A table of the priests and seminarians from Saint John's Seminary joined the folks of the Christopher Catanese Foundation. The Foundation was established in 2005 in honor of their son Christopher, a senior in college who died in a tragic automobile accident. Throughout the years the family has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of children's charities "to allow as many children as possible to experience the joy of Christopher's life."
Saturday, November 30, 2013
We are all delighted that Chris Fedoryshyn was ordained to the diaconate this morning at Saint Michael’s Cathedral in Springfield by Bishop Timothy McDonnell. Here he is pictured with his mom and his Bishop.
From the Prayer of Ordination of a Deacon…
We beseech you, Lord: look with favor on this servant of yours who will minister at your holy altar and whom we now humbly dedicate to the office of deacon.
Send forth upon him, Lord, we pray, the Holy Spirit, that he may be strengthened by the gift of your sevenfold grace for the faithful carrying out of the work of the ministry. May there abound in him every Gospel virtue: unfeigned love, concern for the sick and poor, unassuming authority, the purity of innocence, and the observance of spiritual discipline.
May your commandments shine forth in his conduct, so that by the example of his way of life he may inspire the imitation of your holy people. In offering the witness of a clear conscience may he remain strong and steadfast in Christ, so that by imitating on earth your Son, who came not to be served but to serve, he may be found worthy to reign in heaven with him, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
In paradisum dedicante angeli…
Surrounded by his loving family, one of the most generous and good hearted men in Boston died today. Please ask God to look with mercy on Jack Shaughnessy, Sr. and to lead him home to heaven in perfect peace with his wife, Mary.
I first met Jack last year at a luncheon arranged by his old friend Sr. Jeanne. Jack’s love for the Church and his deep faith were as readily apparent as the stories he told of how much he missed his dear Mary, how proud he was of his children and grandchildren, and the constant refrain, “You know, Monsignor, I am just so blest.” And though he had some “Job-like” experiences in his life, they deepened his faith and his trust in the Lord.
Jack was always talking about Saint John’s Seminary and how we were full and how only the finest young men were studying for dioceses all over New England. Many of you have met him in the past year and would have your own stories of how much he loved us.
It was just a short time ago that I informed Jack that he would be the first recipient of the Archbishop John J. Williams medal by which Saint John’s would seek to recognize his unwavering commitment to and generous support of the seminary. In his usual humble way he suggested that someone else would be more worthy of the award but his extraordinary support of the Seminary makes it clear that he was and is the best choice.
The medal will be presented posthumously to Jack at our January Benefactor’s Banquet and on that night I am sure he will be smiling down at us, taking his typical pride not so much in himself as in the Church which he loved and so generously supported throughout the years.
Say a special prayer as you go to sleep tonight for Jack Shaughnessy, whose friendship and love of this holy house have been such a blessing to us for so many years.
in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres,
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
At Mass this morning Christopher Fedoryshyn and Christopher Peschel, both Candidates for the Diaconate, recited the Nicene Creed and took the Oath of Fidelity to the Church in the presence of the Seminary Community. Here's an excerpt from this morning's Gospel, my homily, and the Oath which they both professed on a Bible belonging to Bishop Cheverus, the first Bishop of Boston and all of New England.
"While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, “All that you see here–the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”
Luke 21: 5
HomilyThe Tabernacle we will soon build here will some day come down. Its onyx will be smashed, its alabaster ground to dust and the gold on its door cast to the wind.
Just as in this chapel, some day, not a stone will remain upon a stone. That roof will fall in, the walls will collapse and all those paintings will fade from the rain and the snow and the ice that will freeze across their surface.
And this body of mine, on a day even sooner than that, will cease to breath and the heart will stop and it will start to decay and smell and you will bury it in the earth in expectation of the day of the Lord’s coming.
And all my mighty accomplishments will be forgotten, like the faded letters etched into an old marble gravestone, no one will be able, or care to, read a line of all those marvelous accomplishments listed on my curriculum vitae.
