|c15th illuminaton of Office of the Dead|
Today is the eve of All Saints, aka Halloween, a night when traditionally the veil between heaven, hell, purgatory and earth was thought to thin.
Medieval sermon collections and other works directed at the laity are full of stories of the dead appearing on this night to beg desperately for prayers to free them, as well as of demons and those in hell acting to scare us back to an awareness of the reality of the supernatural world.
These days there are endless debates amongst Catholics infected by political correctness as to the appropriateness/catholicity of Halloween celebrations. Personally, I'm with those who think we do need a reminder of the reality of death, demons and the workers of evil....
So how should we respond to this annual reminder?
The Office of the Dead
Well getting ready to say the Office of the Dead regularly through November would be one excellent way.
'I will please the Lord in the land of the living' is the antiphon, taken from Psalm 114, that opens Vespers in the Office of the Dead (the Office of the Dead, remember consists of I Vespers, Matins and Lauds). In fact Vespers of the Dead consists of Psalms 114, 119, 120, 129, and 137.
The antiphon is a prompt to do good works while we still can, and thus accumulate merit, as well as teaching that praying for the dead is something that pleases God.
If you say the Office regularly using the Diurnal, you will say the psalms and prayers of the Office of the Dead at least twice during November anyway, on All Souls and All Souls of the Benedictine Order. So why not say one or more hours of it more a few more times, on behalf of your dead family and friends, and the souls in purgatory more generally? Note that there is a partial indulgence attached to saying either Lauds or Vespers of this Office...
How to say the Office of the Dead
I've previously written about the rules around when the Office of the Dead can or should be said here. And I've posted on the rubrics for the Office.
For those interested in penetrating the meaning of the psalms, and understanding the Latin of that Office in more depth, over at Psallam Domino I'm currently working through Psalm 22 (The Lord is my shepherd), said at Matins, verse by verse. I then plan to move onto Vespers, looking at Psalm 114 in particular.