One upon a time, our parish churches would have contained a number of little chapels, the sole purpose of which was for the reciting of prayers. These ‘chanting chapels’, called chantries, were paid for by the rich, that a priest might enter each day and say a Mass on their behalf. The Catholic belief in purgatory held that the prayers of the living eased the pains of the dead; an earlier departure from purgatorial flame secured quicker release to heaven. This is still official Roman Catholic doctrine, so those Protestants inclined to union and fellowship with Rome presumably consider it a most satisfactory dogma.

King Edward VI quite rightly suppressed these chantries in 1547, the invested wealth on which they depended going to the Crown, though officially for ‘charitable’ purpose which brought about the ‘public good’. The pictures shows one of the two remaining chantry chapels to survive good King Edward’s laws, at St Mary’s Church in Newark. Called the Merring Chapel, it was paid for by Thomas Merring to guarantee his place with God. Chantries provided comfort to the dying, but only those wealthy enough to pay for them by bequeathing monies and land. Yet they expose a lack of assurance or trust in God’s saving mercy, and a secret confidence in human effort:

-If the salvation of my soul depends on others’ faithfulness and honesty, especially at a time when I am most unable to supervise them, I am in a hopeless situation.

-If God is less inclined to have mercy on the poor for their want of means, methinks he is an unjust God.

-If entry to heaven requires my painful purging in hot fires, why did Christ endure the shame and agony of Calvary? It seems he might have saved Himself a great deal of trouble.

-If I can supplement God’s grace by adding priests’ prayers and chanted masses, God’s grace must be inadequate and unfit for purpose.

When I’m gone, chant no prayers for me, for I’ll certainly chant none for you. You’ll either be enjoying glory at Christ’s sole expense, or you’ll be awaiting a terrible judgment from which no mortals’ words can deliver you.