November 8, 2016 // Uncategorized

Devotion to the Memory of the Dead

The following is the text of the homily delivered by Bishop Rhoades at Mass on All Souls’ Day, November 2, 2016, at the Catholic Cemetery, Fort Wayne:

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades celebrates the Holy Mass on Nov. 2, the Commemoration of All Souls, at Catholic Cemetery in Fort Wayne.

Pope Saint John XXIII once said that “devotion to the memory of the dead is one of the most beautiful expressions of the Catholic spirit.” We are here today because of our devotion to the memory of the dead, all our deceased loved ones, all those buried here in our Catholic cemetery and elsewhere. This devotion is indeed a beautiful expression of the Catholic spirit because it is an expression of our love. Praying for the dead is an act of love. It is one of the spiritual works of mercy.

We have a great responsibility in charity to accompany with our prayers and sacrifices those who have gone before us. We have a responsibility to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who have died and are not yet purified. This is a holy responsibility: to pray for the holy souls in purgatory, thus helping them to reach the heavenly kingdom, that they may see God face to face and obtain the joy of the saints in heaven.

All Souls’ Day is an important day for us as Catholics. It expresses something very natural within us — the urge to pray for our departed loved ones. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, once said that “praying for one’s departed loved ones is a far too immediate urge to be suppressed; it is a most beautiful manifestation of solidarity, love and assistance, reaching beyond the barrier of death. The happiness or unhappiness of a person dear to me, who has now crossed to the other shore, depends in part on whether I remember or forget him or her; he or she does not stop needing my love.”

So we are here today in this holy place, our Catholic cemetery, to remember and to pray for the faithful departed, for the holy souls in purgatory. We gather here in faith and hope, a faith and hope that is founded in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We just heard Saint Mark’s account of Jesus’ death and then the discovery of the empty tomb by the three women on Easter Sunday morning. They heard the wonderful words of the angel: “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him.” We would not be here today if it were not for our faith in the resurrection of Jesus. It is the crowning truth of our faith.

We pray for the faithful departed because we believe that their life is changed, not ended. Their bodies are in the tombs of this and other cemeteries. The bodies of the dead decay, but their souls have gone to meet God. And, through the power of Jesus’ Resurrection, on the last day, God will grant incorruptible life to their bodies by reuniting them with their souls. How this will happen exceeds our imagination and understanding, yet we believe with Saint Paul that Christ will change our lowly body to be like His glorious Body. Our belief in the resurrection of the body is why the Church insists that we honor and treat with dignity the bodies of the deceased. Their graves are a sign of hope and promise in the resurrection.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the greatest prayer we can offer for the faithful departed. The practice of offering Masses for the dead comes down to us from the earliest centuries of the Church. On her deathbed, Saint Monica said to her son Saint Augustine: “Lay this body wherever it may be. Let no care of it disturb you: this only I ask of you, that you should remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.” And Saint Augustine did. And at Mass we remember at the altar of the Lord our beloved family members and friends who have died.

Yesterday, the Solemnity of All Saints, and today, the Commemoration of All Souls, remind us that the communion of saints goes beyond earthly life, beyond death, and endures forever. It is a spiritual communion that was born in Baptism and is not broken by death. “All baptized persons here on earth, the souls in Purgatory and all the blessed who are already in Paradise make one great Family. This communion between earth and heaven is realized especially in intercessory prayer” (Pope Francis). We are intimately united with one another in the Body of Christ. Our ecclesial solidarity through prayer is most evident and most powerful at the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The love of Christ unites us in a bond that not even death can destroy. This bond is strengthened when we remember one another, including the faithful departed, in our prayers.

As we approach the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, I encourage all to practice the spiritual work of mercy of praying for the faithful departed, the holy souls who are eager for our prayers. Let us help them on their final journey with our love by accompanying them with our prayers and sacrifices.

“Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.”


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