- Tuesday, 26 October 2010 10:37
My soul is deprived of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is; I tell myself my future is lost, all that I hoped for from the Lord. (Lamentations 3:17)
These words are put on our lips at the funeral liturgy. We understand these words at the depths of our being not only at the time of someone’s death, but for many, many days ahead in dealing with the loss of a loved one. Time without the decedent can seem ugly, deprived, and hopeless. The author of Lamentations has it right: life can be very bleak. This would indeed be desperate if these words were the only ones we heard and remembered.
This reading from Lamentations also says, My portion is the Lord, says my soul; therefore will I hope in him. Good is the Lord to one who waits for him, to the soul that seeks him; It is good to hope in silence for the saving help of the Lord.
Life is made new again for the believer in the Lord’s goodness. His tenderness if experienced if we only ask the Lord for it.
We are nearly in the month of November, the month of All Saints and All Souls. Traditional for Catholics is the practice of calling to mind, having a memory, of our beloved, at the Sacrifice of the Mass, in the praying of the Office of the Dead, the rosary, visiting the cemetery and in our personal prayer. These moments of prayer remind is that it is the Resurrection of the dead that we hope in, and rest secure.
The Church tells her children that,
‘It is in regard to death the man’s condition is most shrouded in doubt.’ However, faith in Christ changes that doubt into the certainty of life without end. Christ has told us he came from the Father ‘so that whosoever believes in him might not die but have eternal life’ (John 3:16). Again he says, ‘it is my Father’s will that whoever sees the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life; and I shall raise him up on the last day.’
Based on the Word of God, the Christian firmly believes and hopes that ‘just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and lives for ever, so after death the righteous will live for ever with the risen Christ and he will raise them up on the last day.’
Belief in the resurrection of the dead is an essential part of Christian revelation. It implies a particular understanding of the ineluctable mystery of death.
Death is the end of earthly life, but ‘not of our existence’ since the soul is immortal. ‘Our lives are measured by time, in the course of which we change, grow old and, as with all living beings on earth, death seems like the normal end of life.’ Seen from the perspective of the faith, ‘death is the end of man’s earthly pilgrimage, of the time of grace and mercy which God offers him so as to work out his earthly life in keeping with the divine plan, and to decide his ultimate destiny.’
It is always necessary to ensure that popular piety is inspired by the principles of the Christian faith. Thus, they should be made aware of the paschal meaning of the death undergone by those who have received Baptism and who have been incorporated into the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ (cf. Rm 6:3-10); the immortality of the soul (cf. Lk 23:43); the communion of Saints, through which ‘union with those who are still on their pilgrim journey with the faithful who repose in Christ is not in the least broken, but strengthened by a communion of spiritual goods, as constantly taught by the Church’: ‘our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective’; the resurrection of the body; the glorious coming of Christ, who will ‘judge the living and the dead’; the reward given to each according to his deeds; life eternal.
In matters relating to doctrine, the following are to be avoided:
- the invocation of the dead in practices involving divination;
- the interpretation or attribution of imaginary effects to dreams relating to the dead, which often arises from fear;
- any suggestion of a belief in reincarnation;
- the danger of denying the immortality of the soul or of detaching death from the resurrection, so as to make the Christian religion seem like a religion of the dead;
- the application of spacio-temporal categories of the dead.
In accordance with time, place and tradition, popular devotions to the dead take on a multitude of forms:
- the novena for the dead in preparation for the 2 November, and the octave prolonging it, should be celebrated in accordance with liturgical norms;
- visits to the cemetery; in some places this is done in a community manner on 2 November, as the end of the parochial
mission, when the parish priest takes possession of the parish; visiting the cemetery can also be done privately, when the faithful go to the grace of their own families to maintain them or decorate them with flowers and lamps. Such visits should be seen as deriving from the bonds existing between the living and the dead and not from any form of obligation, non-fulfillment of which involves a superstitious fear;
- membership of a confraternity or other pious association who objects include ‘burial of the dead’ in a light of the Christian vision of death, praying for the dead, and providing support for the relatives of the dead;
- suffrage for the dead through alms, works of mercy, fasting, applying indulgences, and especially prayers, such as the De profundis, and the formula Reqiuem aeternam, which often accompanies the recitation of the Angelus, the rosary, and at the prayers before and after meals. (DPPL 248ff)
God does indeed wipe away our tears, He feels our pain; the Lord carries the cross we bear, and I believe He lightens our burdens. These observances of All Souls and during the entire month of November allow God to touch our hearts, sooth our minds, and carry us close to His face. Living is made easier in remembering our loved ones at the altar of the Mass and a visit to the cemetery. Connect with God the Father through prayer and an act of love.