Sunday, October 02, 2011

Prayers upon the loss of a beloved animal

One of my favorite things about the Catholic Church is that in her 2,000 years, the Holy Spirit has inspired her to draft special, little liturgies for specific, very human needs. The Christian, with St. Paul, desires to "pray without ceasing," and so turns to prayer in moments of need or difficulty. These "little liturgies" are called "blessings" or "benedictionibus" in Latin (literally "good words" or "good sayings").

The Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite has a book called, succinctly enough, the Book of Blessings. In this book are found numerous different "blessings" which can be given by a priest -- or, with some changes and without sacramental character -- by a lay Christian. The older version of this book, used in the Extraordinary Form, is the famous Rituale Romanum, or "Roman Ritual." This book, too, contains a wide variety of blessings for people, places, and objects.

In neither of these books, however, is there a suitable blessing or Catholic response of prayer for a family dealing with the loss of a beloved pet.

Now, I'm aware that within Catholic theology -- particularly as outlined by St. Thomas Aquinas, in his treatise on the soul -- only human souls are subsistent, meaning that they survive the death of their bodies. But this doesn't mean that humans -- in both body and soul -- don't experience grief and loss when a animal who has well-served his function in the order of creation experiences the sting of sin and dies.

This absence of prayer was brought home to me when my own dog Titan died last night, and my parents called to tell me about it this morning. Today is the XXVII Sunday of Ordinary Time, set aside by the Church for the celebration of the Resurrection and the Triumph of our Lord Jesus Christ over sin and death.

But even that glorious victory seemed somewhat diminished by the knowledge that I could not turn to the Lord to pray for my dead dog because he had no intellective soul. I did want to thank God for the joy that me and my family felt from the beauty and the usefulness that God brought into our lives through our dog, and I wanted to worship God for the glory with which my dog Titan -- in his lack of concupiscence -- rendered to God simply by his being alive.

I also wanted to comfort my mother and father who together buried my dog this morning. Their emotional distress and agony of soul is real; and to my mind, it is a fruit of the Fall that we must suffer in this way as we are reminded yet again that sin and death -- though ultimately defeated at Golgotha -- still stalk the world, attempting to mar the beauty of God's created order.

It is in this spirit that I wrote the following: both as a tool for the future and as an act of thanksgiving and grieving in the present. The prayer is based upon the Blessings of Animals found in both the Book of Blessings and the Rituale Romanum, and I believe the prayer to be in conformity with the teaching of the Church (and if it is not, I shall humbly, docilely, and quickly amend it to make it so).

* * *

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.
— Amen.

Our help is in the Name of the Lord.
— Who made heaven and earth.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
— As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

Lord, have mercy.
— Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Ant. In the day of the Root of Jesse, † they shall not hurt in all my holy mountain, * for the earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord.

Isaiah 11:6-10

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb: † and the leopard shall lie down with the kid: * the calf and the lion, and the sheep shall abide together, and a little child shall lead them.

The calf and the bear shall feed: † their young ones shall rest together: * and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp: * and the weaned child shall thrust his hand into the den of the basilisk.

They shall not hurt, nor shall they kill in all my holy mountain, * for the earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the covering waters of the sea.

In that day the root of Jesse, who stands for an ensign of the people, him the Gentiles shall beseech, * and his sepulchre shall be glorious.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, * and to the Holy Spirit:

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: * world without end. Amen.

Ant. In the day of the Root of Jesse, † they shall not hurt in all my holy mountain, * for the earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord.

Let us pray.

Almighty God, when your only-begotten Son rode triumphantly into Jerusalem, with his face set toward Calvary to endure the Cross for our salvation, you provided for him a lowly animal to assist him in bearing that burden: give your grace unto your servants who suffer the loss of (one of) their useful and beloved animal(s); help them to find solace in you; and grant, O God of compassion, that they may find their strength in your eternal providence; through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit: one God, forever and ever. Amen.

May the Lord bless + us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life. Amen.

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