|Anniversary Requiem Mass - 3 Dec. 2014|
Sincere thanks to Fr Brendan Gerard, FSSP, for making the arrangements for the Mass and for being the celebrant, and to Fr Tim Finigan and Fr Michael Cullinan who functioned, respectively, as deacon and sub-deacon.
The start of the Mass was delayed as the M.C. was unexpectedly unable to attend due to an emergency. He had the vestments for the deacon and subdeacon, and in his absence Mass had to proceed without their wearing the dalmatic and tunicle, as they would normally. Because Mass was late starting, Fr Brendan truncated his homily, but I am happy to post it in full below. It fittingly explains why we pray for the dead.
Ali's good friend Amanda Lewin has sent me some photos taken during the Mass. The altar servers were her four boys, Ben, Samuel, Malachy and Patrick, who served with their customary reverence and competence.
Homily of Fr Brendan Gerard FSSP for the first anniversary Requiem Mass
|Fr Brendan Gerard, FSSP|
Prayer for the dead is attested in biblical Judaism, and as a late development. It’s mentioned in the second book of Maccabees, a book which the Catholic Church, by her apostolic faith, recognizes as inspired and canonical. 2 Maccabees dates from the latter half of the second century BC, and records events from the first half of that century. Even those who don’t accept the book as canonical can hardly deny its historical value as evidence for the belief and practice of at least one current of Judaism at that time. But why does prayer for the dead appear so late? Because it depends on belief in the bodily resurrection, which by the Maccabean period had been accepted by some Jews, the theological forefathers of the Pharisees, but not by all. Two centuries later, the resurrection was still contested by the priestly aristocrats known as the Sadducees.
In the passage from 2 Maccabees that we heard in this Mass, the army commander Judas Maccabaeus raises money to pay the expenses of a sin offering for his fallen soldiers who were found to have forbidden pagan images on their persons. “In doing this,” says the author, "he acted very well and honourably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead." (2 Macc 12:43b-44 RSVCE)
For this biblical author, then, prayer for the dead makes sense only if the dead rise again. The future life, as he – and, later, the Pharisees – conceived it, necessarily involves bodily resurrection. Our Lord supported the Pharisees on this point. The doctrine of the resurrection can be justified anthropologically: since man is soul and body, spirit and flesh, something would be wrong if, after death, a man were to exist forever as a disembodied ghost. From the biblical point of view, that we have to die at all means that something has already gone wrong, but that’s another problem. The fact that Jesus rose bodily from the dead is the proof that the body participates in the life of the world to come. In Our Lord’s thought, this truth is not only anthropological, but above all theological. Jesus justifies this doctrine on the basis of God’s self-revelation to Moses: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exod 2:6). Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are God’s friends, and as such they can’t be thought of merely as dead patriarchs. “He is not God of the dead, but of the living,” says Jesus (Matt 22:32b & par). If the patriarchs are friends of the living God, they too are destined for life – and that implies the resurrection. Jesus himself, the Son of God, the first to rise from the dead to imperishable life, will be the agent of resurrection at the consummation of human history. The Gospel of our Mass, from John ch. 6, concludes with this “mission statement” from Our Lord: “this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40).
The letter to the Hebrews warns us that the word of God is “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb 4:12), and the doctrine of the resurrection is in its own way double-edged. On the one hand, the hope of resurrection means that the catastrophe of bodily death is drastically relativized. Death no longer has the appalling finality that it has in the eyes of those “who have no hope,” as St Paul puts it (1 Thess 4:13). On the other hand, since bodily life will not be abolished but transformed on the last day, bodily life matters. That enigmatic truth of faith, the identity of the earthly body with the transfigured body, forces us to take bodily life seriously. That’s why we cannot remain indifferent to the killing of innocent people, however small, sick or old they may be. We can’t reconcile ourselves to it with an existential shrug. We can look at it philosophically, if you like – with that Christian philosophy that we find in St John’s Revelation. The souls of the martyrs under the altar cry out to God: “how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?” (Rev 6:10). And the answer? The martyrs are to rest “until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been” (Rev 6:11). In other words, killing God’s saints and innocents is the way world behaves, and we can expect it to carry on doing so, in one way or another, until God blows the final whistle.
Belief in the resurrection, and the view of the human person that the resurrection implies, are convictions we shared with Alison, our friend. Before she was received into the Catholic Church, before she returned to Christian belief at all, Alison came to oppose infanticide and abortion in the light of natural reason. That, of course, was entirely correct. Even without supernatural faith, the human conscience is in principle capable of recognizing that to take innocent life is a very grave injustice. Belief in the resurrection confirms what reason already tells us: that the human being may never be treated as a disposable commodity, or as an expendable incommodity. That is also a lesson that Alison helped us to learn, with a pedagogy that was uniquely hers. Now she knows better than us not only what we see by the light of reason, but also what we know by revelation, that “lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns” (2 Peter 1:19). She has gone further than us on the journey to that city where “the glory of God is its light and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev 21:23). Requiescat in pace.