|c15th Master of Rohan|
November is traditionally the month when we especially pray for the dead.
All Souls Day and praying for the dead
Amazingly (though whether they quite compensate for the triumphalist account of a nun abandoning her religion for the new religion of radical feminism is another question) there are two good pieces on this over at Cath News' weekend edition:
- a reflection by Bishop Saunders of Broome on the importance of All Souls day, including the meaning of practises such as having a Mass at the cemetery; and
- an article advocating Mass (including a gregorian) and the rosary for the dead.
There are many things we can do to aid the dead, including (in rough order of merit and arguably efficacy):
- having Masses said for the repose of the souls of the dead;
- saying the Office of the Dead;
- undertaking indulgenced actions and applying the indulgence to the souls of the dead;
- saying other prayers and devotions for the dead, especially the rosary;
- giving alms in their name.
History and structure of the Office of the Dead
The Office of the Dead traditionally consists of Matins (aka Office of Readings), Lauds (aka Morning prayer) and Vespers (aka Evening Prayer), and was traditionally known as 'placebo and dirige', the opening words of the first antiphon of Vespers and Matins respectively (note that the Novus Ordo version of the Office of the Dead has added versions of the other hours as well). It is rather shorter than the standard Office as all of the introductory prayers are cut out, and at Matins either one or three nocturns of three psalms can be said.
The Office of the Dead used to be said at the deathbed, and as a standard part of the funeral service. But it was also common to arrange to say it, or have it said, on behalf of the dead person, or the dead in general, on an ongoing basis. During the middle ages, monasteries and priests were required to say it whenever there were no other feasts. Pope Pius V reduced the obligation, earnestly recommending that it be said at least once a month and more often at penitential times.
These days it tends only to be said on All Souls Day (when it takes the place of the normal Office). But there are good reasons for saying it more often.
Why we should say the Office of the Dead
The Office of the Dead is liturgical prayer, the official public prayer of the Church. As such it has a higher status in the Church's armory than any devotion, even the rosary. Rather, it extends out the sacrifice of the Mass, joining to it a sacrifice of praise and intercession on behalf of the souls in purgatory.
Saying it will act to enhance the value of the Masses we have offered for the dead by helping increase our personal commitment to that offering (which has an impact on the efficacy of the Mass offering, since the 'extrinsic' merits of the Mass are affected both by the holiness and intention of the person commissioning the Mass, and of the priest offering it), as well as acting as a sacrifice of praise and intercession in its own right.
Moreover, we may not be able to attend daily Masses offered for the dead for one reason or another. But we can say the Office at home individually. Reflecting the merit associated with this personal effort, saying either morning or evening prayer of the Office of the Dead has a partial indulgence attached to it.
We shouldn't overlook though, the actual content of the Office of the Dead and what it has to teach each of us. As well as pure intercession on behalf of the dead, the psalms, readings (mostly from the book of Job) and prayers put us in the place of the person approaching death and moving from anger to acceptance in his or her dialogue with God. As such, they help us prepare for our own death, and to pray for the vital grace of final perseverance.
Many traditional missals (though not, for some reason, the Baronius, which also omits the standard prayers for the deathbed) and all brevaries include some or all of the Office of the Dead. But to help you learn to say it, there are a number of online versions you could look at as well, including:
- Hypertext office of the Dead;
- Divine Office website (select 'defunctorum');
- Breviary net;
- Novus Ordo text.