Of Chantry Chapels and Olden Times

It isn’t often we have the opportunity of visiting any of the lovely medieval churches and chapels one finds throughout the length and breadth of the country, but when we do, it is always with a sense of pilgrimage. I am very conscious of the fact that ‘here prayer has been valid,’ and after we have prayed for the present incumbent and people of the parish, we say a Pater and Ave in Latin for those who worshiped here in earlier times. If no one else is around, we’ll conclude by singing the Marian anthem of the season. I wouldn’t want you to think, however, that this is an exercise in mere antiquarianism or religious sentimentality. On the contrary, it is an act of worship and a fulfilment of the duty of prayer, but especially so in the case of chantry chapels.

Most of the chantry chapels of our medieval churches were endowed in perpetuity for Masses to be sung and prayers offered for the souls of the deceased. In most cases, the Reformation brought an abrupt end to this practice; so, whenever we come across a chantry chapel, we pause and say the De profundis and Requiem aeternam dona eis for the souls of those for whom the chapel or altar was erected. I regard this as more than a pious act. It is the fulfilment of a sacred obligation to which we, as Benedictines, are particularly sensitive. Yet the obligation is more general than many people realise. It is too little known, for example, that when prayers are offered or Masses said ‘for the pope’s intentions’, those intentions include all the obligations of pre-Reformation times for chantry chapels, guilds and the like.

It is good to remember that the Church never forgets any of her children β€” no matter how badly or sinfully they may have lived.


9 thoughts on “Of Chantry Chapels and Olden Times”

  1. Thank you yet again for an Educational post.

    I wan’t really aware of this, but know that one of our ancient churches has such a chapel. I’m not sure how it was endowed, I must look up the history.

    As an Anglican we share this heritage, but I’m not sure that it’s widely known or observed. Perhaps it’s time that we reinstated it, as it seems an important aspect of our shared faith.

    Although Anglicans don’t normally pray for the dead in the way you describe, having been brought up differently, I still do.

    I always include it in intercessory prayer at Holy Communion when it’s my turn to pray on the rota.

  2. Oh, I am SO GLAD to learn that you do this. Having spent several years studying the bequests and endowments for masses which people made in their wills right up to the Dissolution of the monasteries, I have always been a little sad about those unfulfilled obligations, those masses left unsaid. You have lightened my heart.

  3. Thank you for your comments. I must confess that I am hoping a few more people will be moved to pray not only for the clergy and people of the present day but also for those who went before. πŸ™‚

    • Yes indeed. In addition to prayers for the living, which come naturally, I have often found myself praying for the departed when visiting a pre-Reformation place of worship. Even before my conversion – clearly the Holy Spirit is behind the impulse, not my own piety! πŸ™‚

  4. I pray for all departed souls with my daily rosary prayers as I have a little skull, a momento mori, bead. I count on the prayers of those who have gone before me as well.

  5. This post made me smile because I’m in the habit of praying for the souls of the departed on both sides of the Reformation religious divide when I teach the “mid Tudors” at A level. Good job the students don’t know. That would just confirm me as a fruitcake.

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