Proficiscere

It is Maundy Thursday. Today is the day that for millennia Christians have gathered to consecrate oil for anointing. For my part I have made a point to revisit the related venerable rites. The oil. The garden. Life. Death.

In facing our modern existence, one practicing Catholic priest wrote:

the whole family no longer gathers around the bed of a dying person in order to pray as one of its members departs and to invoke the Holy Trinity and a varied retinue of angels and saints, thus locating each Christian death within the biblical framework of the history of salvation and associating it with the vast company of the redeemed, the liberated, the saved.

The life-style which the people of the twentieth century have adopted or have had forced upon them may have freed them from sexual taboos, but it has tended to defraud them of their deaths. It is clear that in the urban existence which is becoming that of the majority of the human race, most people meet death and will continue to meet it in hospitals or nursing homes or in accidents on the highways; their death will be either collectivized or sudden and unexpected. [n1]

Father Damien made his comments when analyzing the Proficiscere, the first prayer in the Roman ritual for the dying. The earliest written text is included in two eighth-century Gelasian sacramentaries. He rightly notes that death is different now. Attenuation or accident. They seem our most common options. We have our own tradition of death bed rites, and we face the same challenges in adaptation. Still as we take the holy chrism from Gethsemane we offer a similar prayer:

Go forth from this world, Christian soul, in the name of God the almighty Father who created you, in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, who suffered for you, in the name of the Holy Spirit, who has been poured out upon you, in the name of the angels and archangels, in the name of the thrones and dominations, in the name of the principalities and powers and all the heavenly virtues, in the name of the cherubim and seraphim, in the name of the patriarchs and prophets, in the name of the apostles and martyrs, in the name of the confessors and bishops, in the name of the priests and deacons and the whole hierarchy of the Catholic Church, in the name of the monks and hermits, in the name of the virgins and the faithful widows. May his dwelling be established in peace this day and his home be in the heavenly Jerusalem!

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  1. Damian Sicard, “Preparation for Death and Prayer for the Dying,” in Temple of the Holy Spirit: Sickness and Death of the Christian in the Liturgy, Matthew J. O’Connell, trans. (New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1983), 245.

Comments

  1. J., you’re a poet. This is a season where we can rise with Christ from death. I love it, and I love your perspective.

  2. Thanks, J.

  3. Jason K. says:

    That prayer is amazing, J. Thanks for this.

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