Praying for the departed Fr Thomas Seville CR
November, with its turning of the landscape to one with little colour and less life, is a time when the Church fittingly remembers her dead. In some places, lights appear near graves and the shrines commemorating the departed, and indicate that by and large we have not found a way to be mindful of the dead easily, or to do something public.
Of course, there has been something approaching a sea change in the attitude to prayers for the dead. Few will not have prayed for someone whom they have lost who is dear to them, and it seems to go against the grain not to do so. If we pray for our faithful ones, then we are praying for those who have been accepted by Christ and are in him. Our prayer for them can only be sustained by the mystery of Christ’s death for our sins and his vindication on the third day; and so we pray…
Yet one of the things which we have lost is the natural public expression of our continuing communion in Christ. Perhaps in some funerals and memorial services it may be there, but in losing the candles and the time of year, the time of passing and decline, we lost a way of marking something both as mystery and visible. Private memorials, such as the seat at a beauty spot or the flowers by the roadside, are visible but not things which are shared by the Church or a particular time; and we do need such a way of expressing our relation to the faithful departed, which goes beyond our feelings of grief.
Finding such a way is good for us who mourn but it is also a way of showing, both to God and to the world, the Church as a place of hope. In a world which has increasing difficulty in living with senseless death, this is one of the parts which really speaks; how we mourn shows how we hope.
The central way is the Eucharist. As a young priest, I was given a Mass stipend for the first time for a Requiem, something which both surprised and touched me. Perhaps it is more common than I know, but I wonder how often it is that priests are asked for this. Yet what a wonder it is to celebrate the Eucharist and to ask God to remember in the sacrifice of his Son, the soul of one who has died in the Lord. In the Eucharist we ask God to remember his Son and in him those who are also in him, living here and departed. In this we proclaim the hope of the communion of saints and indeed beyond that.
In doing that we touch base with Christ and those to whom we owe so much, those whom we have once known, but also the vastly larger number of ones who are as hidden from us as they are clear as daylight to the light of Christ; those who once prayed for us in a far-off place, those who passed us that book which opened our eyes. They need our prayers still, just as we need those of the communion of saints in Christ here and now, the same face on us each and every one. So perhaps the Mass, perhaps the lights in the churchyard or perhaps something else, but let November be a sign of our part with the faithful and glorious dead.