May your loved ones rest in peaceBy: Bishop Edward M. Rice
“From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead: Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them” —Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), 1032.
Praying for the dead
November is the month during which we particularly remember our departed loved ones. Mother Nature helps us ponder the reality of death as we see the leaves falling, the days getting shorter and cooler, and long shadows often cast early in the afternoon. At the writing of this column, I have received 2,320 cards from across the diocese carrying the names of your deceased loved ones. I have placed all of these cards in my chapel, at the foot of the altar. It is an honor for me to remember your deceased friends and family members in my prayers and Masses. For me, it is a reminder that someday—hopefully in the distant future—someone will pray for me!
We begin the month with the Solemnity of All Saints on Nov. 1. This is a holy day of obligation, so please attend your local Mass. Even though there is sadness in the midst of our loss, the Entrance Antiphon expresses the joy at the center of this celebration, “Let us all rejoice in the Lord, as we celebrate the feast day in honor of all the Saints, at whose festival the Angels rejoice and praise the Son of God.”
Who are these “saints?” I would refer to them as the hidden jewels of the Church: men and women, countless in number, who lived saintly lives, often hidden behind the routine of daily life, fulfilling their obligations to family and Church, often under heroic circumstances.
I think of the wife who cared for her invalid husband for over 12 years as he slowly declined from a debilitating disease. I think of the family who continues to care for their adult child permanently injured from a car accident. What about the countless number who get up day-after-day and go to work so they can provide for the family? When they get home from work, their work is not finished! The obligations to spouse and children are there, met with love and devotion. In a sense, it is never ending! Theirs is a “hidden holiness.” You know some of these “hidden saints.” They were your parents or grandparents. While many have not yet been “officially” canonized, they indeed led saintly lives. By their witness and example, they continue to inspire us with their faith and dedication to family.
All Souls Day, Nov. 2, has a more somber tone to it. While we reaffirm our belief in the resurrection, we specifically recall our loved ones who have died. While we profess our belief in the “resurrection of the body,” it does not keep us from deeply feeling the separation and loss as the result of death. The beautiful tradition of having the Holy Mass offered for the repose of the soul of a loved one is most appropriate and I encourage all of you to consider the last time you had a Mass offered for your deceased family members. My dad has been gone for 40 years now, my mom for 29. I still arrange to have Mass offered for them at St. Cecilia Parish in St. Louis, our home parish.
As is told to us in 2 Maccabees, when Judas took a collection from his soldiers to have sacrifices offered on behalf of the fallen, “He took a collection from them … and sent it to Jerusalem to have a sacrifice for sin offered, an action altogether fine and noble, prompted by his belief in the resurrection. For had he not expected the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead, whereas if he had in view the resurrection … the thought was holy and devout. Hence, he had this expiatory sacrifice offered for the dead, so that they might be released from their sin.”
The Catholic tradition of having a Mass offered is highly encouraged. Along with the living, even the dead could benefit from our prayers. Call your local parish and remember your loved ones in this special way. Each day as I pray in my chapel, I look upon the many names of your loved ones who have passed away. Again, I assure you of my prayers, and I end this time with the beautiful prayer for the dead, “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”