Friday, June 7, 2013

Praying the Office of the Dead

On the spiritual page of the Catholic Times, the columnist recalled a talk with a younger priest who reminisced about a visit to a Catholic village in the country, where he grew up. Having been always interested in what it meant to grow up in a Catholic village, the columnist asked the priest to give him an idea of what it was like living in such a village.

He told him how the family would kneel every morning and evening before the crucifix to say their morning and evening prayers. In those days, the priest said, if you did not say your prayers you would not eat--so you prayed.The rosary was a family prayer every day. Each month, during a feast day, they would be visited by the priest for Mass, with the children scrubbed clean and wearing their best clothes. 

Since all were Catholics, each  family's sadness or joy would be experienced by the whole village. He remembers when there was a death. His father would take him by the hand to the home of the deceased for the prayers of the dead. The priest mentioned that the prayers and routines were always the same, but the attitude of the villagers was different than it is today.  It was not simply praying for the one who was deceased, but rather we were all the deceased who were imploring God to look down on us and be merciful. As an example of what he meant, he said that all of them prayed to the Blessed Mother and the saints  to intercede for the deceased. But we, in the place of the deceased, were asking the Blessed Mother to implore her son to look down on us who also have died. Since the deceased is no longer able to pray, we do so in solidarity with the deceased. Even as a child, not knowing much about death, in praying the prayers for the dead he felt a great relief from the recitation of the prayers. He has never been able to forget, he said, the feeling he had after those prayers.Today, when he goes to a home or a funeral parlor to pray the same prayers, he returns home with a feeling of loss. How can he explain his feeling? he muses.  It isn't that they didn't pray, but it wasn't what he felt praying as a child growing up.

The columnist ends by saying that he felt a shiver in his whole body when the priest was speaking about what the prayers for the dead meant for him as a child. The villagers were meeting God in the person of the deceased, all anxious for the sake of the deceased. He would like this kind of thinking to return as an intangible inheritance of faith from the past.