Fr Ambrose, liturgical texts, just like all texts, need to be interpreted. Consider the Requiem offertory prayer you have cited:Domine Jesu Christe, Rex gloriae, libera animas omnium fidelium defunctorum de poenis inferni et de profundo lacu. Libera eas de ore leonis, ne absorbeat eas tartarus, ne cadant in obscurum.
I do not read Latin and am unable to offer a translation, but here is one translation I found on the net:
"Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory, liberate the souls of the faithful departed from the pains of hell and from the bottomless pit. Deliver them from the lion's mouth, lest hell swallow them up, lest they fall into darkness."
Unfortunately, my acquaintance with the traditional Latin rite is exceptionally limited. This prayer is not discussed by Jungmann in his two volume book on the Mass of the Roman Rite, and I have no other resources in my library to which to turn. One or two very tentative thoughts:
I note that this is a prayer specifically for the "faithful departed." So we need to ask who specifically is included in this class of people. I presume that it excludes the nonbaptized, apostates and heretics. Does that sound reasonable? So who are the "faithful departed"? All the baptized?
As you are no doubt aware, there is a long-standing debate among Catholics about the meaning of this offertory prayer. This debate is briefly mentioned in the Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Requiem Mass. Through internet search I discovered an article in the September 1890 issue of the American Ecclesiastical Review
discussing this prayer. The article begins on p. 185. The author proposes the following translation of the Latin:
"Lord Jesus Christ, king of glory, deliver the souls of all the faithful, when they have departed, from the pains of hell and the deep abyss."
If this translation stands up, then the prayer becomes a prayer for all the faithful, both those who have yet to face death and those who now stand before the judgment seat of God. It would therefore be dangerous to draw any dogmatic conclusions from it regarding the question before us.
You ask, Father Ambrose, "Is this a defined article of the Roman Catholic faith, that those in hell are there irrevocably and are beyond repentance?"
I do not know what level of dogmatic authority one would ascribe to this teaching, but it is most certainly the authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church. Thus the Catholic Catechism:
Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ. The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith. The parable of the poor man Lazarus and the words of Christ on the cross to the good thief, as well as other New Testament texts speak of a final destiny of the soul--a destiny which can be different for some and for others.
Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven--through a purification or immediately,-- or immediate and everlasting damnation. (1021-1022)
By definition, the damned have irrevocably chosen their eternal damnation. They are beyond forgiveness because they have decisively closed their hearts to the divine mercy. The damned are like the group of dwarfs depicted in C. S. Lewis's tale The Last Battle
. Perhaps you recall the horrifying scene. A group of nasty dwarfs have rendered themselves incapable of seeing Aslan, incapable of hearing his roar. As Aslan explains to Lucy: "'You see,' said Aslan. 'They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being takers in that they cannot be taken out.'"
To understand the Catholic position here, you need to remember that the Catholic Church teaches that when each person dies, he comes before God to experience initial, particular judgment, distinct from the general judgment at the resurrection of the dead. Thus Pope Benedict XII in his 1336 papal bull Benedictus Deus
Moreover we define that according to the general disposition of God, the souls of those who die in actual mortal sin go down into hell immediately (mox) after death and there suffer the pain of hell. Nevertheless, on the day of judgment all men will appear with their bodies "before the judgment seat of Christ" to give an account of their personal deeds, "so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body" (2 Cor. 5.10).
The particular judgment of God is not a provisional judgment that can be undone by repentance. The damned have rejected the possibility of repentance; they have no desire to repent. They have their heart's desire, and it is Hell. Likewise, the saved have their heart's desire, and it is Heaven.
