Friday, November 02, 2007

All Souls

The celebrations of All Saints and All Souls have long been favorites of mine. I offer you a few disconnected thoughts especially regarding today's Commemoration of all the faithful departed.

There is a somberness to the day, with its meditation on death, the dark vestments (optional, but we use them in the monastery), the falling leaves, encroaching darkness and winter. We sail off into deep, foreboding November, if not 'the cruelest month' than certainly it rivals February for the least appealling.

I was struck this year by the parallels in the liturgy to Holy Week, especially Good Friday. Perhaps because Good Friday falls in March or April (the cruelest month!?), when the earth is bursting with incipient life, we tend to miss these parallels: kneeling to recite the Miserere or De Profundis; dark vestments and death; texts of antiphons stressing the anticipated resurrection even while suffering, etc. If we extend today's office and Mass of the Dead to cover funeral liturgies, I suggest that the parallels become more interesting.

There was recently a document issued, I believe by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops cautioning Catholics against turning the funeral liturgy into a 'celebration' of the life of the departed instead of a time of mourning, supplication to God the Father and deep faith in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and His storming the gates of hell. There seems to be a fear in contemporary man, not just Catholics, of acknowledging death square-on. Funeral directors put fake grass over the grave at the cemetary and dismiss everyone so that they can lower the casket in without anyone witnessing this fact of existence and losing it (that would make everyone so...uncomfortable).

Better to say up front what has happened. This is the death industry equivalent of fideism: you don't have to listen to what intelligent people say in objection to the gospel. Simply believe! What they are saying is unpleasant, and will merely upset you! How much more authentic is our faith if it is absolutely true even under the most apparently compromising circumstances. God, give Him glory, triumphs over real death, the actual distintegration of our bodies and the bodies of those whom we love and desparately want back. Unfortunately, the current funeral practice seems to have more in common with a Stoic kind of ethics, " grateful for what you had...grin and bear it and go on like a reponsible citizen!" (Read: get back to work and keep our economy going...)

To return to Holy Week and All Souls: Good Friday has a peculiar feeling because we all know that on Saturday night, we will be filled with the joy of its incredibly Good News. Remember that Jesus whom they crucified? He's alive! I saw Him! This doesn't make the misery of Good Friday a travesty, but it does give a certain perspective on faith: we know very well the outcome of the story.

As we commemorate our beloved dead today, I suggest that we do so with the parallel to Good Friday in mind. We know the outcome in the case of Jesus because His resurrection has already forced its way into the history of this world. Can we have the same faith, the knowledge of the outcome of the story, anticipate the same Easter joy (take a moment today and really feel it--make the connection between Easter and the resurrection of all the dead), as we contemplate our present separation from our grandparents, parents, friends, siblings and even children who have gone before us? If we wish to live with the peace and joy of Jesus Christ risen from the grave, we must.


Bob said...

Interesting post. I was reflecting on the Fall season the other day and spent some time with the contrast that it holds. As you said, there is the air of death (dying flowers, falling leaves, migrating birds, impending cold of the winter) but at the same time there is an abundance of life (the harvest is celebrated and men and animals alike have all they need to prepare for the winter). Unfortunately, our modern economy has disconnected us a bit from this--people aren't busily stocking root cellars or canning and pickling to preserve the seasonal abundance.

In the same way, Good Friday's death yields the food of eternal life.

"unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."

Anonymous said...

Disconnected thoughts often provide more insight and you showed it here. The simple parallel betweeen the two will provide me with much to contemplate.


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