The sacraments (61): Three times a year for all

It looks no different than usual: Apostles dispense the sacraments—this time to two designated ministers—and the congregation stands and prays along silently. And yet, this is a highly solemn moment that has touched the faithful for generations.

We are talking about the divine service for the departed that is celebrated in the New Apostolic Church. Three times a year, New Apostolic Christians celebrate a divine service of remembrance for the dead that is observed in all congregations around the world. All churches commemorate their deceased loved one to a greater or lesser extent. This is a very ancient religious practice. In this respect, the New Apostolic practice is following a Christian custom.

There is, however, a special variation to this: there where the Chief Apostle or the respective District Apostle conducts the divine service, there is more than the mere remembrance of the departed, because there the three New Apostolic sacraments are dispensed: Holy Baptism, Holy Sealing, and Holy Communion.

Expanded liturgy

The divine service on a Sunday on which the service for the departed is celebrated begins like any normal divine service: with a prayer, a hymn, which is then followed by the sermon and the celebration of Holy Communion. Then the liturgy is expanded by an essential element, an intercessory prayer.

The core of this prayer is gratitude that the strength from the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ reaches into the realms of the beyond. Those who believe in Jesus Christ will receive grace and redemption, and by receiving the sacraments they are given access to fellowship with the Lord.

This prayer also includes intercession for the departed: New Apostolic Christians pray to God that the unredeemed dead find salvation in Christ. The congregation is involved to the extent that they pray along silently and thereby support the prayer of intercession. This prayer is often preceded and followed by a musical contribution to set the mood and give the congregation time for reflection.

Under the hands of an Apostle

The dispensation of the sacraments is added when the Chief Apostle or the respective District Apostle conducts the divine service in the congregation. He not only prays, but also acts. On 49 Sundays a year, these Apostles celebrate Holy Communion for the departed. On three Sundays in March, July, and November then the other two sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Sealing are dispensed as well.

This is also done in a simple and thoughtful way: two ministers stand in front of the Apostle who dispenses the sacraments upon them by proxy—in the same way as is done upon the living. Prophecies do not occur. Neither are those who are to receive the sacraments in place of the deceased called by prophecy nor are certain recipients defined by visions.

Outwardly calm, inwardly moved

As matter-of-fact as the event may seem, the congregation is emotionally involved. The songs and other pieces of music add to the emotional aspect. The congregation will have been sensitised to the special aspects of these divine services the Sunday before. A description of the liturgy is available as a PDF.

So much for our current practice of dispensing the sacraments to the dead. The Catechism of the New Apostolic Church provides detailed information about this subject. The next instalment of this series will focus on the commemoration of the dead in other denominations—and its occasional sacramental context.

Photo: Frank Schuldt

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