Peter Kwasniewski

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How the Church recognizes a powerful truth about mankind in traditional Requiem Mass

It is important that we recognize the full metaphysical weight of what we are praying for specifically — not just people, but souls.
Wed Nov 4, 2020 - 6:00 am EST
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November 4, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — On November 2 and at every “requiem” Mass (Mass for the Dead, so called from its frequent prayer “Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis”: Eternal light grant unto them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them — the Introit, the Gradual, and the Communion antiphon all use these words), the traditional liturgy of the Roman Church prays for the souls of the faithful departed. I accentuate the word because it is important that we recognize the full metaphysical weight of what we are praying for specifically.

The fifteenth ecumenical council of the Church, held in Vienne, France between 1311 and 1312, dogmatically defined the following, using the kind of language that every council used prior to, and except for, the Second Vatican Council:

We reject as erroneous and contrary to the truth of the Catholic faith every doctrine or proposition rashly asserting that the substance of the rational or intellectual soul is not of itself and essentially the form of the human body, or casting doubt on this matter. In order that all may know the truth of the faith in its purity and all error may be excluded, we define that anyone who presumes henceforth to assert defend or hold stubbornly that the rational or intellectual soul is not the form of the human body of itself and essentially, is to be considered a heretic.

The council fathers here obliquely refer to Aristotle’s doctrine as mediated by the Scholastics, which we may summarize as follows. Living things grow from within and metamorphose; repair themselves; find their own food; initiate their own acts; reproduce themselves. They exist by nature, not by convention or technology; they possess unity of substance, origin, and actuality. Contrast that with machines: they are assembled from the outside by, ultimately, a non-machine; they do not grow spontaneously; they need outside repair, they are not self-fueling, they must be turned on and off from the outside, they require control and direction, they do not reproduce themselves, and they are many parts, not one substance (their unity is only one of order of parts). Similarly, non-living but natural things, like rocks, have natural properties, but they share none of the special traits of the living. Therefore, reasons Aristotle, there must be a principle in living things that vivifies them, makes them to be alive and to be able to do, and in fact to do, all that they uniquely do. This is the soul (in Greek, psyche; Latin, anima). Modern science has not altered this conclusion one bit, since all it has done is to explain in great detail the material parts of things, all of which are presupposed to living actuality and activity, but none of which accounts for life as such. (For those who wish to read a defense of Aristotle’s view, I recommend Steven Baldner’s “The Soul in the Explanation of Life: Aristotle Against Reductionism.”)

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Thus, returning to Vienne, the Church defines that the rational or intellectual soul of man, that which makes him to be and to be alive as the kind of being he is (rational or intellectual), is the “form” of the human body—that which gives the flesh itself its reality, its vitality, its humanity, its fuctionality. The intellect, as again Aristotle proved, is an essentially immaterial power; Aquinas then demonstrated that such a power is capable of independent existence, although it is not intended to exist independently of the body. This is why he maintains that the resurrection of the flesh is “required” for restoring the integrity of human nature. The human person is a body-soul composite. At death, the soul and body are sundered; the material remains dissolve, and the soul receives its eternal reward, either hell for those who die without sanctifying grace, or heaven for those who die in a state of grace—with a time of purification in purgatory for those who need it, which we can reasonably assume to be most of the faithful. All separated souls desire to have their bodies back, and this will indeed occur at the general judgment at the end of time.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, on this point at least reflecting traditional teaching, reiterates the Council of Vienne: “The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the ‘form’ of the body: … spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature” (CCC 365).

Turning now to the Orations (Collect, Secret, Postcommunion) of the traditional Latin Mass for November 2nd, what do we find?

