Yesterday, I celebrated a Votive Mass “ad postulandam gratiam bene moriendi… to beg for the grace of dying well”. Let’s have a look at the COLLECT for the Mass to ask for a good death.
Omnipotens et misericors Deus, qui humano generi et salutis remedia, et vitae aeternae munera contulisti: respice propitius nos famulos tuos, et animas refove, quas absque peccati macula tibi, Creatori suo per manus sanctorum Angelorum repraesentari mereantur.
This is pretty straight forward. You see the et… et… construction. Refoveo is “to warm, cherish again, revive”.
Almighty and merciful God, who conferred upon the human race both the remedies of salvation and the gifts of eternal life: propitiously regard us your servants, and restore the souls which, without the stain of sin, might merit by the hands of Holy Angels to be brought before you, their Creator.
One of the things I noticed right away is a parallel with the orations offered in Masses “Pro infirmis… for the sick (close to death)“, which I have also been using pretty often. Note the phrase… “Omnipotens et misericors Deus, qui humano generi et salutis remedia, et vitae aeternae munera contulisti: respice propitius nos famulos tuos infirmitate corporis laborantes, et animas refove, quas creasti; ut, in hora exitus earum, absque peccati macula tibi Creatori suo per manus sanctorum Angelorum repraesentari mereantur.” I’ve underscored the variations.
I am not surprised that they applied the same prayer in these different votive Masses. In a sense, we are all of us – right now – sick and near to death. Death could come at any moment to any one of us, sick or in the peak of life.
Yesterday, I posted about saying the Votive Mass for a good death to which I added also the orations “pro inimicis“. I mentioned St. Thomas More’s letter to Henry VIII in which the saint, about to be executed, hoped that he and Henry (by all accounts inimical to Thomas) might be happy together in heaven some day. A beautiful sentiment. We desire, or ought, for all the happiness of heaven, even though we know that not all will attain that happiness. We have to die a good death in order to attain heaven. Therefore, there is a prayer of St. Thomas More for a good death extracted from his treatise on the Passion:
Good Lord, give me the grace
so to spend my life,
that when the day of my death shall come,
though I may feel pain in my body,
I may feel comfort in soul;
and with faithful hope in thy mercy,
in due love towards thee
and charity towards the world,
I may, through thy grace,
part hence into thy glory.
Charity towards the world.
The “pro inimicis” addition stems from the fact that we are admonished by the Son of God Himself that if we do not forgive people with whom you are out of sort, we will not be forgiven. In Matthew, when Christ teaches his disciples to pray, and He teaches what is the Lord’s Prayer, he explains only one thing in it: “if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Pretty straight forward.
Since I don’t want to blow it by harboring ill will against people who are, these days, seriously inimical to me, I am praying for them.
It is hard to remain angry at people for whom you are regularly praying.
It is important to conduct a regular and exacting examination of conscience, so that we can know ourselves as well as we can, and discover that which needs correction. While perfection is not possible for human beings in this life, we ought to strive to be always better. Why? Because God gave us the gift of existence and in gratitude we are obliged to use it properly and also because we want what He wants for and offers to all us images: the happiness of heaven.
Knowing our imperfections and not knowing what lies beyond that door of death, we struggle with fear of death. Some struggle more than others, particularly because they have no hope for or about eternal life. The grave, for them, is the goal. Even those who are convinced about the life to come will sometimes struggle with fear of death.
Augustine describes fear of death as “hiemps cotidiana… our daily winter”. It gives us a chill. When we stay still and stop doing all sorts of things and give ourselves time to think about who we are and where we are headed, timor mortis pops in for a visit. Therefore, too often we launch ourselves into all sorts of activities or entertainments to distract from fear of death.
I think this has had terrible consequences for wide swathes of well-off society. We have so many distractions and allurements that we never have to think about death at all. So it scares us even more than it has to and it takes more and more people by terrifying surprise.
Surely you’ve heard of the Four Ends for Holy Mass: Adoration… Thanksgiving… Atonement… Petition.
There is an overarching reason for going to Mass and for these Four Ends: we are going to die some day and go before the Just Judge to render an account. This is why I sometimes say that the way that Mass is celebrated should help us all get ready for death. That doesn’t mean moping around or being lugubrious. It does, however, suggest a certain gravitas, decorum, the need for prayers that reflect the reality of our spiritual condition along with expressions of those Four Ends. Not only prayers, but also architecture… music… vestments… style of movement and gesture… everything. If Mass does not have those elements which help your self-reflection and preparation for death… then… something important is missing.
So, having a Votive Mass explicitly to beg from God the grace of dying well is a real gift. It is good to drill into the orations, so carefully chosen by the Church over the centuries.
And, as always, let us pray that God will save us from a sudden and unprovided death.
GO TO CONFESSION!