HOW TO TALK ABOUT CHRISTIAN DEATH IN A SOCIETY THAT REJECTS THE SAME IDEA OF DEATH?
Contemporary culture seems not to ask the question of death, or try to exorcise it and make it fall into oblivion, do not ask questions and give no answers, while Divine Revelation assures us that God created man for a purpose of happiness that goes beyond earthly life.
— Liturgical ministry —
The Fathers of the last Council of the Church wrote that «In the face of death the enigma of the human condition reaches its climax» [cf.. The joy and hope, 18]. The Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed are offered to us every year as an occasion to «contemplate the city of heaven, holy Jerusalem which is our mother" and to remind every baptized person that towards this common homeland "we pilgrims on earth hasten our journey in hope, rejoicing in the glorious lot of the elected members of the Church whom the Lord has given us as friends and role models" [cf.. Preface of November 1st].
Usually many people, even the inexperienced ones, there is no shortage in these days of remembering their deceased loved ones, participating in the Eucharist in the parishes and visiting the cemeteries. With heartbreaking affection we remember those who loved us, grateful for what we have received, eager perhaps to forgive and to be forgiven. There are many children who are no longer young, if anything with adult children or even grandparents, who before the graves of their parents reflect on many moments of their lives, saying to themselves, now with tenderness now with bitterness, sometimes even with deep feelings of guilt, that if it were possible to go back they would have had other attitudes and behaviors towards them.
Death can only lead us to question ourselves because - as I often say in funeral celebrations - nothing is more certain than that as we received this life, one day we will have to make it. Wisely an old English apologue expresses how a baby gives the first cry, already starting to age, so the age that passes - were even a few minutes, or a month or a year - it makes you inexorably old. This is why a child born from a minute is one minut old (a minute older).
When man finds the strength to stop and think about yourself, he feels like death does not belong to him. We feel, in our deepest innermost, that we are made for life. But not simply for eternal life on this earth, where he should be eternally subject to the contradictions and limitations of this world, or in a sort of modern highlander, painfully forced to part with loved ones and situations. We carry within our hearts a seed of eternity that arises every time we are faced with the mystery of death and what derives from it: disease, suffering, fear that everything will end forever. The dead, good to remember: it is an “invention” and consequence of human action. God created us immortal, non-mortals subject as such to physical decay, aging and pain, all elements that enter the scene of the world and human experience through original sin [cf.. Gen 3, 1-19], because of which a corrupted nature was given to all mankind to come. All fruit of the freedom and free will that God gave to man at the very moment of his creation [cf.. cf.. Gen 1, 26; Dt 7, 6].
Contemporary culture seems not to ask the question of death, or try to exorcise it and make it fall into oblivion, do not ask questions and give no answers, while Divine Revelation assures us that God created man for a purpose of happiness that goes beyond earthly life. God has called and calls man to cling to him with his whole nature in perpetual communion with his divine life. Jesus, Word incarnate, with his incarnation, passion, death and resurrection fully embraced our human nature; by dying he conquered death and by rising he gave man life again.
The resurrection of Jesus it is the central nucleus of the Christian faith. Whoever lives and dies in Jesus participates in his death in order to participate in his resurrection, as we recite in the III Eucharistic Prayer when we do Memory of deceased: "He (n.d.r Cristo) will transfigure our mortal body into the image of His glorious body". The Incarnate Word in the priestly prayer addressed to the Father before undergoing the passion asks that «all those you have given me are also with me where I am, so that they may contemplate my glory" [GV 17,24]. This is why the Apostle Paul says: “Certain is this word: if we die with Christ, we will also live with him" [2TM 2, 11]. It is in this that the novelty and essence of Christian death consists: with Baptism, the Christian is "sacramentally" dead with Christ, and is already entered into a new life. Therefore, physical death, consummates our dying with Christ and definitively completes our incorporation into Him. The Christian, despite knowing that death is also a painful passage ("pangs") he faces the inexorable shortening of his days in hope, knowing that Jesus has conquered death, that He is that light of the world also symbolized by the Paschal candle placed in front of the coffin during the funeral, the firstborn of the resurrected, the Head of the Body which is the Church [cf.. With the 1, 18] through which the certainty of eternal life reaches all members.
The Christian view of death it is expressed in an unsurpassable way in the gestures and words of the funeral rite e, in general, in the forms of the Holy Mass of the dead. Omitting for obvious reasons the texts, we want to emphasize the liturgical rites, in which the Church expresses its faith, well summarized by the words of the first preface of the dead: «To your faithful, o Lord, life is not taken away, but transformed; and while the home of this earthly exile is being destroyed, an eternal habitation is prepared in heaven".
On the day of the funeral the Church, after having entrusted his children to God, sprinkles the bodies with blessed water. Water is the primary and fundamental element for life to exist. It reminds us that we are made for life. It reminds us of Baptism in which we were inextricably united to Christ's death and resurrection and inscribed our name in the book of life. After sprinkling with water, the body of the deceased is incensed. Incense is used in the liturgy to honor God and what He means. In addition to the Eucharist, the altar is also incensed, l'Evangelario, the celebrant, the assembly, the sacred images... The body of the deceased is thus honored because it is recognized as a "temple of the Holy Spirit" and an instrument of communion with God and brothers.
The body of the faithful departed it is finally entrusted to the earth as a seed of immortality, buried in it as he awaits the never ending spring at the end of time. In this regard, I find these words of Cardinal Giuseppe Betori appropriate, Archbishop of Florence, with which I conclude:
“Even today, cemeteries are a place to exercise faith by praying for our loved ones. They used to stand at the churches so that there, where Jesus died and rose again, the deceased were also remembered and their memory referred to Jesus, Lord of the living and the dead. Even today the Church recommends burial as the closest form to our faith. It also allows for other choices, such as cremation, provided it is not made explicitly to deny belief in the final resurrection. In all cases, he asks that the ashes be kept in cemeteries, not in one's own homes and never disperse them in nature, denying a precise place to remember together and where the Christian community can ensure constant prayer. May these holidays give us that light and warmth that we deeply need and ease the step for those who in faith walk towards the place of bliss and peace, where God will be all in all".
Florence, 2 November 2022
1 He is a presbyter of the archdiocese of Florence and a specialist in the sacred liturgy and history of the liturgy
PRAISE OF DEATH
Popular liturgical hymn
Church of Santa Maria della Misericordia, Lastra a Signa (Florence)
Octave of the Dead, November 2013
Of our brothers,
afflicted and weeping,
Lord of the people:
Submerged in fire
of a horrible prison
they cry out to you:
If at our works
then I no longer hope:
But I look kind
if you turn to the cross,
repeats each voice:
To our brothers
therefore give rest,
the loving priest:
Until from that fire
they will be resurrected,
Lord of your dead:
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