O God, the Creator and Redeemer of all the faithful: grant to the souls of Thy servants and handmaidens the remission of all their sins: that through our devout prayers, they may obtain that pardon which they have always desired: Who livest and reignest…

Look with mercy, we beseech Thee, O Lord, upon the Sacrifice which we offer to Thee on behalf of the souls of Thy servants and handmaidens; that those to whom Thou didst grant the merit of Christian faith, may likewise receive its reward. Through our Lord…

May the prayer of Thy servants, O Lord, benefit the souls of Thy servants and handmaidens; that Thou mayest deliver them from all their sins and make them partakers of Thy redemption, Who livest and reignest…

The foregoing prayers are typical of all the prayers in the old missal for Masses for the Dead.

In the Novus Ordo missal, in contrast, these three prayers are heavily redacted so that the word “soul” never appears once. There are many other differences, too, that the reader can see for himself:

Listen kindly to our prayers, O Lord, and, as our faith in your Son, raised from the dead, is deepened, so may our hope of resurrection for your departed servants also find new strength. Through our Lord Jesus Christ…

Look favorably on our offerings, O Lord, so that your departed servants may be taken up into glory with your Son, in whose great mystery of love we are all united. Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Grant we pray, O Lord, that your departed servants, for whom we have celebrated this paschal Sacrament, may pass over to a dwelling place of light and peace. Through Christ our Lord.

Again, the above prayers are typical of their genre in the new missal, where we see many lamentable deficiencies:

1. There is the almost total disappearance of the word “soul” (anima). Joseph Ratzinger admitted as much in his book Eschatology: “The idea that to speak of the soul is unbiblical was accepted to such an extent that even the new Roman Missal suppressed the term anima in its liturgy for the dead. It also disappeared from the ritual for burial” (p. 105).

2. The foregoing Collect for the first Mass of All Souls, as we saw above, does not contain any explicit petition for the dead. It speaks of the deepening of our faith in the Risen Christ, and of the strengthening of our hope for the resurrection of the dead. There’s nothing false about it, but it doesn’t give voice to the specific purpose of the Masses of All Souls’ Day, which is supposed to be the function of the Collect.

3. The great Roman Collect quoted above, Fidelium, Deus, omnium Conditor et Redemptor, has vanished from the Novus Ordo liturgy for November 2nd. It can still be found as an option among the orations for Masses for the Dead, but something strange has happened to it: it addresses the Father rather than the Incarnate Son (“Per Dominum nostrum” replaces “Qui vivis”). And—you guessed it—there’s no mention of the souls of God’s servants and handmaids. It’s been edited out.

What we see going on here is another small example (out of thousands) of the triumph of Modernism, which attempts to adapt the Church’s prayer to the Zeitgeist—in this case, liberal biblical criticism that falsely claims the concept of “soul” has no place in Scripture, and embarrassment at speaking in a way frowned upon by materialistic science, which was already refuted over two thousand years ago by the best Greek philosophers. We see a deviation from the unbroken tradition of the Church’s lex orandi, with profound consequences over time for the lex credendi and lex vivendi. If you change the way Catholics pray, you will change what they believe, and how they act. It’s no wonder that the modern Catholic funeral has become a scandal. As André Gushurst-Moore says:

If the idea of the human soul, as something sacred and beyond matter while also existing fully within the physical realm, vanishes from human consciousness, people will live as if their own soul and the souls of others have no existence. It could be agreed, in this sense, that the post-human world has arrived for many in our world, as the sacred and the transcendent disappear from view. (Glory in All Things, 159)

For All Souls, I had the privilege of singing with the schola for a traditional Requiem Mass. It was sublime in every way, especially the chants. Of these, the Sequence Dies Irae—altogether removed from the Novus Ordo Mass for the Dead, but still prayed and sung at the traditional Latin Mass across the world—stands out as an unsurpassable expression of supernatural faith, fear of the Lord, charity for the departed souls, realism and ultimately hope. Hope, after all, is the virtue by which we strive towards difficult things, and salvation, for us sinners, is difficult, at least from a human point of view. Difficult, yes, but worth everything we are, everything we have, everything we can do and suffer.

The photo shows what a true Requiem Mass looks like: facing God, dressed in black, imploring His mercy for the departed souls… souls.


  all souls day, catholic, liturgy

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