It all fades and turns back to the dirt from which it came. All dies, save three things:
Faith, hope and love.
The faith our brothers profess today the hope which they will preach with their words and their lives and the love which endures forever, unto the resurrected glory of the heavenly Jerusalem,
before the face of God.
Oath of Fidelity
I, in assuming the office of Deacon, promise that in my words and in my actions I shall always preserve communion with the Catholic Church.
With great care and fidelity I shall carry out the duties incumbent on me toward the Church, both universal and particular, in which, according to the provisions of the law, I have been called to exercise my service.
In fulfilling the charge entrusted to me in the name of the Church, I shall hold fast to the deposit of faith in its entirety; I shall faithfully hand it on and explain it, and I shall avoid any teachings contrary to it.
I shall follow and foster the common discipline of the entire Church and I shall maintain the observance of all ecclesiastical laws, especially those contained in the Code of Canon Law.
With Christian obedience I shall follow what the Bishops, as authentic doctors and teachers of the faith, declare, or what they, as those who govern the Church, establish. I shall also faithfully assist the diocesan Bishops, so that the apostolic activity, exercised in the name and by mandate of the Church, may be carried out in communion with the Church.
So help me God, and God’s Holy Gospels on which I place my hand.
Last evening the Seminarians, Faculty and Staff gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving as a seminary community. A great time was had by all! Father Bryan Parrish, Assistant Vicar for Administration in the Archdiocese of Boston, preached at Vespers and Holy Hour before the evening meal.
Father Joseph Scorzello, beloved spiritual director and professor of philosophy, offered the following reflections:
We understand that expressions of gratitude for gifts received flows from the very nature of the human person as a human property. The Second Pre-Theologians (and to some degree the First Pre-Theologians) appreciate that the reason for the existence of the universe and that everything in it comes from an explanation outside the realm of material reality. All of existence is a pure gift from the cause that is uncaused, that is, what the philosopher calls efficient causality. All mankind must be grateful to this reality for the gift of existence. However, the human person manifests thankfulness not to an abstract principle but to a person. For the disciple of Christ it is God, Yahweh, that is, the Blessed Trinity that deserves our gratitude.
Leaving the theoretical aside without disregard for the insights discovered there we now turn to concrete realities indicating those gifts that we are most thankful for.
We are thankful for your lives that we have received through the unconditional love of God in union with the self-sacrificing reciprocal love of our parents. This life is transformed by the life of faith which is the supernatural gift of God nourished and protected in our natural and ecclesial family life. This gift of our participation in the salvific plan of God for all mankind is revealed to us in the Incarnation of His Beloved Son, in his life, teaching, suffering, death, resurrection, and in his gift of the Holy Spirit.
Here at St. John's Seminary we are most grateful for the many concrete expressions of God's loving presence. We are thankful for our new students who bring to us a new vitality and enthusiasm, for the gift of our returning students who have acquired a more profound appreciation of their call to priestly life and ministry and their continued maturation in the interior life of holiness. There is also a deep sense of gratitude for our new faculty members, especially Father Joseph Briody, coming to us from the land of Saints and Scholars, who brings to St. John's extraordinary talents and another perspective of the universal Church.
Personally I am grateful to all of you for your patience and understanding and your genuine concern and affection for my mother. I am especially thankful for your patience as I move from director of Pre-Theology and teacher of philosophy to Spiritual Director and teacher of philosophy. I am deeply moved by the dedication and sincerity of all the members of St. John's, the Staff, the Faculty, the students, all the support staff and especially the kitchen staff, this total commitment is itself a unique and extraordinary gift for the Church of Boston and the Church of New England.
With the Advent season upon us, celebrating His first Coming, and anticipating His Second Coming and experiencing his presence here and now in the celebration of the Sacraments and ecclesial life, we anticipate that the Lord will continue to be most generous in offering his many gifts and so we are most thankful.
