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“Death and faith in Jesus Christ,” a message from Bishop Sullivan

I wonder how many people realize that Halloween, the celebration on the last day of the month of October, is the runner up to the following day, Nov. 1, All Saints Day. Halloween, All Hallows Eve, takes its name from the Eve before the Feast of the Hallowed Ones, All Saints. The origin of Halloween, its roots, reaches back to the Christian calendar. Undoubtedly, that connection is lost in our society with all the hoopla that is now associated with Halloween.

All Saints Day, Nov. 1, begins the month of November where, traditionally, we remember those who have gone before us into death. All Saints Day is the celebration of those who, in eternal life, are already with God in the joy of Heaven. These are the hallowed ones, the Saints. They are women and men who became holy while living ordinary lives on Earth with all the challenges, sadness, joys and achievements of life. They are the goodly company of men and women who are now with God. They are sisters and brothers to us in the Communion of Saints.

About them the Preface of the Mass for the Solemnity of All the Saints prays so exquisitely: “rejoicing in the glory bestowed upon those exalted members of the Church through whom you give us, in our frailty, both strength and good example.”

On the second day of November the Church commemorates All the Faithful Departed whose journey from this life to life with God in the heavenly Jerusalem is not completed. Though they have not yet reached the goal of all the baptized due to their sins, they are on their way and are encouraged and assisted by our prayers for them. All the Souls in Purgatory benefit from the commemoration of them at the Masses offered on All Souls Day.

During the month of November, in particular, the Church considers and reflects on the mystery of death from the perspective of faith in Jesus Christ. A faith that understands the sorrow that death brings to the living and a faith whose rituals are designed to affirm the central confession of Christians that Christ died and rose from death. He died a real human death and burst from its clutches.

As people of faith it serves us well to make sure that our loved ones are aware that when we die, we want a Mass of Christian Burial to be celebrated for us. Since the absence of religious practice in many families is more common these days it is very wise to make sure that our loved ones know that when we die, we want a Catholic funeral. Too many faithful, practicing Catholics are denied a Catholic funeral because their survivors who are distant from the Church are not familiar with our Catholic practices at the time of death and burial. I have heard stories that involve arranging some kind of “farewell service” with the deceased person’s favorite music playing; heartfelt personal tributes are given; a slide show of the deceased’s life is presented; readings from a book of poetry — all this, however well intentioned, for a person who was a faithful parishioner. No prayers are offered. Mass in Church does not take place. A one-stop funeral in a 20-minute service. When cremation is done, the cremains either end up on the mantle in the living room, in the attic or in some locket of jewelry.

For us a funeral is a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the gift of the life of the deceased and it offers hope and consolation to the survivors. It is not a celebration of a person’s life. It is an act of worship and thanksgiving to God for the gift of the life of the deceased. Its prayers, music and Scripture readings offer hope and consolation to the grieving. It is an expression of faith in the face of death. It celebrates and makes present the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus in which the baptized participate. So, a little bit of advice from your bishop, make sure that your survivors know your wishes for a Funeral Mass.

Remember Halloween leads to All the Saints who are praising God who in turn lead us to pray for All the Souls awaiting the glory of the Saints.

Perhaps, each day in this month of November we might pray for the dead:

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the Mercy of God, rest in peace.

Amen.

Most Reverend Dennis J. Sullivan, D.D.
Bishop of Camden