Friday, 29 October 2010

Praying for the dead Part II

I talked a day or two ago about the duty to pray for the dead, especially in November; now I want to talk about the types of prayer you can offer. 

The first thing to say is that the Church encourages us to undertake a variety of acts to assist the souls in purgatory.  In principle, any good work or prayer can be offered for the dead.  How effective they will be depends both on the relative merit of the act and the holiness and dispositions of the person or persons involved in it.

Hierarchy of good works

In reality, however, some actions are inherently more meritorious than others.  So, in broad order of the merit of the action:
  • the Mass - most priests offer masses specifically for the dead in November and provide envelopes to make the process easy (though I do wish they would be more upfront in saying wht the appropriate minimum offering is. For the record, the diocese of Melbourne is apparently suggesting $20).  If you don't live near a priest who does (or you are concerned about the orthodoxy, fervour, etc of your priest, see below), a number of monasteries (such as Flavigny) and other groups allow you to organise masses to be said on behalf of others online (be kind and charitable though - mass stipends from this time of year an important part of a parish priest's income);
  • the Office of the Dead.  Liturgical prayer is, as a general principle, more efficacious than other forms of prayer;
  • the rosary;
  • other indulgenced actions.  If you are a daily mass goer who regularly goes to confession it isn't that hard to undertake an action that could attract a plenary indulgence every day that can then be applied to the poor souls (by saying the rosary in a Church or half an hour's prayerful Scripture reading/study a day for example).  There are also some particular indulgences relating to the dead - in particular, you can potentially gain a plenary indulgence by visiting a cemetery and praying on each day from November 1 to 8;
  • other prayers, fasting, almsgiving and so forth, all traditional good works undertaken to assist the dead.
Merits of the person doing the work

Here's the trick about the efficacy of actions.  Even though in theory the order listed above makes some actions more efficacious than others, in practice it isn't that simple! 

Our own holiness, the fervour with which we undertake the action, and the disposition and state of the person or persons we undertake the action for all can play a role in how efficacious the work actually turns out to be.  Hence the prayers of a saint can have more efficacy than even having a mass said, attested to by the fact that they can work miracles through their prayers; why historically contemplative nuns have been seen as such an important part of the Church.

So what can we do...

Given that most of us likely aren't actually saints yet, and don't know any (or don't know if they know any!), the hierarchy of merit of actions is a useful starting point.  And there are things we can do to maximise the effectiveness of our good works.

Take the Mass.  The Mass has infinite merit and value in terms of worship, and at one level all masses are equal given that they are offered by Christ our High Priest.  But the 'fruits of the mass', including those that can be applied to a specific intention such as the souls in purgatory, depend on man's actions. 

The holier the priest, and the more fervently he says mass, the greater the fruits.  A congregation of fervently praying, holy nuns is likely to generate a higher level of fruits.  The more fitting the mass itself - the vestments, sacred vessels, etc, the greater the fruits.  And here is the one we can most directly influence: the strength of intention and holiness of the person who gave the mass stipend almost certainly matters too....

So, we must all strive to be as holy as possible, to undertake our good works with fervour, and commission priests, religious and other holy people to work on our behalf.

But above all, we must do those good works!  Apart from having masses offered and visiting a cemetery (under the usual conditions for a plenary indulgence, or otherwise for a partial indulgence), consider trying to gain partial indulgences for works over the next week or two by:
And don't forget to make a general intention to gain all of the indulgences you can each day (that is sufficient to cover off the things you do but aren't specifically aware are indulgenced!), and decide how you wish any indulgences you gain to be applied...


R J said...

My impression is that $20 is the standard stipend almost everywhere in Australia (and not in Melbourne alone), though it would be nice to be told formally of this. Recently a Sydney priest of my acquaintance accepted a $20 stipend to say a Mass.

Anonymous said...

About 2 years ago I went to confession and there was (from the accent)an Indian priest who did not know what indulgences were. (I must have mentioned indulgences in the context of his questioning me as to why I was there since I hadn't committed any mortal sins.) When I tried to explain he said "all prayer and good actions are good". He truly did not know or understand what indulgences were. I left the confessional wondering if he were an imposture-priest and my confession was valid.

Terra said...

RJ - Fortunately validity does not depend on how knowledgable the priest is, but on whether he says the appropriate absolution formula!

It is possible the priest was concerned about whether you had valid matter (ie at least a venial sin) to confess.

But I doubt that was really the problem - I too have had priests question me on why I'm back only a few days later or a week later from my last confession given that I haven't committed any mortal sin.

The idea of the frequent 'confession of devotion', the concept that we should ideally approach communion free even of venial sins, and the concept of indulgences, is completely alien to the modern idea that we are all saints already, even if we hold erroneous views and act on them...

In fact Mulier Fortis wrote a rather good post noting similar experiences a year or so back.

I'm personally in favour of setting up some priestly re-education camps....

R J said...

Maybe I've just been lucky (compared with, say, Anonymous), but on the whole, my experience of priests' knowledge - and of priests' ability to convey this knowledge in a lucid manner - has been persistently fortunate. If there must be priestly re-education camps, surely similar camps could be built to house the more preposterous elements of the laity, such as those purported Catholics (clueless about the entirety of pre-1962 theological literature) who spend all their time appeasing infidels ...

Terra said...

Then you have been fortunate indeed RJ!

In my view, the more purported catholics you allude to are simply following the lead of their priests in the main.

The number of erroneous or dodgy propositions I've heard from the pulpit of the local Dominicans who serve my parish averages close to one a week. Combine that with the failure to teach on key subjects and you get the results we now have.

Yarrawonga real estate said...

Hi Terra,

you have made some really good points here.

I agree with your comments on "doing good works."

So many good things come from doing this.