We would also be most grateful to God if Father Scorzello were to be brief in his remarks.
Thank you Lord. Laudate Jesu Cristo!
A toast was offered by the newest member of our faculty, Father Joseph Briody. Father Briody, a priest of the Diocese of Raphoe in Ireland, is celebrating his first Thanksgiving in these native lands.
This is my first time to celebrate Thanksgiving. This time last year America was a far distant land for me, way across the Atlantic Ocean, represented by the many very impressive American people I had met. America was the land of the free and the brave; the land of opportunity and achievement; the land of liberty, especially of religious liberty; of equality, justice, democracy and authentic diversity; the land of openness, optimism, excellence, courtesy, helpfulness and “Yes we can!” More importantly, at least to my mind as a child, it was the homeland of lattes, burgers and waffles; of ice cream sundaes, Mac Donald’s and Dunkin Doughnuts. All the really important things in life! America was the land that gave us the best movies and the best TV series – like the American Office – much better than the English Office! America gave us the Simpsons, Friends, Desperate Housewives, (not that I watched it!) Frasier and Cheers – “where everybody knows your name.” I’m convinced that Monsignor Mc Laughlin starred in some of the early episodes of Cheers though he continues to deny it. His accent is just the same. When I first heard him speak I thought: “He’s from Cheers!” Since he’s not speaking later tonight I can say things about him! America has given us so much. You have even given us our beloved Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown! Thank you.
We have so much to thank God for. I have so much to thank you for. We all have reasons to be grateful to the Lord and to each other – for faith, for the religious liberty to practice our faith openly, for family, friendship, fraternity, formation, for this place and the good things we enjoy here, for the gifts of life and grace and vocation. I am grateful to God that he led me very unexpectedly to this “holy house” as Monsignor Moroney describes it, and I’m grateful to Monsignor Moroney for asking my Bishop to release me to come here. (I always wanted to go on the foreign missions!) Coming here, being with you seminarians, being with the faculty, has had one main effect on me – I really want to go home!! Seriously, the effect on me is that I would like to be a better priest, more worthy of this new task and this new place.
That’s a bit serious for a toast at Thanksgiving Dinner! Reverend Fathers, dear seminarians, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to propose a toast. Could I please ask you to be upstanding. Let us raise our glasses and drink - to St. John’s and to all who inspire our gratitude!
Finally, I read excerpts from the Proclamation by which our sixteenth President established Thanksgiving as a national holiday in these United States.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God…
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Congratulations to our seminarian Patrick Fiorillo for the publication of an article in the journal Sacred Music! Patrick has graciously granted us permission to publish his reflections for the benefit of the readers of this blog.
A Seminarian’s Experience
in Bringing Sacred Music to a New Audience
By Pat Fiorillo
[The following article was published in the commentary section of Sacred Music, Spring 2013, Volume 140 No. 1. Sacred Music is the quarterly journal of the Church Music Association of America (CMAA).]
This past fall I had the pleasure of being asked to provide music for a Catholic young adult event in Boston’s North End. For the past three years, the music at this monthly event had been exclusively of the “praise and worship” style. When I direct music for special events like this, I am very particular about each piece of music selected, always trying to draw that fine line between doing what is truly sacred and ideal, and what is accessible enough that the congregation will not be left feeling totally disconnected. With my choir of twelve brother seminarians and four lay friends, the program turned out as follows:
Opening hymn – I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say; introit—Simple English Propers, Kyrie VIII; offertory—Simple English Propers, Sanctus & Agnus De—O’Connor, Mass of St. Michael; communion—Pange Lingua in English, Jernberg’s St. Michael chant, and closing hymn—All People That On Earth Do Dwell.
