‘CONTINUAL GROWTH IN THY LOVE AND SERVICE…’
February 10th, 2022
by The Most Reverend Chandler Holder Jones, SSC
In the 1928 American Prayer Book Eucharist, the Prayer for the Whole State of Christ’s Church contains this phrase of intercession for the Dead, which petition is absolutely unique to the revised American liturgy: ‘And we also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service, and to give us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom.’
From whence does this unique prayer for the Holy Souls come?
The answer: Saint Gregory of Nyssa teaches we shall eternally grow and develop into the life of God in the land of light and joy in the fellowship of the Saints, as we go from strength to strength and glory to glory, for God is infinite and we are finite beings graced to enter into communion with an infinite Communion of Persons.
Prayers for the faithful departed were reintroduced into the American Liturgy in the 1928 edition and all possess this characteristic reference to the doctrine of Saint Gregory, that souls in Christ may continue to grow in God’s love and service in Paradise. These prayers all view the state of the soul, and the life of service, in the realm of the Intermediate State as one of growth and increase in the love and knowledge of God (Prayer Book pages 42, 74-75, 268, 332, 334, 598).
For Saint Gregory, the soul divinised by grace will never cease to grow in love and service, will never cease to seek to conform itself to the infinite God, Who is love.
Saint Gregory instructs us that in the life of the world to come, the soul in Jesus Christ seeks to be entirely conformed to the divine nature, which is love. Love will alone remain as the soul’s truest desire and orientation. The soul wishes to attach itself to the highest reality, the Good, to God, Who alone is the One and Only truly to be desired and loved. Being the image of God, the soul attaches itself to God by the attraction and action of love. It wills to be conformed to the One who is forever sought and acquired. The soul continually becomes the image and likeness of the God in Whom it participates and lives in communion. For all eternity, we shall love God and be caught up into the God who loves us.
The Nature of God eternally lives, thrives, and operates as love, being love, without limit. The Holy Trinity is infinite, limitless love Himself, and therefore, for all eternity the souls of the faithful will experience a limitless ascent to God, a never-ending growth into God’s love.
So when the soul which has become simple and uniform and an accurate image of God finds that truly simple and immaterial good, the one thing which is really lovable and desirable, it attaches itself to it and combines with it through the impulse and operation of love. It conforms itself to that which is always being grasped and found, and becomes through its likeness to the good that which the nature is in which it participates (On the Soul and the Resurrection).
This truly is the vision of God: never to be satisfied in the desire to see him. But one must always, by looking at what he can see, rekindle his desire to see more. Thus, no limit would interrupt the growth in the ascent to God, since no limit to the Good can be found nor is the increasing of the desire for the Good brought to an end because it is satisfied (The Life of Moses).