Chapter VII of the Pastoral Care rites is titled, “Prayers for the Dead.” It’s a brief chapter, only nine sections (223-231), but a very important pastoral outreach to the mourners of the dead. A three-section introduction:
223. This chapter contains prayers for use by a minister who has been called to attend a person who is already dead. A priest is not to administer the sacraments of penance or anointing. Instead, he should pray for the dead person using these or similar prayers.
224. It may be necessary to explain to the family of the person who is dead that sacraments are celebrated for the living, not for the dead, and that the dead are effectively helped by the prayers of the living.
225. To comfort those present the minister may conclude these prayers with a simple blessing or with a symbolic gesture, for example, making the sign of the cross on the forehead. A priest or deacon may sprinkle the body with holy water.
The time and place of death is not the place for a stern lesson in who gets sacraments. Obviously, the priest or minister cannot give sacraments to the dead, but the rituals offered are for the living. A shrug of the shoulders will not comfort the loved ones. The prayers must be offered, and the gestures and symbols must be added whenever the family and friends are expecting spiritual comfort. The priest or deacon must be prepared with holy water.
In the next post, we’ll look at these prayers and assess how the minister can best serve the mourners with liturgy. Meantime, any comments?