The liturgy turned out to be a great success and the music was well received. I had a similar experience a year ago directing the Eucharistic Congress Mass. The main thing that this proves is that young people are open to experiencing the beauty of sacred music when it is presented well and in a context they can understand. Some of the event organizers were a bit nervous about me prior to the event; I suspect that when they found out I was going to have chant as part of the music program, the first thought that ran through their mind was, “Here is another traditional seminarian who just wants to turn this into a Latin Mass!” But I believe I dispelled those fears by showing them that chant can fit perfectly well into a normal liturgy without feeling totally foreign (especially thanks to CMAA’s free online resources). Many well-meaning Catholics think there is either “boring, old traditional music” or “Spirit-filled contemporary music.” But I dare say, after these events, very few were complaining that what we sang was old and boring, and many may have acknowledged for the first time that the “traditional” music was truly uplifting!
In order to more directly convey some of my ideas about sacred music to the congregation, I decided to write a brief reflection to be included in the program (or “worship aid” as they say), which I will share here. Please bear in mind that the ideas of sacred music and liturgy as discussed in Sacred Music were totally foreign to most people present at this Mass. I also realize that some statements may be a bit over-simplified, but I needed this to be short and concise enough that people could read it in two minutes before Mass.
Some Reflections on Tonight’s Music
At tonight’s Mass, the choir will be singing two of the official “chant propers” of the Mass. A liturgical text is “proper” when it is given for a specific day (e.g. the readings, prayer after communion, etc.). Three of these traditional sung propers – the introit, offertory, and communion chants – almost completely fell into disuse in the 1960’s. They are one or two scriptural sentences that provide a spiritual and theological reflection of the day’s feast or liturgical season. The collection of these chants for the entire liturgical year form the Roman Church’s most ancient repertoire of music; many date back to the 6th century and earlier and have been used ever since!
With the reformed liturgy of 1970, there is now the freedom to substitute other texts in order to aid in congregational participation. Since then, Catholics have generally interpreted that key phrase from the Second Vatican Council, “full, active participation,” to mean that an increased amount of singing always leads to fuller participation. However, nearly all of the popes in the 20th century have challenged the faithful to come to a more precise meaning of this.
Pope Pius XII instructed the Church, “the chief element of divine worship must be interior” (i.e., “union with Christ the Priest; offering with and through Him”). Pope Benedict XVI, as Cardinal, wrote: “Listening, the receptive employment of the senses and the mind, [and] spiritual participation are surely just as much ‘activity’ as speaking is. Are receptivity, perception, and being moved not ‘active’ things too?” Blessed John Paul II said that active participation “demands” … “the active passivity of silence, stillness and listening.”
This interior participation is exactly what is required for praying with the sung propers of the Mass, since they are generally not intended to be sung by the congregation. And so I invite you, while the choir chants the introit and offertory tonight, to allow the beauty of the chant to wash over you, and to allow the melody to speak the ancient text to you in a way that spoken words and hymns cannot.
I will leave you with a reflection by Pope Benedict, quoting Simone Weil: “In all that awakens within us the pure and authentic sentiment of beauty, there, truly, is the presence of God. There is a kind of incarnation of God in the world, of which beauty is the sign. Beauty is the experimental proof that incarnation is possible.”
 Dom Daniel Saulnier, O.S.B., Gregorian Chant, tr. Mary Berry, (Brewster, Mass.: Paraclete Press, 2009), p. 4.
 Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, ¶14 <http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19631204_sacrosanctum-concilium_en.html>
 Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Mediator Dei, ¶24.
 Coleman E. O’Neill, O.P., “The Theological Meaning of Actuosa Participatio in the Liturgy,” in Sacred Music and Liturgy Reform after Vatican II: Proceedings of the Fifth International Church Music Congress, Chicago-Milwaukee, August 21-28, 1966, ed. Johannes Overath (Rome: Consociatio Internationalis Musicae Sacrae, 1969), pp. 89-110, here p. 97, summarizing the Instruction of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, De Musica Sacra et Sacra Liturgia, ¶22-23 <http://www.adoremus.org/1958Intro-sac-mus.html>; quoted in Mahrt, “Active Participation and Listening to Gregorian Chant,” in The Musical Shape of the Liturgy, (Richmond, Va.: Church Music Association of America, 2012), p. 148; I am grateful to Professor Mahrt for organizing these ideas as he did in the this article, which has become the foundation of many of my personal views on the matter.
 Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith, tr. Graham Harrison, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), p. 123.
 Pope John Paul II, Ad Limina Address to the Bishops of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska, October 9, 1998 <http://www.vatican.va/holy_father_john_paul_ii/speeches/1998/october/>; cf. Mahrt, “Active Participation,” 157.
 Pope Benedict XVI, Speech in Sistine Chapel, November 21, 2009 <http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1341070?eng=y>
Just a few days ago, a large number of Seminarians and members of the community gathered at Our Lady of the Presentation Lecture Hall to hear a lively presentation on “The Church in the City” from six of Boston’s finest pastors. I am very grateful to Father Jack Ahern, Fr. Wayne Belschner, Fr. Carlos Flor, Monsignor Frank Kelley, Father Kevin O’Leary and Fr. James Ronan for the sharing of their stories and their passion for parish life in the city of Boston!
Friday, November 15, 2013
The Sovereign Militar Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Rhodes and of Malta (American Association USA) "seeks to glorify God by promoting the sanctification of each member through his or her work with the sick and the poor and defense of the Catholic faith." The Knights celebrated their 900th anniversary earlier this year, during which celebration Pope Benedict XVI reminded the order’s members that their guiding spirit "aims not to exercise power and influence of a worldly character, but in complete freedom to accomplish its own mission for the integral good of man, spirit and body ... with special regard for those whose need of hope and love is greater."
|Bishop Robert Deeley, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and Nancy Gibson at the Banquet earlier this evening.|
A couple days ago I was privileged to attend a wonderful dinner in honor of our victorious Saint John's Softball Team. You may recall that a little while back (and for the second year running!) SJS defeated the "Blessed John XXIII Relics" (yes, that is the name they chose!) in our annual softball outing. Admittedly, it was a miracle no one drowned in the course of the game through the rain and the mud, but a great time was had by all! I was deeply touched to receive this autographed softball as a remembrance of that happy day!
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
I presented the following reflection to a workshop on Bereavement Ministry at the Pastoral Center in the Archdiocese of Boston this morning,
On Friday, forty-eight hours after his decision to die in our home, Dad slipped beyond responding. We still talked softly to him as we moistened his lips, bathed him, or changed his pajamas. At this point the work of dying was physical, like the early labor of childbirth. I thought how appropriate the obstetrical term labor was; it looked like hard work. Dad was sweating, his heart raced, and his breathing was rapid. There was no way to know what he was feeling. We sat by him and held his hand and adjusted his pillows and kept his lips moist and forehead cool.
There was little for us to do, and none of us wanted to leave his side. Less than twenty minutes later, Mom woke us to report that Dad's breathing had abruptly changed. He appeared suddenly to be relaxed, as if the work, whatever it had been, was over. He was peaceful, no longer sweating, and is breathing was easy and deep, though irregular. Mom stood touching his foot, and Anita and I sat on each side of his bed touching his arms, as he drew his last breath and left. For the next hour we continued our vigil: hugging one another, crying intermittently, grieving openly and together.
What is it about being present at the moment of the last breath that moves us so deeply and unequivocally? What is it . . . ? Is it the act of dying? The pain? The uncertainty,' The fear? What is it that calls us, demands of it our undivided attention? It is the dead human body which so mercilessly shocks us out of our incessant presumption that our bodies and the bodies of those we love will never die? Strangely deaf to the ashes which mark each Lent, we spend a lifetime evading that dust which is our destiny.
But at that one deathbed moment we cannot evade the mortal truth. There it's all-too-clear. Or, as a wise women once wrote:
To witness death ... places the same sort of demands on a person as the receiving of a confession of sin. It demands that one has come to terms rather radically with one's own approaching death as a dimension of life in the present. At the moment of death it all comes home starkly, unambiguously and without equivocation. This body will, sooner or later, die . . . and decay . . . and be buried.
