Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Protestants, Wakes, and Purgatory

Growing up in Massachusetts when someone died, they held a Wake. My understanding always was that this was called a "wake" because in the old days the body lay in the family home and people took turns staying awake with the body and praying for the soul of the deceased throughout the night. Of course family and friends would come and pray and offer condolences and eat and talk, etc. A priest (or the Knights of Columbus) would lead the rosary. Growing up I never happened to wonder what Protestants did.

Moving to South Carolina, many Catholics don't know the term "wake". They call it "the rosary" (people gather in the Church where the body lies the night before the funeral and say the rosary). Or they (and Protestants) call it "the viewing" or sometimes "the visitation", where, the deceased lies in an open casket and the family forms a reception line. Much like a wake, except people don't hang around after going through the reception line and of course there is no praying for the dead at Protestant visitations.

We went to a visitation tonight. Our neighbor's wife of 57 years died on Sunday - may she rest in peace. She will be buried from the Timrod Road Baptist Church tomorrow.

I took my eldest son Nicholas to the visitation. He has never been to one before. I told him to watch and listen (and pray) and then we would discuss on the way home. The greatest impression he had was of the lifelessness of the body of the deceased.

This lifelessness is impressed on me at every wake. It is amazing how the soul brings life to even one in a deep sleep. When the soul has departed, it is unmistakable.

In the last few years I have been to an atheist's funeral (the despair among the family of the deceased was heart-breaking), to a visitation in a rural Black Baptist Church, and to my Father's wake - may his soul rest in peace.

Nothing compares on to a Catholic wake. There is more crying and more true joy than anywhere else on earth except for maybe at a birth or a wedding. This true joy is a result of the Truth concerning God's mercy - not that the departed is automatically in Heaven because they were a daily beadsman or a "good Christian" - (this not only contradicts Holy Scripture - only the unblemished make walk in God's presence) - but because we know that God gives those of us that departed 'faithfully' a 2nd chance to become purified in Purgatory; that we on earth can help our beloved enter into Heaven sooner with our sacrifices and prayers.

The Catholic theology of Purgatory is such a consolation and philosophically makes so much sense.

If I may, a short excerpt from the Preface of Daily Prayers for the Church Suffering - a daily commitment to praying for the Holy Soul in Purgatory (Requiem Press) :

"Purgatory is truly a grace of God because it is the nature of God which demands that those approaching be unblemished, and thus without purgatory, many would never reach Heaven.

"St. Catherine of Genoa wrote that the soul, upon death, finally free of worldly attachments, is able to see itself as it really is; seeing the stains from its sins and desiring God, the soul throws itself into the fires of purgatory to be cleansed in preparation for the audience with God.

"With all this Catholic tradition, however, it seems that prayers for the holy souls in purgatory have waned as a private devotion in recent years. Funeral notices for Catholics rarely plead for Masses to be said for the departed. The Truth that God is all-merciful has been distorted to exclude the notion of purgatory – even though this exclusion distorts the true nature of God and the true nature of God’s mercy."

And a prayer:

LORD God Almighty, I beseech Thee, by the Precious Blood which Thy Divine Son shed on this day, upon the wood of the cross, from His most sacred hands and feet, deliver the souls in purgatory and especially that soul for which I am most bound to pray; that the blame rest not with me that Thou bringst it not forthwith to praise Thee in Thy glory and to bless Thee forever. Amen.

Psalm 129, "DE PROFUNDIS"

Out of the depths I have cried unto Thee, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let Thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication.
If Thou, O Lord, shalt mark our iniquities: O Lord, who can abide it?
For with Thee there is mercy, and by reason of Thy Law I have waited on Thee, O Lord.
My soul hath waited on His word; my soul hath hoped in the Lord.
From the morning watch even until night let Israel hope in the Lord.
For with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is plentiful redemption.
And He shall redeem Israel from all her iniquities.

Eternal rest give to them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.

Oremus pro invicem! - Let us pray for each other!

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