The Orange Order recently reminded its members that the RIP is not a suitable good thing for Protestants to say about the dead. “Rest in peace, or requiescat in pace, as it was in Latin, is a foolish little bit of Roman Catholic dogma, they say, and superstitious sense to boot.
Protestants do not pray for the dead, because they believe that the dead are in heaven or in hell, and the prayer can’t make a blind bit of difference about that. Things that are established at the time of death, and intercession is useless.
On the other hand, it is impertinent to lobby the divine about the choice of their place of eternal rest of any soul in particular. That is why, for example, there were no prayers of Diana, Princess of Wales, in Crathie Kirk, near Balmoral, where the royal family was to pray the Sunday morning immediately after his death 20 years ago. Crathie Kirk is the Church of Scotland, Presbyterian, and more closely aligned with the theology of the Reformation, for example, the Church of England. Don’t pray for Diana, just hours after his death, he was widely seen as insensitive at the time. But kirk did not think of the sentimental categories of the modern I remember.
The reason of praying for the dead became a controversial issue was in large part due to the form of the medieval Catholic church had monetized his theology of purgatory. According to the romish doctrine, that are not on the fast track in heaven or in hell (and there are sure to be especially good or especially evil to be sent directly to anyone) to spend a period of time in a sort of post-death holding pattern in which one land of the sins can be atoned for, therefore, to purify the soul in preparation for eternal paradise. It is the theological equivalent of doing time for bad behavior. And the Roman church became a valuable source of revenue, providing the time of his conviction for a supplement. These were the famous indulgences that the church sold to fund his own extravagance. That, at least, is how Martin Luther saw it. For him, the church had been converted into a huge theological scam, and it is not biblical, the invention of purgatory was behind him. This is the reason for the Reformation, the Protestants as Orangemen are so hot not to say the prayers for the dead. It is one of the 500 years of the battle over the power of the Roman Catholic church.
Of course, the cult of the dead was not completely destroyed by the Reform of Halloween, is a throwback, for example. And the current succession of centenaries around the first world war reminds us of the extent to which we have reinvented the cult of the dead, and recruited in the cause of national identity. In this sense, the Orangemen, with the celebration of the glorious sacrifice of the 36th (Ulster) Division in the battle of the Somme – often ignoring the slaughter of the Irish Catholics who fought side by side – are serial offenders, recruit the dead for modern political battles.
However, after Martin Luther’s revolution, Christians would be less and less convinced that you must genuflect before a mold of the patron saint of the nail or you could add to your holiness by muttering the rosary between the bones of the dead ancestors. For the Protestants, things are much more simple. There are No second chances. As the words next to the clock in the front of Ian Paisley the old Free Presbyterian church in Belfast to say it so directly: “the Time is short”. Not have left is the message. Turn to Jesus now. It is at once a threat and a promise.
But what makes the Orange Order that the complaint is so futile is that most of the people that says “rest in peace” is not intended as a prayer. The ideology of the infrastructure that gave meaning to phrases such as this has almost disappeared. We use the words, but they are empty shells of meaning, stripped of the practices that gave them meaning. RIP is now only a good thing to say about a person after they are gone. The majority of people do not believe in the God to whom this request is directed. Or imagine the person in question asleep in the arms of Jesus. RIP is only useful shorthand in Twitter. And people often don’t know what else to say. I am an atheist, they say. Aye, the responses of the Orange Order, but are you a Protestant atheist or a Catholic?