ROME, 20 MAY 2008 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: The text of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL)
for vespers of Wednesday of Week 3 (that is, the English translation
used in the United States) has the following intercession: "Be merciful
to the faithful departed /
keep them from the power of the Evil One." Someone asked: What power
does the Evil One have over the faithful departed? I didn't have a
satisfying answer. I thought that it was a matter of a poor translation,
but I looked up the text in Officium Divinum, Liturgia Horarum, Iuxta
Ritum Romanum, and found the following text: "Misericordiam tuam
fratribus nostris concede defunctis /
neque in potestatem maligni spiritus tradas eos." In view of the Church
teaching on the particular judgment
and that the prayer seems to be talking about the departed, not the
I was at a loss to explain the meaning of this intercession.
D.S., Lincoln, Nebraska
A: These intercessions were composed quite quickly during the 1960s.
Even though they are found in the liturgical books, their nature as
intercessions means that they are a rather weak source from the
doctrinal point of view. It is therefore quite possible that some
infelicitious expressions might have slipped through the textual
Also, since the liturgical norms allow bishops' conferences wide leeway
in composing new intercessions for the Liturgy of the Hours, not all
translations will present the difficulty highlighted by our
correspondent. Indeed, the version of the breviary used in most
English-speaking countries contains a completely different text for the
day in question.
That said, while the controversial text can lead to misinterpretations,
I believe it is subject to a perfectly orthodox interpretation.
If we take the second part of the intercession as a distinct statement,
we run up against a problem for, as our reader points out, the departed
receive an immediate particular judgment, after which the Evil One has
no power over those who enter either heaven or purgatory.
However, the two parts of the intercession must be seen as an integral
whole. And, indeed, one of the forms of proclaiming this intercession is
for the priest to say the entire prayer with the people giving a common
response as is done in the prayers of the faithful at Mass.
In this case, the expression "Keep them from the power of the Evil One"
is intimately tied to the petition "Be merciful" addressed to God.
Thus we ask that God's mercy be expressed in not allowing those who have
died to fall into the power of the Evil One. As such, the prayer most
likely refers to the moment of judgment itself as the venue where this
mercy and this prevention of Satan's dominion is exercised.
In this way the petition is not essentially different from many other of
the Church's prayers for the departed in which God's mercy is invoked
for the souls of the deceased. That the particular judgment is
immediately after death has never impeded the Church recommending prayer
for the dead.
God is not limited to our categories of time and space, and even when we
pray for those who have passed away long after they have gone, or even
pray generically for the dead, we know that God will use the prayer to
* * *
Follow-up: Praying for
the Departed [6/3/2008]
Related to the question on prayers for the departed (see May 20), a
reader from India asked: How many intentions can be offered by a single
priest celebrating mass? On Sundays our parish priest mentions more than
15 to 20 intentions for a single Mass that he celebrates. Is this valid
We tried to address the complex question of Mass stipends and intentions
on Feb. 2, 2005, and March 8, 2005.
On the latter date we wrote about the situation described by our reader:
[I]n some poor countries [
] many people ask the priest to remember
them at Mass and often offer a tiny sum as a symbolic contribution. Such
offerings are not considered stipends as the faithful are accustomed to
Mass being offered for many intentions besides their own.
This remains the case. The principle involved is that since the Mass,
insofar as it is Christs very sacrifice, is of infinite value, there is
no limitation to the number of intentions that may be offered at any
The Church, however, normally allows for the priest to receive only one
stipend for each Mass. However, as mentioned above, in poor countries
where there are many requests for Mass and no true stipend as such, it
is often allowable to offer Mass for several intentions.