This November (2022), the month of the holy souls, when holy Church remembers the faithful departed with a particular focus, the Titular Archbishop of Selsey has approved the creation of a Guild of Holy Souls for the benefit of the faithful attached to Old Roman missions and oratories.
By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.Genesis 3:19
Purpose of the Guild
The Guild of Holy Souls exists to encourage and facilitate prayer for the repose of the souls of all the faithful departed and to provide assistance to Old Romans desirous of a traditional Catholic burial.
In today’s contemporary society where cremation and other forms of disposal have become common place, a need exists to provide assistance for those who would prefer a traditional Catholic burial for themselves or their loved ones. The Guild of Holy Souls seeks to provide advice, guidance and practical assistance to such persons as well as pray for the souls of their loved ones.
A traditional Catholic funeral consists of three main parts: the Vigil (sometimes called the “Wake”), the Requiem Mass, and the Burial and informal after-burial gatherings. If anyone wants to eulogize the deceased, the Vigil or, especially, the after-burial gathering are the times to do it; eulogies are not permitted at the traditional Requiem Mass.
It is a Spiritual Work of Mercy to pray for the dead
We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.1 Thess 4:13-14
If Catholics pray for those still on earth, why not continue to pray for them after they die? Some Christians would reply that immediately after death, you go directly to heaven or to hell. If you’re in heaven, you have no need of prayers. If you’re in hell, prayers will do you no good. In short, they don’t pray for the dead because they don’t believe, as Catholics do, in purgatory.
Sacred Scripture and Tradition affirm that God’s ultimate intention is for us to become perfect, as He is perfect, to become like Him so that we can know, love, and enjoy Him fully in heaven forever (see Matthew 5:48, Hebrews 12:14; 1 John 3:2–3). In fact, heaven simply wouldn’t be heaven unless those who lived there had been perfected. If we were to bring along with us all the sins and weaknesses we have in this life, we would be just as miserable in heaven as we are on earth — for all eternity!
Yes, Christ died to forgive us our sins and save us. But even those who have escaped, through His infinite merits, the penalty of hell — an eternity without God — find that sin has countless other consequences. It disorders our souls, injures others, and leaves us overly attached to things we love more than we love God.
If we’re to live with God forever, then, we must be healed and make amends. If we’re selfish, we must learn to love. If we’re deceitful, we must become truthful. If we’re addicted, we must break the addictions. If we’re bitter, we must forgive.
Whether in this life or the next, however, God doesn’t wave a magic wand, bypassing our free will, to fix us. Instead, we must cooperate with His grace to undo what we have done: paying our debts, letting go of whatever binds us, straightening out whatever is crooked within us.
This process has already begun in our lives on earth. Through doing penance and accepting in faith the inescapable sufferings of this life, we can be purged of sin’s effects and grow in holiness. Nevertheless, few seem to be perfect when they leave this world. They still need some purification, a painful but purging “fire,” as Scripture calls it (see 1 Corinthians 3:14–15).
That’s precisely why we pray and offer Masses for those in purgatory. As Scripture tells us, our intercession helps them: “For it is . . . a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins” (2 Maccabees 12:46, Douay).
It is a Corporal Work of Mercy to bury the dead
My son, shed tears for one who is dead, with wailing and bitter lament; As is only proper, prepare the body, and do not absent yourself from the burial.Sirach 38:16
For Christians, burial is not the disposal of a thing. It is caring for a person. In burial, we’re reminded that the body is not a shell, a husk tossed aside by the “real” person, the soul within. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6–8; Phil. 1:23), but the body that remains still belongs to someone, someone we love, someone who will reclaim it one day.
Our father Abraham did not “dispose” of the “container” previously occupied by his loved one. Moses tells us that “Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah east of Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan” (Gen. 23:19, emphasis mine). His burial of his wife, returning her to the dust from which she came, honored our foremother, in precise distinction from the shamefulness with which our God views the leaving of bodies to decompose publicly (Is. 5:25).
The Gospel of John tells us that “Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days” (John 11:17). The Holy Spirit chose to identify this body as Lazarus, communicating continuity with the very same person Jesus had loved before and would love again.
The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy; it honours the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit, the body of its deceased member. The perennial tradition of the Church is unequivocal in its insistence that the body, in its entirety, be returned to the earth, in a way that allows for the natural process of its decomposition and re-integration with its primordial source – the soil of which it was formed. It also insists that in the interim between death and interment, the integrity and dignity of the body be respected and preserved.
How the Guild of Holy Souls helps
Each Old Roman mission or oratory will have a Guild, and local members will contribute regularly, and as they are able, to the Guild Fund, holding monies in common that may be used discretionarily to provide financial assistance for bereaved relatives to cover the cost of a traditional Catholic burial. If cremation is necessary for financial reasons, as is increasingly common, or because of the threat of disease, the remains must still be interred; they can’t be scattered.
The members of the Guilds will meet regularly, at least once a month, to pray for the faithful departed and assist at the offering of a Requiem Mass. The Guild members will also be responsible for maintaining a Chantry Book for their mission or oratory, in which the names of the associated faithful departed will be inscribed by month of their passing, in order that they may be remembered at the appropriate monthly Requiem to their anniversary of death.
Traditional Catholics may apply to the Guild Treasurer of the local Old Roman mission/oratory, or be referred by the priest, detailing the costs/shortfall required. Applications may be made for assistance to cover the cost of embalming, coffins(/caskets), burial plots, burial clothes, and the traditional funeral rites. All applications will be considered discretionarily and amounts granted will be dependent on the reserves of the local Guild’s common fund.
Details about the erection of the Guilds and their constitutions will be made available soon on theoldroman.com website.
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