This is, I know, different from the traditional Eastern understanding. Catholics believe that Heaven is created by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When Jesus rises to the right hand of the Father, he does not ascend into a pre-existing Heaven; he creates Heaven. Now that Christ has died for the sins of all, now that he has harrowed Hades, now that he has destroyed death and ascended into glory, there is no "waiting" to know the future judgment of God. All who die in Christ (however that is understood) are truly in Christ and with Christ and therefore in and with God--and therefore "in" Heaven. There may still yet be purification from self-will and there may still be a "waiting" for the embodiment of the general resurrection, but the particular judgment has been spoken. Life-after-death is not a second chance. As the Letter to the Hebrews states, "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (9:27). Death is entrance into eternity, and eternity is not "more time"; eternity is the achievement and fulfillment of time. We cannot understand what this means, of course; but I do think it is fair to say that life in the present, this mortal life, is the time given to us to embrace God or to reject him. By our choices we determine who we will be eternally.
The content of the particular judgment and the general judgment is therefore identical, with one difference:
"The Body of Christ" means that all human beings are one organism, the destiny of the whole the proper destiny of each. True enough, the decisive outcome of each person's life is settled in death, at the close of their earthly activity. Thus everyone is judged and reaches his definitive destiny after death. But his final place in the whole can be determined only when the total organism is complete, when the passio and the actio of history have come to their end. And so the gathering together of the whole will be an act that leaves no person unaffected. Only at that juncture can the definitive judgment take place, judging each man in terms of the whole and give him that place which he can receive only in conjunction with all the rest. (Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology, p. 190)
This understanding might seem to preclude prayer for the salvation of all, yet this is not the case. We do not know if anyone is damned, nor do we know what God can do in the heart of every person at the moment of death. The love that the Holy Spirit has placed in our hearts impels us to pray for all and to hope for all. Here I must refer you to Hans Urs on Balthasar's book Dare We Hope "That All Men be Saved"?
Fr Ambrose, I have cited two Orthodox sources--Elder Cleopa and St Mark of Ephesus. The latter holds particular authority within Orthodoxy, especially since he was the Orthodox theologian who defended at the Council of Florence the Orthodox understanding of life-after-death against the Latin doctrine of Purgatory. Certainly by the time of the council, Latin theologians were teaching the particular judgment and the impossibility of repentance for the damned, yet I am unaware of any Eastern theologians objecting to this view during the council or afterwards. Am I wrong about that? You have proclaimed your interpretation of the Eastern liturgical texts as the
Orthodox view. I know that Archbishop Hilarion agrees with you; but only 300 years ago the Orthodox patriarchs apparently did not entertain the possibility of the repentance of the damned:
We believe that the souls of those that have fallen asleep are either at rest or in torment, according to what each has done; — for when they are separated from their bodies, they depart immediately either to joy, or to sorrow and lamentation; though confessedly neither their enjoyment nor condemnation are complete. For after the common resurrection, when the soul shall be united with the body, with which it had behaved itself well or ill, each shall receive the completion of either enjoyment or of condemnation.
And the souls of those involved in mortal sins, who have not departed in despair but while still living in the body, though without bringing forth any fruits of repentance, have repented — by pouring forth tears, by kneeling while watching in prayers, by afflicting themselves, by relieving the poor, and finally by showing forth by their works their love towards God and their neighbor, and which the Catholic Church has from the beginning rightly called satisfaction — [their souls] depart into Hades, and there endure the punishment due to the sins they have committed. But they are aware of their future release from there, and are delivered by the Supreme Goodness, through the prayers of the Priests, and the good works which the relatives of each do for their Departed; especially the unbloody Sacrifice benefiting the most; which each offers particularly for his relatives that have fallen asleep, and which the Catholic and Apostolic Church offers daily for all alike. Of course, it is understood that we do not know the time of their release. We know and believe that there is deliverance for such from their direful condition, and that before the common resurrection and judgment, but when we know not. (The Confession of Dositheus)
I am happy to be convinced, Fr Ambrose, that your interpretation of the Eastern liturgical texts (as compelling as they are) represents the unbroken understanding of the Eastern Church for the past 2,000 years, but I need more evidence that your view has been and is the view of the Orthodox Church.
And let me ask one question of you: If God, with or without the prayers of the saints, can save even one of the damned, then why doesn't he save them all?