“To hear of a thousand deaths in war is terrible, and we ‘know’ that it is. But as it registers on our hearts, it is not more terrible than one death fully imagined.” (Wendell Berry, “It All Turns On Affection”; 2012 Jefferson Lecture, National Endowment for the Humanities)
This Saturday is the National Day of Remembrance for the children who have been legally murdered in this country. Our society has given this satanic practice the clinical-sounding blandishment “abortion”, which is a little bit like calling rape “annoyance” or nuclear war a “kerfuffle”.
To mark the somber occasion, the church I serve as vicar (a pastoral assistant) will be praying the Litany at noon tomorrow. I know that many Lutheran parishes across the country (and presumably other churches, too) will be holding similar services. I am grateful that the President of the Missouri Synod, the Rev’d Dr. Matthew Harrison, has been so forthright in calling for prayer on this day— for our nation, for the Church, for those who have had abortions, etc. However, there is one group which we ought not neglect to pray for: the murdered unborn, themselves.
Though a certain kind of prayer for the dead is permitted by the Lutheran Confessions (Apology XXIV.94, “Of The Mass”, Triglotta), it is usually not practiced in LCMS churches, at least not in those of which I have been a member. I understand the reticence to engage in such a practice, beclouded as it is by the overtones of Rome’s unbiblical doctrine of purgatory. All the same, I do believe that there is a place for it. I will explain momentarily. First, though, I would commend this short prayer to your use, to be prayed this Saturday:
Lover of mankind, we implore Thee, refresh the souls of the murdered unborn with heavenly consolation and joy, and fulfill for them all the gracious promises that in Thy holy Word Thou hast made unto them that believe in Thee, through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost now and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
This prayer is an adaptation of a portion of the “Prayer of Those Present after the Dying Person has Breathed His Last”, found in Starck’s Prayer-Book (trans. W. H. T. Dau; St. Louis: Concordia Publishing, 1921; p. 454). It bespeaks hope, which is all we have— hope that God would be gracious to the departed. It makes reference to the fact that, for us and for our assurance, God has connected His promise of salvation to faith. We are bound to this; however, He is not. Still, we do not presume.
We know that infants— even unborn infants— can have faith. We know that they are not necessarily saved (pace this theodicy posted at TGC, “Do All Infants Go to Heaven?”). But such knowledge is of categories, not of cases. As with so many things in this vale of tears, we do not have certain knowledge, and the lack of certainty can be crushing. In the face of such uncertainty, what can we do? We can pray.
Because of the unique nature of prayer for the dead, it seems wise that we should not pray repetitiously for those who have departed. When I learn of the death of a Christian, I pray the Commendation of the Dying (TLH p. 119) and the prayer from Starck’s Prayer-Book. It’s a one-time thing. “Why pray for the dead at all?” some may ask. “Doesn’t the tree lie where it falls?” To this I would simply respond, “God’s Kingdom certainly comes and God’s will certainly is done without our prayer, yet we still pray, ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.'” God doesn’t forget things, yet still the Patriarchs and Psalmists pray, “Remember your people, YHWH.” We are free to pray in like manner.
This Saturday— and indeed, every day— let us truly lament the slaughter of infant children, the weakest and most vulnerable members of our race. Let us pray for mercy in heaven and for justice on earth.