In November, the Church remembers and celebrates the lives of the faithful departed. Beginning with the celebration of All Souls’ Day, their memories are honored and the living are encouraged by the hope of a reunion in the kingdom of heaven.
As the days of the month wane and the celebrations of Advent and Christmas approach, however, the pain felt because of the loss of a loved one often intensifies.
Elisa Smith, parish financial auditor for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, has lost several cherished family members during what is normally one of the most joyous liturgical seasons of the year. The death of her father, a grandmother and a grandfather all occurred around Christmas and early January of various years past. For Smith, the Advent season continues to be a season of memories of those loved ones.
She found December remembrance services offered by community organizations touching but lacking a component. While living and working in Indianapolis, she approached the bishop there with an idea for an archdiocese-sponsored tree lighting and remembrance event. Two years later, she returned to live and work in Fort Wayne, and Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades was receptive to the idea of starting the tradition here as well.
“This season is hard for a lot of people. For the Church to give us comfort and hope takes us to a spiritual level. When the other organizations that do it, the events are beautiful; but the Church gives us the hope of seeing our loved ones again someday, with God. We’ll be whole. It’s much more comforting for believers.”
Evening of Heavenly Lights memorial prayer service, tree lighting and blessing of luminarias will take place 6:30-7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 29, outside at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne. Bishop Rhoades will lead those present in prayer in celebrating the lives of departed loved ones during the Advent season and in preparing their hearts for Jesus’ coming as the light of the world.
The First Sunday of Advent event is an opportunity to take time from the busyness of the season – the baking, the buying, the running around – to focus on the spirituality of the season, said Smith.
Scripture readings, a reflection by Bishop Rhoades and songs led by an ensemble of choir members from Bishop Dwenger High School will be part of the half-hour service. A large Christmas tree situated on the cathedral plaza will be lit during the service.
Names of deceased loved ones, those who were honored with luminaria candles, will be inscribed on ornaments to be hung on the tree once it is transferred – following the service – to the interior of the cathedral, where it will remain for the rest of the season.
The outdoor luminaria candles and bags will be blessed, after which each one can be taken home by the person who purchased it in memory of their loved one. Commemorative ornaments will also be given to those who purchased the luminarias.
Just as tradition has it that luminarias lit the way for Mary and Joseph in their search for lodging in Bethlehem, so too will luminarias light the walkway to the cathedral during the service. Each luminaria bag, with its flickering, flameless candle, will represent the light of a departed loved one and will include his or her name printed on the bag.
To purchase a luminaria, visit www.diocesefwsb.org/heavenlylights/. Cost is $10 and proceeds will be donated to Catholic Charities of Northeast Indiana. The service will be livestreamed on the diocesan Facebook page.
Anyone who would like to purchase a luminaria in honor of a loved one or friend but cannot attend the service may pick up their luminaria and commemorative ornament afterward at either the Archbishop Noll Catholic Center in Fort Wayne or the St. John Paul II Center in Mishawaka.
Anyone who does plan to be in attendance is asked to wear a mask and social distance. For more information, contact Smith at 260-399-1438.
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