Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 16

Saint Odilo of ClunyArticle

Relief of the Holy Souls – Liturgy of the Church – Commemoration of the Dead – Saint Odilo

Holy Church possesses a special liturgy for the dead: it is composed of vespers, matins, lauds and of the Mass commonly called the Mass of Requiem. This liturgy, as touching as it is sublime, through mourning and tears unfolds to the eyes of the faithful the consoling light of eternity. This liturgy she reads at the funerals of her children, and particularly on the solemn day of the Commemoration of the Dead. Holy Mass here holds the first place; it is like the divine center round which all other prayers and ceremonies cluster. The day following All Saints’ Day, the great solemnity of All Souls, all priests must offer the Holy Sacrifice for the dead; at which the faithful make it their duty to assist, and even to offer Holy Communion, prayers and alms, for the relief of their brethren in Purgatory. This feast of the departed is not of very ancient origin. From the beginning the Church has always prayed for her departed children: she sang psalms, recited prayers, offered Holy Mass for the repose of their souls. Yet we do not see that there was any particular feast on which to recommend to God all the dead in general. It was not until the tenth century that the Church, always guided by the Holy Ghost, instituted the Commemoration of all the faithful departed, to encourage the faithful to fulfill the great duty of prayer for the dead, prescribed by Christian charity.

The cradle of this touching solemnity was the Abbey of Cluny. Saint Odilo, who was Abbot there at the close of the tenth century, edified all France by his charity towards his neighbor. Extending his compassion even to the dead, he ceased not to pray for the souls in Purgatory. It was this tender charity which inspired him to establish in his monastery, as also in its dependencies, the feast of the commemoration of all the souls departed. We believe, says the historian Berault, that he had received a revelation to that effect, for God manifested in a miraculous manner how pleasing to Him was the devotion of His servant. It is thus related by his biographers. Whilst the holy Abbot governed his monastery in France, a pious hermit lived in a little island off the coast of Sicily. A French pilgrim was cast upon the shore of this little island by a tempest. The hermit, whom he went to visit, asked him if he knew the Abbot Odilo. “Certainly,” replied the pilgrim, “I know him, and am proud of his acquaintance; but how do you know him, and why do you ask me this question?” “I often hear,” replied the hermit, “the evil spirits complain of pious persons who, by their prayers and alms deeds, deliver the souls from the pains which they endure in the other life, but they complain principally of Odilo, Abbot of Cluny, and his Religious. When, therefore, you shall have returned to your native country, I beg of you, in the name of God, to exhort the holy Abbot and his monks to redouble their good works in behalf of the poor souls.”

The pilgrim betook himself to the monastery and did as he was directed. In consequence, Saint Odilo gave orders that in all the monasteries of his Institute, on the day following All Saints, a commemoration of all the faithful departed should be made, by reciting the vespers for the dead on the eve, and on following morning matins; by ringing all the bells and celebrating Mass for repose of the holy souls. This decree, which was drawn up at Cluny, as well for that monastery as for all those dependent upon it, is still preserved. A practice so pious soon passed over to other churches, and in course of time became the universal observance of the whole Catholic world.

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