And how does the Church respond to the stark reality of death? Simply put, she “ministers to the sorrowing and consoles them in the funeral rites with the comforting word of God and the sacrament of the eucharist.” (OCF, no. 00) Thus does she bring “hope and consolation to the living.”
The rites for Christian Burial are contained in the Order of Christian Funerals, a book heavily adapted for the English speaking world and confirmed for use in the Dioceses of the United States of America in in 1987.
The introduction or praenotanda to this liturgical book describes a twofold purpose to the Church’s rites and prayers from death to burial. The first is the proclamation of the Paschal Mystery….
The second purpose of her rites grows from and reinforces the first. It is described as her “Ministry of Consolation” in three acts: “to care for the dying, to pray for the dead, to comfort those who mourn.”
CARING FOR THE DYING
The care for the dying itself is in two parts: before and after death. Before death, the Church accompanies the dying Christian with the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and the other rites contained in her rite of Pastoral Care of the Sick and Dying, culminating in the giving of Viaticum and the commendation of the dying to the hands of God.
After death the Church pays a debt of prayer to the deceased Christian, offering the Holy Eucharist for the redemption of her soul and seeking to pray her into heaven, confident in God’s infinite mercy.
COMFORTING THOSE WHO MOURN
It is the third moment of this Ministry of Consolation, however, which comes closest to your theme today in the Church’s comforting of those who mourn, in fulfillment of the Lord’s command: "Blessed are they who mourn; they shall be consoled" (Matthew 5:3)
The responsibility for this ministry “rests with the believing community…each Christian shares in this ministry according to the various gifts and offices in the Church.”
THE PRIEST CONSOLES
Thus priests and the ministers of the Church “instruct the parish community on the Christian meaning of death and on the purpose and significance of the Church's liturgical rites for the dead.” They remind us that our sorrow is like that of the Sorrowful Virgin and a participation in the death of her Son upon the cross.
They teach us to recall how he suffered the torments of the passion: his flesh torn by whips, his side pierced by a lance, he bled real blood and knew the pain of being a man. And when they hung his arms from a cross beam, his lungs gasped a last breath and He died. His friends embraced his dead body as it was taken down from the cross. They carried the cold and bloodied corpse to a tomb, wept bitter tears and rolled a rock across its entrance. Three days later they returned to anoint and embrace Him for one last time. On that day this body rose, "the first of many brothers," triumphantly He rose-and by His rising showed us that as He has done, so also we shall do in these poor bodies of ours.
In the face of all this, priests proclaim that we preach a counter-cultural approach to death: which demands an intimacy with death and with the bodies of those who have died:
1) We believe that we were joined to Christ's own death in baptism, that as Our bodies were washed in the waters of the font, we were inserted into the pascha of Him whose grave is the portal to eternal life;
2) We believe that we are separated from those who have died for but a little while, and so with "Sure and certain hope" we place their bodies in the earth, waiting like the women at the tomb, for them to be raised for judgment in the fullness of time;
3) And each day we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ who will raise these mortal bodies Of Ours and clothe them in an incorruptibility born of His divinity. and while we wait, we pray
-confident that all who die with Him will live with Him
-confident that God hears the prayers of the Church
-confident in God's love for us and His mercy ...
THE FAITHFUL CONSOLE
So too, do the Christian faithful share in this Ministry of Consolation. Such a ministry is particularly challenging in a day and age which sees bereavement and consolation as essentially private or familial affairs. But the birth of the Christian unto eternal life is anything but private. It is the fulfillment of their Baptismal dying and rising with Christ and their incorporation into his Body the Church. The hope which sustains us, even in the face of death, is that we have been made one with the firstborn of many brothers.
