Thursday, 25 April 2013

ANZAC Day: Praying for the fallen

Australian troops charging Ottoman trenches just before the evacuation
 at ANZAC Cove 1915
War Department. (1789 - 09/18/1947)
Today is ANZAC Day, surely by far Australia's most important national holiday, when we recall all those who have fought in wars for Australia.

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.


Joshua said...

Today, according to the calendar for the OF in Australia, the priest is to say the special Mass for ANZAC Day, with the following propers, which explicitly pray for eternal rest for those who have died in war, the key phrase being that of the Entrance Antiphon - "the dead who die in the Lord":

Entrance Antiphon

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. Let them rest from their labours, for their good deeds go with them. (Cf. Rev. 14:13)


Almighty everlasting God, who sent your Son to die that we might live, grant, we pray, eternal rest to those who gave themselves in service and sacrifice for their country. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Prayer over the Offerings

Grant, O heavenly Father, that the sacrifice of Christ, who laid down his life for his friends, may raise all those who have died in war to the victory of eternal life. Through Christ our Lord.

Communion Antiphon

Greater love has no one than to lay down his life for his friends, says the Lord. (Cf. Jn 15:13)

Prayer after Communion

By our communion with this Sacrament, O Lord, grant us, we pray, fortitude in the cause of right, and may our remembrance of those who have died in war make us ardent defenders of your peace. Through Christ our Lord.

Kate Edwards said...

Good to know, thanks for that Joshua.

At least those at ANZAC Masses will have some appropriate theology directed at them, even if they escape it at funerals!

Is it formally a Requiem though? It matters, since the merits of a Requiem are explicitly directed to the dead rather than the living, whereas a normal Mass, however directed its propers, have wider application.

Joshua said...

Let's not split hairs - given the obvious import of the Collect, if it's not a Requiem, what is it?

(Of course, it is not just about praying for dead - see the Prayer after Communion - but it is primarily so, I would argue.)

Kate Edwards said...

Hmm, I'm not sure that it is splitting hairs Joshua.

The dead can be prayed for as an intention at a Mass for the living of course, and that is a good thing.

But it is still a mass for the living as well, as well as for the benefit of those present.

I agree that a votive Mass for ANZAC Day is to be preferred to nothing at all.

But a Requiem is objectively better for the purpose of getting souls out of purgatory, with the merits more especially directed to the dead rather than those present, hence the omission of the final blessing.

Fr Ripperger FSSP in an article on the merits of the Mass originally published in Latin Mass Magazine actually wrote:

"This is why the General Instruction of the Roman Missal of the new rite of Mass is problematic when it said that Masses for the dead should be said sparingly because the dead are already remembered during the Mass. The actual Mass for the dead has fruits which specifically benefit the dead."

Joshua said...

I think you are being too mechanistic here - shades of late degenerate scholasticism!

Now, the ANZAC Day Mass is NOT a Votive - it is the appointed Mass of the day.

As its Collect and Secret (Prayer over the Offerings) makes clear, its purpose is to beg the Lord to grant eternal rest to those who have died in war. Hence, it is a Mass for the Dead (a "Requiem", if you will, though with a different text for the Introit or Entrance Antiphon).

Its Postcommunion (Prayer after Communion) prays specifically for the living - as may be argued to be appropriate directly after those present have received the Body and Blood of Christ.

And don't think that a Mass for the Dead doesn't benefit the living and those present! - for at every Mass, in the Canon (or, in the OF, in whatever Eucharistic Prayer is employed), the Pope, bishop, all those "standing around" (circumstantes), etc. are prayed for, and they are all alive; and, of course, all who attend the Mass, let alone receive Holy Communion, gain inestimable graces.

The fruits of the Mass are threefold: the general fruit (for the salvation of the world, for the living and the dead, for all and sundry, that grace and glory, peace and blessings be bestowed), the special fruit (that is, blessings of whatever sort appropriate to the specific end for which Mass is offered; and also a special portion for the offerer of the stipend of that particular Mass, those in attendance at it, etc.), and the most special fruit (for the celebrant himself, as the sacrificing priest).

Does the fact that the Postcommunion is for the living, not for the dead as the other prayers of the Mass are, make this ANZAC Day Mass deficient - as if it gained for the dead diggers only 2/3 of the merits of a "proper" Requiem! By no means, that would be madness!

As the merits of Calvary are infinite, sufficient to save a million worlds a million times over, could such a thing be, there is quite enough of the "special fruit" of the ANZAC Day Mass to go around - it is not as if there are slender pickings to be rationed out, but rather there is more than enough for all.

Frankly, such a hermeneutic of suspicion is rather unfortunate to display on ANZAC Day: by your theory, EF Requiem Masses are ipso facto more powerful than OF ANZAC Day Masses, which is, I think, verging on the heretical - the self-same Divine Victim is offered up at both, and for the same primary end: to pray for those who died in war. The fact that, in the Canon of the Mass, and other prayers, other purposes are also prayed for, cannot subtract from this.

The Church has forbidden the abuse of having more than one intention at Mass, yes; but, by the very fact that the present ANZAC Day Mass has been approved by the Holy See, it is in no way a violation of that rule, but rather it is one moral unity, for which intercession is made.

Kate Edwards said...

First to take your last point first, it is by no means heretical to hold that one Mass has inherently more value than another. It is true of course that the sacrifice is the same sacrifice, of infinite value. Each Mass is infinite in the glory it gives to God.

But in terms of its other effects, while grace is infinite, we are not, hence the amount of 'value' that can be captured, or rather applied to any particular person is finite.

That is the reason after all, that one traditionally has more than one mass said for the repose of a dead person.

And in terms of that merit, the 'extrinsic' value of a Mass that stems from things like the degree of ceremonial used, the number of people present, and so forth does differ.

You can read more on this here:,%20F.S.S.P.).pdf

Hence it actually is important what kind of Mass is offered on a particular day.

I'm certainly glad to learn that the Mass set for the day in the new calendar does in fact recognise the importance of praying for the dead. But I'm still inclined to think that the switch from a straight Requiem to a Mass for the living (however good its prayers) reflects the shift in theology I was commenting on in this post.

I guess I think that what is at stake is this: are we on ANZAC Day simply 'remembering' our service men and women, and celebrating the legacy they fought to protect, or is there something deeper at stake?

The Requiem Mass omits many things associated with joy. By shifting away from this, has ANZAC Day been subtly shifted in the direction of been sanitisation and secularisation in the same way that funerals have been, with white vestments and so forth?

The secular ceremonies of ANZAC Day are, as I pointed out in the post, becoming increasingly popular, and I'd guess the composition of a Mass specially for the day was in part a counter to the ambivalent view of ANZAC Day that prevailed in the Australian Church in some places for some time, due to its opposition to conscription in WWI. But as someone pointed out last week, ANZAC Day is not just another 'Big Day Out'.

So I do think it is important to reflect on how we celebrate it, and whether we have the theology of the day quite right, particularly in the broader context of the neglect of the Church Suffering.