place and the virtue of its inmates. Hence it became an
object with many to obtain admission among the brotherhood in quality
of honorary associates; an admission which gave them the right to the
same spiritual benefits after death to which the professed members were
entitled. Such associates were of two classes. To some the favor was
conceded on account of their reputation for piety or learning; to
others it was due on account of their benefactions. Instances of both
abound in the Anglo-Saxon records. Beda, though a monk at Jarrow,
procured his name to be entered for this purpose on the bead-roll of
the monks at Lindisfarne; and Alcuin, though a canon at Tours, in
France, had obtained a similar favor from the monks at Jarrow. It
belonged, of right, to the founders of churches, to those who had made
to them valuable benefactions, [1] or had rendered to them important
services, or had bequeathed to them a yearly rent charge [2] for that

[Footnote 1: When Osulf, ealdorman, by the grace of God, gave the land
at Stanhamstede to Christ Church, he most humbly prayed that he and his
wife, Beornthrythe, might be admitted "into the fellowship of God's
servants there, and of their lords who had been, and of those who had
given lands to the Church." - Cod. Dipl. I. 292. The following is an
instance of a rent charge given by Ealburge and Eadwald to Christ
Church for themselves, and for Ealred and Ealwyne forty ambres of malt,
two hundred loaves, one wey, &c, &c.; "and I, Ealburge," she adds,
"command my son Ealwyne, in the name of God, and of all the saints,
that he perform this duty in his day, and then command his heirs to
perform it as long as Christendom shall endure."]

[Footnote 2: I Monast. Ang. i. 278. A similar regulation is found among
the laws of the gild in London. "And ye have ordained respecting every
man who has given his 'wed' in our gildships, if he should die, that
each gild brother shall give a 'genuine loaf' for his soul, and sing a
ditty, or get it sung, within thirty days." - Thorpe's Laws of London

Of all these individuals an exact catalogue was kept; the days of their
decease [1] were carefully noted, and on their anniversaries a solemn
service of Masses and psalmody was yearly performed. [2] It may be
easily conceived that to men of timorous and penitent minds this custom
would afford much consolation. However great might be their
deficiencies, yet they hoped that their good works would survive them;
they had provided for the service of the Almighty a race of men, whose
virtues they might in one respect call their own, and who were bound,
by the strongest ties, to be their daily advocate at the throne of
divine mercy. [3] Such were the sentiments of Alwyn, the caldorman of
East Anglia, and one of the founders of Ramsey. Warned by frequent
infirmities of his approaching death, he repaired, attended by his sons
Edwin and Ethelward, to the abbey. The monks were speedily assembled.
"My beloved," said he, "you will soon lose your friend and protector.
My strength is gone: I am stolen from myself. But I am not afraid to
die. When life grows tedious death is welcome. To-day I shall confess
before you the many errors of my life. Think not that I wish to solicit
a prolongation of my existence. My request is that you protect my
departure by your prayers, and place your merits in the balance against
my defects. When my soul shall have quitted my body, honor your
father's corpse with a decent funeral, grant him a constant share in
your prayers, and recommend his memory to the charity and gratitude of
your successors." At the conclusion of his address the aged thane threw
himself on the pavement before the altar, and, with a voice interrupted
by frequent sighs, publicly confessed the sins of his past years, and
earnestly implored the mercies of his Redeemer.... He exhorted the
brethren to a punctual observance of their rule, and forbade his sons,
under their father's malediction, to molest them in possession of the
lands which he had bestowed on the abbey.... Within a few weeks he
died, his body was interred with proper solemnity in the Church; and
his memory was long cherished with gratitude by the monks of Ramsey.

[Footnote 1: According to Wanly there is in the Cotton Library (Dom. A.
7) of the reign of Athelstan, in which the names of the chief
benefactors of the Church of Lindisfarne are written in letters of gold

Online LibraryMrs. James SadlierPurgatory → online text (page 17 of 35)