November 4, 2014 // Uncategorized

Devotion to the memory of the dead

On All Souls Day, Nov. 2, more than 100 faithful attended a Mass celebrated by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades in the Resurrection Mausoleum at the Catholic Cemetery in Fort Wayne. Bishop Rhoades makes final remarks to those gathered before the dismissal hymn.

Following is the text of the homily that Bishop Rhoades delivered during Mass on All Souls’ Day, November 2nd, 2014, at the Catholic Cemetery in Fort Wayne:

Today, All Souls’ Day, we bring to the Lord all our loved ones who have died, who have gone before us in faith. We pray and intercede for them and for all the holy souls in purgatory.

Pope Saint John XXIII once said that the devotion to the memory of the dead is one of the beautiful expressions of the Catholic spirit. We need a renewal and revival of this spirit. We live in a culture where many try to avoid as much as possible the thought and reality of death. This is seen even at funerals where the emphasis is more on celebrating the departed person’s past life on earth than on praying for them and their future glory. It’s true that at funerals we should be giving thanks to God for the person’s earthly life, but the important funeral rites of the Church are primarily liturgies in which we pray for the recently departed person. I say to my family and close friends: “when I die, please don’t focus on my meager accomplishments; focus on the Lord and pray for me, for my eternal rest and peace. Help me with your prayers and sacrifices, especially with Masses, that through the trial of purgatory I may attain eternal joy.”

One way of showing devotion to the memory of the dead is visiting and praying at their graves. It is appropriate that we offer this Mass today here at our Catholic cemetery. Let us remember in a special way those who are buried here, as we also remember all our loved ones wherever they are buried.

In entrusting the souls of the faithful departed to the Lord, we recognize our solidarity with them as brothers and sisters in the communion of saints, the Church. Yesterday, All Saints Day, we celebrated the feast of our brothers and sisters who are already in heaven. We also live in solidarity with them — they help us and we ask them to do so when we invoke their intercession. Today, All Souls Day, we remember the souls in purgatory. The doctrine of the communion of saints expresses the great truth that the union among us who are members of the Body of Christ goes beyond earthly life, beyond death. In fact, it endures forever. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, said the following concerning the communion of saints:

This union among us goes beyond and continues in the next life; it is a spiritual communion born in Baptism and not broken by death, but, thanks to the Risen Christ, is destined to find its fullness in eternal life. There is a deep and indissoluble bond between those who are still pilgrims in this world (us) and those who have crossed the threshold of death and entered eternity. 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.

Did you ever notice that we pray for the dead at every Mass? Each of the Eucharistic prayers includes intercession for the faithful departed. This is important also in our prayer outside of Mass, to remember the souls in purgatory. And also to have Masses offered for our loved ones who have died. This is a beautiful gift we can give to them.

None of this makes any sense without the hope we have in eternal life, a hope founded on the death and resurrection of Christ. Because of Jesus, we believe that death does not have the last word. It’s not our final destiny, rather, it is a passage to eternal life. As we pray in the first Preface of Masses for the Dead: Indeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed not ended, and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven.

Praying for the dead is a spiritual work of mercy. It is an important obligation, because even if they have died in God’s grace and in God’s friendship, most probably still need final purification in order to enter the joy of heaven. Every trace of attachment to evil must be eliminated and every imperfection of the soul corrected before we see God face to face. This is the complete purification that is meant by the Church’s teaching on purgatory. Praying for the souls in purgatory is a gift of love that we share with them. Sometimes when we pray for them, we can feel their closeness to us.

Today is also a good day for us to reflect on our own preparedness for death or lack thereof. We are pilgrims here on earth and we must never lose sight of the final destination of our pilgrimage, our heavenly homeland. What is most important in life is that we live and that we die in God’s grace and friendship. We all desire eternal happiness. We live in hope that one day we will be with the Lord and with our loved ones in the perfect joy of heaven. This should be the horizon toward which we direct our lives and our choices: eternal life with God, to be among “the souls of the just that are in the hand of God.” This is God’s desire too, as Jesus said in today’s Gospel: this is the will of the One who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what He gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day. 

Today and throughout this month of November, let us offer prayers and sacrifices for the faithful departed. Let us be devoted to the memory of the dead. As Pope Saint John XXIII said: this is truly one of the beautiful expressions of the Catholic spirit!

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