A time to celebrate the dead, to help us through difficult time

JOHN ARNOLD always finds time around All Saints and All Souls Day to visit cemeteries and mark the memories of those who went before him
A time to celebrate the dead, to help us through difficult time

PRAYING FOR THEIR SOULS: John Arnold always visits cemeteries on the opening days of November

IF you asked most people under 30 about Indulgences, chances are, they wouldn’t have a clue what you meant.

On the other hand, if ‘twas the word ‘indulge’ you were on about they’d be clued in allright!

To indulge in something is literally to go for it in a mad way — something you like — maybe drink, food, style, fags or a myriad of other things that can be classed as desirable.

You’d often hear the phrase ‘indulging in one’s fancy’ and, like everything else, once you indulge in moderation, there’s probably no great harm in it.

Indulgences, on the other hand, are a bit more difficult to explain. You need to be acquainted with the ideas of sin and forgiveness and of course also the three-destiny eternal journey — Up to Heaven, Down to Hell or kind of like a lift stuck half way up and half way down: Purgatory.

From a Christian ethos, the concept of living a good life and being rewarded with a spiritual after-life in Heaven or Paradise is really the basis of Christianity. Likewise the ‘reward’ for a life of evil deeds, dishonesty, crime and debauchery was a permanent installation ‘in hell for all eternity’ — with no return flight!

I suppose those two are the black and white of human existence. In reality, few are completely good and few are complete rotten eggs. The ‘grey area’ in the middle is probably where most well-meaning Christians would inhabit.

Those millions and billions of people who do their best but have human frailty to contend with — well, heaven is their ultimate destination, but not quite yet. The idea of purgatory as a kind of half-way or ‘cleansing’ house has long been promulgated, by the Catholic Church especially.

Historically, an indulgence was a spiritual mechanism by which the journey of the soul to Heaven was hastened. Most people are sinners in one way or another — though the concept and idea of sin is frowned upon in this age of so-called ‘freedom of expression’. Anyway, in the past confessing one’s sins and getting a ‘Clean Soul Bill of Health’ known as Absolution was a pathway to heaven.

Many claim it was Pope Urban II, who reigned from 1088 for ten years, that really popularised the idea of Indulgences. He promised forgiveness and pardon for all of the past sins of those who would fight to reclaim the Holy Land from Muslims, and free the Eastern churches. The Crusades soon followed.

Then, when the German Catholic monk Johann Tetzel — under the ‘guidance’ of Pope Leo X — offered indulgences to those who gave a financial contribution towards the cost of rebuilding St Peter’s Basilicia in Rome, there was, literally, hell to pay.

Martin Luther denounced this practise of ‘selling’ Indulgences. It was a bit like ‘buying yourself out of the army — fast tracking the road to heaven! Luther claimed that Tetzel actually boasted: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!”

Selling of Indulgences was completely banned by the Pope in 1567.

Down the centuries, then, Indulgences and gaining them became part and parcel of the Catholic faith. I can recall in my youth clocking up loads of Indulgences at our local Church. You couldn’t actually get an Indulgence for a specific deceased person — after all, how did one know if they were in Heaven, Hell or Purgatory? No, indulgences were for the Holy Souls in general.

A partial indulgence meant the remission of a portion of a soul’s burden, whereas a Plenary indulgence was more effective. The Church drew up ‘Tables’ of Indulgences and how they could be obtained.

This coming weekend, known to most as Halloween, is a special time in the Catholic faith. The two great Holy days of All Saints and All Souls come at the start of November — traditionally the Month for Remembering our dead.

One indulgence that was always availed of on these two special days was obtained ‘By visiting a Church and Praying for the Pope’s intentions’, then saying specific prayers for the dead. I remember standing close to the side door in Bartlemy Church on November 1 and 2.with my mother. We recited the proscribed prayers into the Church then and pray for the Pope’s intentions. We then went back outside and repeated that process maybe 20 times — I presume we obtained 20 Indulgences in that manner.

Seems strange now, but then again the power of prayer can never be underestimated.

For both tradition and custom sake, I always try and visit cemeteries on the opening days of November. The 5km limit will restrict my visits this weekend to Gortroe, Ballinaltig, Rathcormac, Castlelyons, Coole, Britway, Templeboden and Lisgoold. Indulgences or not, it’s right and proper to remember those gone before us, and no better way than to take ‘time out’ and visit the resting place of family, friends and neighbours.

O’ what is it all when all is told

What is it all a grassy mound

Where day or night there is never a sound

Save the soft low moan of the fanning breeze

As it lovingly rustles the silent trees.

Or a thoughtful friend with whispered prayer

May sometimes break the stillness there

Then hurry away from the gloom and the cold

O’ what is it all when all is told.

Years ago, there was a man died not too far from here. He and his wife had a poorish way of living. They struggled on but when he died he had little in terms of worldly good to leave his widow. She got their small house but when his will was read she got a bit of a shock. They were a good Christian couple, though she often thought her husband worried more about the next life than this one! So it proved on his demise.

In his will he directed that his one and only horse should be sold a month after his death. This was a fine three year old, well bred horse — worth at least two hundred guineas or more. The stipulation in the will however dismayed the widow: “My valuable horse shall be sold and all the proceeds of the sale of the said horse shall be completely and entirely spent in procuring Masses for the repose of my soul.”

Well, she thought, ‘he’s seen after himself in the next life... but what about me in this life?’

Anyway, a month and a week after the funeral the Fair was on. She was in her mourning clothes so she got her brother to take the fine horse to the fair — instructing him to take the cat as well! The brother did exactly as he was bade to do. He was in the Fair Field early and stood the horse ‘I lár an aonaigh’ (in the middle of the fair- the best spot for a sale!).

The brother soon attracted a crowd of buyers when they heard him shout: ‘Who’ll give me one gold guinea for this fine animal?’ Before the words were out of his mouth a flurry of hands went up; ‘but’, he went on, ‘the terms and conditions of sale are that the purchaser of this fine horse for a guinea must also purchase this cat for at least 220 guineas!’

He had no problem getting a buyer for both horse and cat and returned to his sister with the money. The next day she went to the priest with the guinea — the price of the horse, for Masses for her husband!

They say God helps those who help themselves!

Halloween will be different this year — more like long ago. The Trick or Treating will be confined to individual homes. Perhaps snap apple and playing Blind Man’s Buff will make a welcome return.

The year is turning alright as we bid farewell to autumn and herald in winter. Hopefully it won’t be a winter of discontent. Friends, family, glowing fires and memories of the great people gone before us. All these things will help bring us through. Happy All Hallows Eve’.

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