Thus does the Order of Christian Funerals suggest that all the members of every parish assume the responsibility to “respond to the anguish voiced by Martha, the sister of Lazarus: "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would never have died" (John 11:21). They do this by proclaiming with their lives the same words which the Lord spoke in love: "Your brother will rise again…. I am the resurrection and the life: those who believe in me, though they should die, will come to life; and those who are alive and believe in me will never die" (John 11:25-26). Thus does “the faith of the Christian community in the resurrection of the dead brings support and strength to those who suffer the loss of those whom they love.”
But words alone are not sufficient to the task, and the second aspect of their Ministry of Consolation of the Christian community must be marked by “acts of kindness, for example, assisting them with some of the routine tasks of daily living. Such assistance may allow members of the family to devote time to planning the funeral rites with the priest and other ministers and may also give the family time for prayer and mutual comfort.”
Finally, the Christian community is called upon to exercise its “principal involvement in the ministry of consolation” by their “active participation in the celebration of the funeral rites…” For just as the celebration of the Holy Eucharist is the source and the summit of the entire Christian life, so too the Funeral Mass is at the heart of the Church’s consolation of the bereaved.
Imagine for a moment, or recall if you will, the moment you first saw the dead body of a person you once loved. You walk into the Funeral Home, filled with for boding and maybe even a bit queasy. Then you look across the room and see the body in which Mark has lived all these years. The body that embraced you, that shook your hand, that smiled when you spoke his name and laughed at your worst jokes. The eyes that teared up when you were sad and gazed with pride at your many accomplishments.
At that moment you miss your friend, you’d do anything to have just five minutes more to hear his voice. There’s an emptiness, a god of uncertainty that seems to suck the air out of the room. And then you hear the Church pray:
Lord our God,
the death of our brother Mark
recalls our human condition
and the brevity of our lives on earth. But for those who believe in your love
death is not the end,
nor does it destroy the bonds
that you forge in our lives.
We share the faith of your Son’s disciples
and the hope of the children of God.
Bring the light of Christ’s resurrection
to this time of testing and pain
as we pray for Mark and for those who love him
through Christ our Lord.
Such rites of consolation are the reason we do not mourn like those who have no hope.
Another rich source of Christian consolation in the Order of Christian Funerals is found in a collection of original prayers which are unique to the English-Language edition. Here we find thirteen general texts, as well as prayers specific to the burial of a Bishop, a Priest, a Deacon, a religious or one who worked in the service of the Gospel. Prayers for the death of a child, a young person, a parent or a married couple, a husband or a wife are also found along with particular prayers for a deceased non-Christian married to a Catholic, an elderly person, one who died after al long illness, one who died suddenly, am accidental or violent death and one who died by suicide.
There are fifteen additional prayer texts specifically for mourners themselves. And while I would strongly recommend your study and contemplation of each of these prayers, allow me to examine just two of them in depth for the purposes of our reflection on bereavement and the Order of Christian Funerals.
The first is the last of all these prayers and is intended for the Funeral of a stillborn child. The prayer brings me back to the sad days I walked with a couple about a decade ago as they buried their second child, born prematurely at ten weeks.
Their three year old, Martin, took it very hard. I remember going with him and his father to visit Sarah in the hospital late on the day in which their son Timothy died during birth. Martin ran over to his mother and immediately placed his little hand on her stomach. “I know, I know,” he said with excitement in his voice, “Mommy just eat more spinach and Timothy will be OK again!”
All we could do was weep, and hug little Martin to consolation. And pray, in these words:
ever caring and gentle,
we commit to your love this little one,
quickened to life for so short a time.
Enfold him in eternal life.
We pray for his parents
who are saddened by the loss of their child.
Give them courage
and help them in their pain and grief. May they all meet one day
in the joy and peace of your kingdom.
Through Christ our Lord.
What does the prayer seek to do? It does the same thing we are called to do in every act of consolation in face of death. When God seems cruel and almost violent in the face of the death of one so little and innocent and pure, we are reminded that he is caring and gentle. We commit the child to God’s loving embrace.
