Once more I greet you at the beginning of a weekend with the Newsletter and Readings for the Masses of All Saints’ Day. Hopefully you remain well and positive in these trying and testing, not to mention sometimes wearying and confusing times. There is strength in just knowing that we are a part of something greater than our own seemingly shrinking and limited environments. Our community of Faith unites us in love and keeps the bright and cheery light of hope in view.
With November, beginning as it does with the glorious feast of All Saints, we traditionally bring to thought and prayer those who have gone before us, called home by Almighty God, commemorated on the day following – Holy Souls.
In the early weeks of the year I was asked to celebrate a Funeral Service for a lady called Margaret. I had not met her, but she had lived latterly in a nursing home in the Spen Valley. Rich in years, long removed from where she had been brought up, and from where she had lived and worked, her nearest relatives were of a similar age and unable to attend her Funeral. In fact there was no direct next of kin to speak with and glean some insight into a life journey that had begun over ninety years beforehand. Despite an appeal in the local press via the Coroners’ Office (which is the norm in such circumstances) no one came forward. Margaret had shrewdly made some plans for her Funeral stipulating a Catholic Priest to officiate, and purchasing a grave in a churchyard of her choice. I lived in the hope that someone from her past would turn up at the grave. But nobody did. On an incredibly damp, windy, cold and rather dark day the Funeral Director and myself were alone. Before beginning the Service I mentioned to the lady Funeral Director that if she wished to return with the Bearers to the warmth of the awaiting car she could do so as I would be praying the full Funeral Service. She declined, and remained, admirably, in the wet and cold.
Whilst I had no personal details to recount during the Homily I reflected on the fact that the quality of welcome God gives to us at the end of life’s pilgrimage is based on what He knows about us, reassuringly not on the views that other people have of us or even what they think they know about us ! I also mentioned the fact that we should befriend the dead, especially through our prayers for them.
Walking away from the grave, wet, cold and muddy, the Funeral Director commented on the poignancy of the words befriending the dead and said that it had given her a new insight into the significance of Funeral Services. With aspirations of eternal life it seems very sensible to make friends with those who have gone before us as we are living in hope of spending a lot of time with them in the future !
Walking away from Margaret’s grave little could I have envisaged the adaptations, alterations and changes that I would be called upon to make in regard to the manner in which I would be celebrating Funeral Services during Lockdown. At this juncture in time, I am aware of the reality that our annual Cemetery Mass cannot take place this year. This is something that over the last few years has come into its own by way of significance and meaning for the families of our parish communities. Celebrating an outdoor Mass where some of our loved ones rest, offering the highest prayer we can for those known to us, and those that in prayerful remembrance we are befriending.
This year has been one of great ingenuity; learning to do things in new ways and also having the confidence to do different things. So, perhaps in the absence of our outdoor Mass, it may be possible to walk through one of our cemeteries to befriend those buried there and to remember loved ones of our own whose faces we have cherished, voices we vividly recall, and presence we quietly miss. Relationships and friendships are not lost or broken when God makes the call for a soul to return to Him, but simply changed and altered. On such a walk recall too those who, like Margaret, were prayed into eternal life by an unfamiliar voice and with Ritual observed by the stranger. By so doing, when one day – with hope – we too are enjoying the banquet of eternal life, we may find ourselves unsurprised by a gentle tap on the shoulder and a warm welcome from the likes of Margaret, grateful for our befriending of them as they made their final journey back to God.
I conclude with a prayer that I’ve offered recently.
Rest in Peace.
Lord be good to them,
And show them your love.
Lord, be kind to them,
And grant them peace above.
Lord, be merciful to them,
And wipe their sins away.
Lord be generous to them,
With all my heart I pray.
Lord, be gracious to them,
For the good that they have done.
Lord, be gentle to them,
For sufferings undergone.
Lord, may we meet again at last,
When heaven’s crown’s been won.
Holding you in prayerful remembrance, together with your loved ones – living and handed back to God – and affection.
As ever, Fr. Nicholas