There was an occasion when my mother had brought, as was her custom in Africa, cakes and bread and wine to some of the chapels built in memory of the saints and was forbidden to do this by the doorkeeper. When she found that it was the bishop (note: St Ambrose) who had forbidden the practice, she accepted his ban ...It is interesting to note that the annual offerings of the dead (also seen in Tertullian) were practiced apparently without opposition in Africa, but received a flat prohibition under St Ambrose. The practice of the church in that day was not uniform on the matter of offerings for the dead. It is also interesting to note Ambrose's reason for prohibiting the annual offerings even when done with sobriety: these offerings resembled pagan practices. They may have been a continuation of pagan practices carried over into Christianity by converts from pagan religions. At any rate, while Ambrose's ban was by no means church-wide, it is an interesting episode in the history of offerings for the dead within Christianity.
But when she found that that famous preacher and that great example of piety (still St Ambrose) had forbidden the practice even to those who used it soberly -- so that drunkards should not be given an occasion for excess and also because this kind of anniversary funeral feast is very like the superstitious ceremony of the pagans -- she most willingly gave up her old habit. Instead of a basket filled with the fruits of the earth, she had learned to bring to the chapels of the Martyrs a breast full of something much purer, her prayers.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Anniversary offering for the dead in Augustine's Confessions
I have some interest in tracking the history of the practice of anniversary offerings for the dead in the early Christian church. In re-reading St Augustine's Confessions recently, I came across a passage that bears on the subject. In fact, Book VI Chapter 2 deals largely with this subject. Here are some relevant excerpts, though the passage is lengthier than I will quote and is worth reading in full: