Friday, August 21, 2009

The Tenth Sunday After Trinity

(We continue our commentary on the Prayer for the Whole State of Christ's Church.)

And we also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants depaerted this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service....

In the final paragraph of this profound and searching prayer, we pray for the departed. But here the Prayer Book goes our of its way to eliminate any ambiguity as to whom we pray for. Not just any and all deceased persons, but for those who have “departed thus life in thy faith and fear,” that is the Christian faith. This particular petition has been attacked from time to time by the anti-Catholic elements within the Anglican tradition, and one early edition of the Prayer Book (the short-lived revision of 1552) eliminated this petition altogether.

This was owing to the unreasonable Protestant prejudice against “praying for the dead.” That prejudice arose in the 16th century as part of a necessary protest against the blatant commercialization of such prayers, with certain clergymen accepting large sums of money for offering Masses for the “repose of the souls” of the departed. That practice, which we would find shocking, was grounded in a poor non-Biblical notion of the Intermediate State as a place of pain and suffering.

The original version of this petition, found in the first Prayer Book of 1549, was a much more vigorous prayer than what we find in our 1928 Prayer Book. If you want to see the original version, look at the prayer at the bottom of page 336, now in our Burial Office. But even in the present “toned-down” form, the version familiar to us is adequate. We rightly and properly pray for th dead because in Christ there are no dead. The faithful departed can experience no suffering oir pain whatever, but they are still growing in Christ and advancing in holiness. Therefore our prayers are beneficial to them.

At the Eucharist when Christ is wondrously present in His very Body and Blood, His whole Church in heaven and earth is invisibly assembled. It is not for nothing that we mention “angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven.” In the Prayer of Consecration itself, we pray that “we, and all thy whole Church, may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his passion.” Every time that bread and wine are set forth, in the sight of heaven and earth, as a Memorial unto the Lord, to “shows forth His death until He come,” we are praying for all of Christ's disciples and believers, of centuries past, of our own past, in all times and places.

(To be continued.)

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