Ministry to the Dying, Dead, and Bereaved
Part 2 History

Chapter f23 Early Medieval [800-1199 CE]

Secular History

Church History

Ministry to the Dead and Bereaved

Secular History

Europe's population doubled between 1000 and 1300. Life expectancies were probably not much higher than age 25 around 1000, but closer to 35 by 1300.   (50% of population died before age 12.) 

Times were hard!  Life was difficult!   No doubt this "context" influences the gradual "shift" in our understanding of God from the "loving father of Jesus of the Gospels" to a strict Lord (over his serfs) demanding a just return on investment, and expiation for sin.  This brings about a gradual shift from "confidence in the resurrection" to "fear of damnation".   

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Church History

Uriel the Archangel  The common belief at the time was that there were four archangels who surround the throne of God: Gabriel, Michael, Raphael and Uriel  (Uriel = Flame of God). Uriel is the archangel who leads one through death to heaven. Uriel is one of the angels who helped bury Adam and Abel in Paradise.  Uriel told Noah about the upcoming Great Flood and checked the doors of Egypt for lamb's blood during the plague. He also holds the key to the Pit during the End Times.  Uriel led Abraham to the West.  Note that at this early period Uriel  was thought to be with the dying to carry them up to heaven.  In the Middle Ages, Uriel is replaced by Satan who is with the dying to snatch them down to hell!  This adds to the fear and dread of dying.

Feast of All Souls.  The first feast of intercession for the souls (not "bodies" or "persons") in purgatory was introduced by St. Odilo of Cluny (d. 1048).

1150 CE Peter Lombard   (c. 1100 - July 20, 1160 in Paris) was a scholastic theologian and bishop of the 12th century.  In 1159, he was named bishop of Paris.  Peter Lombard's most famous work was "Libri quatuor sententiarum, the "Book of Sentences." This served as the standard textbook of theology at the medieval universities, from the 1220s until the 16th century. There is no work of Christian literature, except for the Bible itself, that has been commented upon more frequently. All the major medieval thinkers, from Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas to William of Ockham and Gabriel Biel, were influenced by it. Even the young Martin Luther still wrote glosses on the "Sentences."  ["Peter Lombard." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 9 Feb 2006, 08:49 UTC. 11 Feb 2006, 02:00.]

Origin of our Seven Sacraments  Peter Lombard in the "Sentences" names Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders, and Matrimony as sacraments.  These seven are commented on by the scholastics (e.g. Thomas Aquinas) and are later accepted by Trent as THE seven sacraments.  

Funerals:  not one of the seven sacraments. 

Development of a theology of priesthood.

Monastic chapter of faults develops into spiritual direction and Tariff Penance

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Ministry to the Dead and Bereaved

 Shifts in understanding bring about shifts in funeral practice

God is seen less as the "loving father of Jesus of the Gospels" and more as strict liege lord (over his serfs) demanding a just return on investment, and expiation for sin.

This brings about a gradual shift from "confidence in the resurrection" to "fear of damnation".

This "sense of justice" influences the development of the theory of "purgatory"

This brings about increased emphasis on Masses and Prayers for the deceased.

All Souls Day (November 2).  The first feast of intercession for the souls in purgatory was introduced by St. Odilo of Cluny (d. 1048).

The focus of the rituals shifts from resurrection to purification.  [This is one of the "reversals" attempted by the revised rituals of the Second Vatican Council.]

Before the Ritual of the Council of Trent (promulgated in 1614) there was no uniform "Roman Rite" for funerals.  Funerals varied according to local customs.   In general, there were:

a.  Rituals and prayers in the home:  prayers at death; washing and preparing the body; the wake (vigil) until the time of the funeral.

b.  Procession to the parish church; prayers and Mass for the dead.

c.  Procession to the place of burial; burial in the parish cemetery.

d.  Prayers and Masses on the anniversaries of death and burial. 

Abuses:  In a time when "spiritual" thinking sometimes extended to witchcraft and superstition, abuses arise with regard to funerals; e.g. As a coin [the coin was named "viaticum" - to go with you on the way]  was placed in the mouth of the deceased to pay Virgil to row the body across the river Styx, a consecrated host was placed in the mouth of the deceased to pay [God?] to transport the soul to purgatory and eventually to heaven.  

The dead were often anointed in Extreme Unction.  (Based on the theory that the soul often lingered for a time in the body after death.  And the sacraments were primarily "for the soul." 

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter.  All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 03/26/15.  Your comments on this site are welcome at trichstatter@franciscan.org