Over on his blog, Fr. Dwight Longenecker relates how he knew a priest who could see the dead. Not on demand, presumably, but it supposedly did happen this one time.
If you have not read the post, well, you’d be better off if you don’t. If you have, know that it has a few dangerous misconceptions in it that I would like to put into perspective below.
So What, Objectively, Happened?
Someone who was not actively practicing the heretical Anglican faith of his youth (called Henry in the story) died. The deceased’s brother (here called Daryl) asked a priest of the Anglican sect (Fr. John) to celebrate a Requiem service for the deceased. With the church locked, another heretical priest (Fr. George) said the service, assisted by the first priest whose story this was and the brother.
At the point of communion Daryl was weeping and sensed that Henry was there next to him and that Henry was restless and disturbed. In his own mind Daryl told Henry not to be frightened. They were praying for him to meet Jesus.
While I cannot say for sure what happened here, the most likely explanation is that the presence that Daryl sensed was not his brother, but a demon.
There are a very few incidences that I have read about in this book on purgatory of souls spending small portions of their purgatory on earth. It is not at all common. But this story cannot be about such a soul. Any soul undergoing such purgation would not have been restless, disturbed, or frightened, as they are already assured heaven. Saddened, yes, but not disturbed.
(Incidentally, those who were having the service need not have prayed for Henry to meet Jesus; however it had ultimately turned out, by this point Henry had already met Jesus as the just judge who presided over the particular judgement of his soul.)
After the service, Daryl and the priests discussed how they all experienced Henry’s presence:
“I saw Henry just as solid and real as you are now.”
“What happened then?”
“He knelt next to you at the communion rail, and after Mass he went out into the East end of the church and upward into the morning light”
Fr. George said, “I sensed his presence too, but didn’t see him. He was in my mind as John described him.”
Neither priest knew Henry who lived in the USA. This took place in England.
All of this can be explained as a trick of demons.
Demons, like all angels, are capable of presenting images to humans. These images are sometimes more, sometimes less distinct.
Demons, being spiritual beings, are not limited by distance as humans are. A demon could easily ascertain Henry’s outward appearance just by thinking about him. Angels “see” by casting their mind to the concept of the thing they wish to know. We reason our way to concepts through experiencing particular things through our senses; angels start with the concepts, and then move on to the particular thing they wish to know.
Once the demon or demons had ascertained Henry’s physical appearance, they could easily have suggested images of him to Fr. John.
Honestly, it is likelier that a demon or demons would deceive a few heretics in the middle of a blasphemous “mass” than it is that God would favor a few heretics with a vision of the deceased ascending into heaven at that moment, making it appear as if the heretical service was a font of grace for the dead heretic’s soul.
The Service Was Not A Mass
I also want to discuss the Mass for a minute. Father writes:
The requiem Mass was effective in applying the saving love of Christ to the needs of a suddenly departed soul. It was the Mass which was effective and it would have been if anyone had been able to see the dead or not.
What do you make of the fact that the Eucharist was Anglican and not “properly Catholic”? The church teaches that God is not limited by his sacraments. That an Anglican Eucharist is beneficial and may be a means of grace is not disputed by the Catholic Church. At the same time the Church teaches that it is not a fully valid Catholic Mass.
This requiem Mass was no Mass at all. Even if it weren’t an artificial service concocted by Thomas Cramner for a schismatic sect (that is, if the rites had been valid), the fact that the celebrant was an Anglican means that no Mass took place. Pope Leo XIII was very clear about the status of Anglican orders in his encyclical Apostolicae Curae, where he says:
ordinations carried out according to the Anglican rite have been, and are, absolutely null and utterly void.
All the men in this story are laymen. If there is no priest, there is no Mass, and no graces from a Mass to be applied to the deceased.
Sure, God is not limited by His sacraments, but He is mocked by those who practice false ones. Anglican Eucharist is not beneficial; it is blasphemous. It is only beneficial to the extent that it teaches those who attend it morsels of the truth. But because the service is “not a fully valid Catholic Mass”, it is wholly blasphemous. In and of itself, it could not have been a means of grace, because its essence is blasphemy.
To Sum Up
The likeliest explanation for the events in the story is demonic intervention. What happens in the story is not only not how God usually works, it is not how He rarely works. We should pray for the souls of the departed, but not necessarily trust our eyes, especially when miraculous visions show us what we’d desperately like to see.
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