|Australian troops charging Ottoman trenches just before the evacuation|
at ANZAC Cove 1915
War Department. (1789 - 09/18/1947)
I wonder though if the ever-growing popularity of ANZAC Day is an equal growth in prayer for the fallen?
Alas, in this age when funeral services have become occasions to preach universal salvation combined with a ceremony for canonization of the dead, I fear not.
ANZAC Day rituals
On April 25, 1915 some 75,000 British Empire and French troops invaded Turkey at Gallipoli, and secured and held two bridgeheads against ferocious Turkish resistance. Over the next eight months they suffered from appalling heat and cold, disease, and above all from the incompetence of the British military leadership. The failed campaign and the death of some 8,700 Australians and 2,721 New Zealanders there was to prove nation-shaping for both countries.
It is a day of well-established rituals: the dawn service, commemorative services and the march, and two-up games.
By far the most important though, at least for Catholics, should be the Requiem Mass permitted to be held today (the feast of St Mark is moved to Friday in Australia, at least in the modern calendar, a ruling that arguably applies to the 1962 one as well, though doesn't seem to be reflected in the traditional ordo most commonly used here), at which we pray for the repose of the fallen.
Until 1965, Catholics were not permitted to attend the 'ecumenical' (ie secular) Dawn services around the country - although in practice many did - instead attending Requiem Masses for the fallen.
These days, things have changed, and for the better in this case I think.
All the same, that doesn't lessen our obligation to pray for the fallen in war on this day, and the best way to do this is surely to attend a Requiem Mass.
The numbers attending Dawn services around the country continue to grow strongly, with tens of thousands turning up, including some 30,000 braving the sub-zero temperatures at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra this morning.
Are the numbers attending Mass on this day rising proportionately? I very much doubt it.
Cheating the dead of their due
How many Catholic parishes are actually offering requiems today?
One would hope all, but at my local parish we were told that today's Mass would be 'focused' on ANZAC Day, but it wasn't quite clear if that meant an actual Requiem (fortunately the TLM community had a sung Requiem with catafalque on offer)!
But let's assume there is a Requiem offered, and people do turn up. How much focus will be placed on actually praying for repose of the souls in purgatory?
I went to a funeral earlier this week, of the mother of a friend.
Unfortunately, it proved to be one of those novus ordo instant canonization ceremonies, where the word purgatory and the need for prayers for the dead never cracks a mention, and instead the congregation was assured that salvation is pretty much universal, and the deceased was undoubtedly a saint.
Now perhaps she was. But prudence, and indeed the entire tradition of the Church suggests that we should pray hard just in case, for the pains of purgatory are extreme, and the dead are unable to help themselves.
In this particular case the priest was a retired member of the Gaudium et Spes generation, who seemed to derive his theology of heaven largely from the obituary column of the Canberra Times, so that, rather than having anything to do with God, heaven is apparently a place where we will meet up once again with everyone (none of that narrow gate stuff!) we have ever known and loved.
There must surely be a special circle of hell reserved for priests who lead their flocks astray and deprive the dead of the aid of the living they so desperately need; and if they do make it past the gate, they must surely have the equivalent of at least a thousand years in purgatory in front of them!
No wonder Catholic Mass attendance and belief tends to fall; how stark the contrast with the rapidly growing religions such as Islam, where ANZAC Day is apparently being Islamized in Turkey, and some local Muslims are accordingly being told not to celebrate the day.
The theology of praying for the dead
Part of the problem with the service I attended was that the traditional propers of the Requiem Mass were pretty much entirely absent.
Instead of opening by pleading for the soul of the departed to be given eternal rest in the traditional Introit, we were treated to one of those dreadful 1970s hymns.
Instead of a gradual and tract that pray for the repose of the soul and the absolution of their sins, we jumped straight to promises of eternal life; instead of traditional psalms like the De Profundis which pray for God's mercy, we had comfort and vision of heaven in the Lord is my Shepherd.
And any reminders to the living of their own mortality and the need to repent, such as the Dies Irae, were entirely omitted.
Yet the idea of purgatory, or at least for some process of necessary purification before we enter heaven is not some late medieval invention, but rather something witnessed to in Scripture, and well attested to in the earliest traditions of the Church.
For this reason, a Requiem is not meant to be primarily a celebration of the life of the departed, or comfort to the bereaved, rather it is meant to induce a work of charity in us, encourage us to pray hard so that the person who has died might reach heaven more quickly.
And this duty applies equally to our war dead. It is right and proper that we thank, on this day, all who have served in the defense of their country. But is even more important that we pray for the release of the souls of the fallen still in purgatory.
So if you haven't been able to get to a Requiem today, please do consider saying one of the indulgenced prayers for the dead, such as the De Profundis or even the Office of the Dead for those who have fallen in battle. Or you could gain a partial indulgence for the dead by praying the Requiem Aeternum along with this setting of it.