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Praying for the Departed

What power does the Evil One have over the faithful departed?
by Father Edward McNamara, LC | Source: Zenit.org

QUESTION: What power does the Evil One have over the faithful departed? -- D.S., Lincoln, Nebraska

The text of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) for vespers of Wednesday of Week 3 (that is, the English translation used in the United States) has the following intercession: "Be merciful to the faithful departed / -- keep them from the power of the Evil One." Someone asked: What power does the Evil One have over the faithful departed? I didn't have a satisfying answer. I thought that it was a matter of a poor translation, but I looked up the text in Officium Divinum, Liturgia Horarum, Iuxta Ritum Romanum, and found the following text: "Misericordiam tuam fratribus nostris concede defunctis / -- neque in potestatem maligni spiritus tradas eos." In view of the Church teaching on the particular judgment -- and that the prayer seems to be talking about the departed, not the dying -- I was at a loss to explain the meaning of this intercession. -- D.S., Lincoln, Nebraska


These intercessions were composed quite quickly during the 1960s. Even though they are found in the liturgical books, their nature as intercessions means that they are a rather weak source from the doctrinal point of view. It is therefore quite possible that some infelicitious expressions might have slipped through the textual revisions.

Also, since the liturgical norms allow bishops' conferences wide leeway in composing new intercessions for the Liturgy of the Hours, not all translations will present the difficulty highlighted by our correspondent. Indeed, the version of the breviary used in most English-speaking countries contains a completely different text for the day in question.

That said, while the controversial text can lead to misinterpretations, I believe it is subject to a perfectly orthodox interpretation.

If we take the second part of the intercession as a distinct statement, we run up against a problem for, as our reader points out, the departed receive an immediate particular judgment, after which the Evil One has no power over those who enter either heaven or purgatory.

However, the two parts of the intercession must be seen as an integral whole. And, indeed, one of the forms of proclaiming this intercession is for the priest to say the entire prayer with the people giving a common response as in done in the prayers of the faithful at Mass.

In this case, the expression "Keep them from the power of the Evil One" is intimately tied to the petition "Be merciful" addressed to God.

Thus we ask that God's mercy be expressed in not allowing those who have died to fall into the power of the Evil One. As such, the prayer most likely refers to the moment of judgment itself as the venue where this mercy and this prevention of Satan's dominion is exercised.

In this way the petition is not essentially different from many other of the Church's prayers for the departed in which God's mercy is invoked for the souls of the deceased. That the particular judgment is immediately after death has never impeded the Church recommending prayer for the dead.

God is not limited to our categories of time and space, and even when we pray for those who have passed away long after they have gone, or even pray generically for the dead, we know that God will use the prayer to greatest advantage.

* * *

Follow-up: May Crownings of Mary

Related to our comments on May crownings (see
May 6), a reader from the state of Washington asked:

“Regarding the crowning of Mary during the month of May, is this something that is normally included during holy Mass? I ask this because the time-honored tradition here in our cathedral is that the Blessed Mother is crowned inside the church either during or after holy Mass and on a special day other than Mother's Day. Last year the new priest moved it all outside on Mother's Day, a secular holiday.

"Normally this would not seem so important, yet all of the Church's holidays or seasons are being changed to celebrate the seasons, which I am told is a pagan tradition. Advent is now become 'Harvest Festival.' Lent is now become 'the Miracle of Spring.' Easter is now 'Happy Resurrection Day,' and so on. And it appears that now our Blessed Mother is gradually being moved out of the Church.”

As mentioned in our previous column, there is no official rite for a May crowning.

Unlike the solemn crowning of an image by the bishop, it would not be liturgically correct to perform the popular devotion of May crowning within Mass. It may be done, however, immediately before or after.

There is nothing that would impede the May crowning of a statue of Our Lady that is within a church if this is the custom. It is sometimes more practical, however, to crown an outside statue.

From what our reader commented, I surmise that the new priest has acted in good faith out of practical and pastoral concerns. After all, he has transferred, not abolished, the practice of a May crowning.

It is quite possible that the new setting allows for a more spontaneous and festive tribute to Our Lady than within the church.

While we all lament the secularization of Christian feasts, I think that the choice of Mother’s Day is not incongruent. After all, Mary is our Blessed Mother and this action is a way of filially honoring her as both our mother and our queen.

Perhaps the priest has been influenced by the practice in some Latin American countries which celebrate Mother’s Day on May 10. It is not infrequent in these countries to have special devotions to Mary on this day.

Certainly a new pastor should always move with prudence and consultation before changing legitimate and long-established parish customs. In the end, however, he must decide on what he believes is in the best interest for the good of the souls entrusted to him.

* * *

Readers may send questions to liturgy@zenit.org. Please put the word "Liturgy" in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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