The somewhat archaic phrase “quickened to life for so short a time” articulates perfectly the flash of beauty which was the presence of this child in our family for so short a time.
We admit sadness, how could we not, and loss and pain and grief. But then we pray for courage and remind them of the vision God may grant them at the end of time when they might run out to see Timothy and all who have died in Christ and bask with them in the glory of the Kingdom of God for all eternity.
Having examined the last of the optional prayers for mourners I would now invite you to hear the first and the longest of these prayers. The prayer is in three parts. The first, like every Roman Collect, addressed God and professes our faith in him. This is followed by two sets of question: The first asking for comfort and peace and the lat for Faith.
First, the profession of faith:
Father of mercies and God of all consolation,
you pursue us with untiring love
and dispel the shadow of death with the bright dawn of life.
This is a uniquely contemporary prayer, almost echoing the famous poem by Francis Thompson, The Hound of Heaven. God is not only the author of all consolation and the one who dispels death’s dark shadow with the bright dawn of life, but he is the one who pursues us, runs after us, follows us with his untiring love.
As we contemplate the life of the deceased we are naturally led to comparisons with our own journey. We think of the paths we have chosen, some leading us closer to Christ, some leading us further away. But no matter where we wander, even into the shadow of death, Christ’s love never grows tired and he ever seeks to light our path and embrace us with his love.
So following this setup of the wandering Christian and the untiring pursuer, we make the first ask:
Comfort your family in their loss and sorrow.
Be our refuge and our strength O Lord,
and lift us from the depths of grief
into the peace and light of your presence.
This is a very Biblical prayers, drawn largely from the Psalms. Just as we have recalled that God’s light dispels the Shadow of Death (Psalm 23) now we ask God to be our refuge and strength (Psalm 46) and to lift us from the depths of grief (de profundis, Psalm 129) into this presence. Here we might recall the words of Saint Augustine that our hearts never truly rest until they rest in God. So too, stricken by grief and pain and fear and sin, our hearts never rest until they know the peace and light of God’s presence.
This leads us to the second and more extended petition:
Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
by dying has destroyed our death,
and by rising, restored our life.
Enable us therefore to press on toward him,
so that, after our earthly course is run,
he may reunite us with those we love,
when every tear will be wiped away.
Through Christ our Lord.
This last petition recalls the profession we may at the start of the prayer, again in the words of Sacred scripture, dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. It is followed a uniquely modern concept, asking for the grace to “press on toward him.” It is the biblical image of running out to meet Christ at his coming which we find throughout the prayers of Advent and Christmas. But here the running to Christ is seen to be a pressing on…a difficult task. How mourners can appreciate such a state, wanting to just sit down on my dung heap and pick at my scabs, to give up and just give in to the misery and grief. But these consoling words beg God to give us the grace to run our earthly course that God might “reunite us with those we love, when every tear will be wiped away.”
Consolation of the bereaved, then, is not just a matter to wiping tears or giving hugs. It is a mini try of evangelization, of reminding even those who have been caught up in the web of the darkness of death, that this is all in God’s plan and that it is our task as the living to run all the faster to meet him at his coming that he might make call us to himself and love might triumph. That is a true ministry of consolation.
The Ministry of Consolation, then, is nothing less than the fulfillment of our responsibility to bury the dead. There are few times in which the meaning of life is more starkly present to us, and few times which the word of faith can have greater effect.
And we who have been Baptized need the Church at just such moments. When I buried my father, a mere none months ago, I began the Rite of Final Commendation by spontaneously declaring, “I just don’t know how anyone who do this without the Church.”
As Stephen King once wrote: “The family exists for many reasons, but its most basic function may be to draw together after a member dies.” And so we draw together in hope and in faith, we the children of the one Father, the brothers and sisters of Jesus, to proclaim his Paschal dying and rising and to rejoice in our share in his redemptive sacrificial love.
And that is consolation.