Thursday, September 28, 2006


I've been thinking about death recently. Not in the way I really ought to be (scroll down to no 47) but in terms of funerals and Requiem Masses. (NB I'm not a Benedictine, but I often think St Benedict has a lot to teach us simple laity as well.) Anyhoo, I noticed that two of my favourite blogs referenced this. The reason why it struck me so forcibly was that last Saturday morning we had a Requiem (Low) Mass in St Audoen's for a gentleman called Noel Martin. He was a longtime attendee of the TLM in St Audoen's and wanted to be buried from there. The vestments were, of course, black - with a little bit of silver decoration. Very sombre and very much in keeping with the grief that is an inseparable accompaniment to such an occasion. Particularly so in this case, as he died quite suddenly. While the sobriety of our traditional black vestments doesn't quite hit the scary note that these do, complete with their skull and crossbones motif, I think the point they make is the same. At a time like that we are grieving, stricken, and the closer we are (were) to the deceased, the worse it is. What I love about this kind of liturgy, and that liturgical colour is that it gives full but dignified rein to the utter desolation felt at such a time. What I find more and more, as I get older, is that the whole traditional funeral liturgy has a trick up its sleeve. It insinuates a suggestion of hope for those who are numb or worse despairing. It doesn't make merry or canonise the dead instantly. There isn't that facile hope so often expressed in Church funerals nowadays; instead we are allowed simply to grieve. There is a little hope, but not more than we are able for. It's exactly what is needed and is a powerful demonstration of how the Church used to (and still can if She's let) have an astounding grasp of human psychology to go along with Her infallible teaching on Divine matters.

PS If any of this prompts any of (or even either of) my readers to pray for the repose of Mr Martin's soul, so much the better. I'll do likewise.

1 comment:

Dano said...

I once heard a wonderful homily in which a Jesuit talked about the idea of using funerals to "celebrate a life", and quite frankly told the congregation that it was nonsense. It was quite refreshing, especially in light of some secular funerals that even go so far as to ask those in attendance to wear all-white clothing, as if in rebuttal to the traditional funeral.