During the month of November we are called in a special way to “… remember our brothers and sisters who have gone to their rest in the peace of Christ.” (Eucharistic Prayer II) In response to that prayer we inscribe in a book of remembrance in our own parish the name(s) of our loved one(s) to be remembered in prayer this month.
The loss of a loved one is a unique experience for the person going through it. As such, it demands that we listen carefully and have a compassionate presence. I don’t think the human person could survive the loss of a loved one without memories. It would be too great a shock to the human psyche and soul. We need to be able to remember the many fine experiences and values that the person stood for.
In its ancient wisdom the Church has rituals and feast days that celebrate the memory of those whom we have lost through death. In our Catholic Tradition we have the feasts of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. It is a way in which we honor our loved ones and those who have gone before us. It is a way of witnessing the Communion of Saints. It is a way of saying that we are a part of a greater whole; the mystical body of Christ. Death has no hold over this reality. It transcends death.
On All Saints Day we commemorate all those who have attained the beatific vision in Heaven. This is the “church triumphant.” On All Souls Day we commemorate the faithful departed who have not yet been purified and reached heaven. This is the “church penitent.” Catholics celebrate All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day in the fundamental belief that there is a prayerful spiritual communion between those who have died and those who are living, the “church militant.”
On All Souls’ Day we remember all those who have passed from this world and especially those we knew and loved. We recall them with a deep love and loss, but time has helped to heal the hurt and we can now see from a better perspective. As the book of life is thrown open, it helps us to think ahead to our own eternal departure time. At death the whole of our life is revealed to us and at an unexpected depth. We realize that the future is not ours and we must rely on others to fulfill the things that we were not able to complete.
Death ends a life but not a relationship. Our spouses, children, family and friends who have died before us are still in relationship with us. We join them in our spiritual bond to the person of Christ. We memorialize what they stood for. In prayer we communicate with them and finish all the conversations and reconciliations left undone. That is truly the “Communion of Saints.”
In support groups, journalizing, visits to the grave, memorial services and other rituals, we cope with the loss and enhance the relationship. We believe in the communion of saints. Through faith we are offered immortality with Christ and all the communion of saints. Yes, we echo that ancient phrase, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”
Fr. Al Backmann