The National Catholic Review

       My dad's funeral Mass was said last summer in a church that he had not often attended. After he was buried, my mother moved to a smaller house in another town. In November, she got a letter from the parish where the funeral had been, inviting our family to a special Mass for all of the dead who had been buried from that church during the previous year.

    It was a Friday evening in November, Friday the 13th in fact, when my mother and sister and I returned to the church where we had lately mourned. Each family was given a candle with their loved one's name on it. The candles, spread around the church, burned in memory of each person who no longer sat in the pew with his or her family. Each family had also brought photos of the ones we had lost. The faces we missed gazed at us from a display table.
   
    In a touching homily, the pastor thanked us, both for revisiting the place of our final farewell, and for being willing to peel back the scab a little to share our raw feelings with each other. He talked about loss and love, pain and rebirth. Then he read the name of each of the deceased as each family brought forward their candle and placed it in front of the altar. Every flame represented a story, a death, a grieving, and a soul set free.

    The Mass that night was truly a meal shared with friends. We in the pews shed our tears, but in a good and safe way, as we were moved by the beautiful music, the sense of real caring in every detail of the Mass, and the personal warmth that radiated from these parishioners. After Mass, they offered us refreshments and conversation and unhurried time. In this shining parish community, the ministry of healing meant something palpable.

    It occurred to me that all of these lovely people, the singers, the musicians, the lectors, the altar servers, the Eucharistic ministers, the pastor himself, probably all had families or obligations of their own, and other things they could have been doing that evening. Yet they had chosen to spend a holy hour with us bereaved. Many of us were not regular parishioners, but we were treated as though we were the most important people in the world. I felt my dad's spirit among us, and I believe every family there experienced God's warm embrace through the people of St. Bernardine of Siena. 

    Many parishes offer Masses for the dead in November, but this special parish offered Mass not only for our beloved dead, but for the living who are mourning our dead and slowly clearing our way through the dense brush of grief. Blessings on them always for that. They renewed my faith in people, in goodness, in God. That evening, love had many faces.

   

Comments

Michael Widner | 12/12/2009 - 6:31am
This is truly what the parish community should be about.  My parish strives to be like this one by welcoming the marginalized, the grieving and the outcast.  Thank you for sharing this!