Last weekend, at all the masses was the Commemoration of All Souls in which we remembered the deceased who had gone before us. At the 5:30 vigil mass on Saturday after the homily, we had a ritual in which we read the names of those from the parish who died in the past year.
As we read the names, people came forward with photographs of the deceased, which we then placed on the corner steps of the altar. Each person was then handed a small votive candle, which we placed around the baptismal font. As all of this happened, the lights in the church were dimmed and the area around the font was illuminated. As people came up and handed me their photos, I asked them to tell me the name of the person who died. There were mothers, fathers, grandfathers, grandmothers, husbands, wives, a 36-week-old child. In the photographs, these people were smiling, they were at parties, they were among friends, there was one riding a horse in the bright sunshine in what looked to be Wyoming or Montana. After the last person came up, the corner steps of the altar had become an altar in itself with the photos lit up by candles and the votives around the font adding to the sense of light shining in the dark. And later at the offertory, the smoke of incense rising into the darkness, recalled Psalm 141, “my prayer rises like incense before you.”
For some, afterwards, I could see that the grief still lingers. One woman told me about her father who died in May, how the original shock of it had gone away, but how hard it still was for her. There is no time limit on grieving. It can stay with us for a long time, and still, the rituals, the prayers shine their own light on grieving.
I remember a few years ago one of my father’s best friends, a man named Joe who was also my godfather, died in Florida and we had his funeral on a cold snowy day in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. At the funeral, I looked out and saw family and friends all gathered together in the church, and I remembered all the times we had shared with Joe and his family in the summers, falls, and winters in New Hampshire – swimming in the lakes, hiking in the mountains, and skiing. The memories stay with us and in the church on that day I was reminded that Joe, when I was baptized as an infant, as my godfather would have been holding the baptismal candle as a witness, and here, at his funeral all these years later, the Easter candle was lit, also as a witness, a sign of resurrection. As Joe held up the light of Christ for my parents on that day of my baptism, now we held up the light of Christ on the day of his funeral. At the beginning of our lives and at the end, we are loved by God and destined for life with God. We continue to pray throughout the month for all those who have died.
A couple of discoveries for me in the past week: one is the “Small Treasures” exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art, with some exquisite small paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and others. Another is the gem that is Umstead Park, with its miles of walking trails just off of route 70. And thanks to all who helped to organize the Fair Trade Market last weekend. It looked to be a great success, and a witness to the value of buying with a social conscience.
Blessings on your week!