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The simple but important gift of remembrance

Remembrance Day reminds us of the importance of the Church’s role in walking with all who grieve, writes Fr Michael Kane.

This weekend we celebrate Remembrance Sunday. At cenotaphs and war memorials across the country people will fall silent to recall all those souls lost at war.

The motto ‘lest we forget’ has become a great cry of the generations who benefitted from the sacrifices of the brave. Remembrance Sunday reminds us that their blood won for us the freedoms we enjoy today. Such an occasion also reminds us of the cruelty and destruction of war, renewing our determination to choose the path of peace over conflict.

For us as Christians, the theme of remembrance accompanies us throughout the entire month of November when we pray in a particularly focused way for the holy souls. Many parishes, including my own, will hold vigils of prayer and annual Requiem Masses as a concrete expression of our prayer for the dead and our solidarity with all those who are grieving the loss of a loved one.

In our own parish we write to the families of those who have died over the course of this last year inviting them to the annual Mass of Remembrance which takes place this weekend. Time and again families speak of their gratitude that the Church has remembered the wound of their grief. The simple gift of remembrance is one which is deeply cherished.

 

Moving occasion

We light a candle at the Mass for each family as a symbol of light amidst the darkness of loss, and read the names of all those whom we have loved and lost over the last year. It is always a moving occasion, a time to reconnect with families who are at different stages of healing, and to remind them that it is the hope of eternal life that carries us into the future.

It seems to me that accompanying the bereaved is such an essential part of the Church’s ministry. There is, of course, the instant accompaniment when a loved one dies. Often this is an intense time of visiting and making practical preparations for the Requiem Mass. It’s a time marked by confusion and shock as the surreal permanence of separation begins to unveil itself. People are sore and vulnerable and need the Church to be there to console and comfort.

It is vitally important to communicate the message of Resurrection and the promise of eternal life in a very clear and direct way at this time. In the midst of these dark moments it is the refreshing truth about human destiny which is needed much more than ordinary cordial exchanges.

 

Resurrection

This is what people need to hear from the Church. Those who are grieving are juggling with the difficult question ‘what next?’ and are fighting the temptation to believe that darkness and absurdity prevails. By confidently proclaiming the Gospel of Resurrection the Church anoints the wounds of those who are grieving much more than any human consolation a priest may give.

Yet, when the funeral is over and the incense in the thurible has long since burned out it is vitally important that our pastoral charity does not stop.

Very often this initial period after a funeral induces a new wave of grief, especially when people are getting back to the ‘ordinary’ routine of life without their loved one. This time can be marked by feelings of guilt and remorse. It is here, too, that the Church must be present, to support and accompany those on the next stage of their journey.

A year later much of the raw emotion and fragility that comes from loss has lessened. A year on, people may see things differently, perhaps with a new perspective and outlook.

When the dust settles, the Church must still remind the bereaved that we do not forget their departed loved one. ‘Lest we forget’ is also the motto for the Christian who never ceases to offer our humble prayers to God for those who have gone before us.

 

Consoling presence

Throughout the painful journey of loss the Church is a constant and consoling presence. We do not approach loss as the humanists do, arriving to deliver a eulogy, never to be seen again. Such an impersonal approach is of no benefit to anyone. It turns loss into an industry with grieving families the ‘customers.’

For this reason, it always pains me to hear of Catholic families resorting to humanist funerals. Apart from the fact that God is given no mention, families are sold a lie. In search of something very personal, they end up with a celebrant whom they have never met and who wants no further role beyond the day of the funeral.

It is the definition of false care which ignores the long-term wounds that come from loss. This weekend we look forward to welcoming familiar faces back to our Church for the Remembrance Mass. May they always know that the family of the Church is there for them and walks alongside them in their loss.

May our prayers rise us to God for the faithful departed and assist them on their homeward steps to Heaven.

 

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