The cemetery at the Abbey of the Genesee
Almost a decade ago, when I was walking with my mom near her home, we passed an elderly gentleman working outside. Politely I asked him, “How you doing?” “Still above ground,” was his quick-witted response. Still above ground.
The incident reminded me of a line from a movie I like: Sleepers. In it, one of the characters, a gangster figure, refers to death as “taking the dirt nap.”
Death is not a topic any of us likes to bring up in everyday conversation. Too many of us like to imagine that we have plenty of time left. However, it is something that we all have to face sooner or later. The fraternal motto of the Knights of Columbus to which I belong reminds us bluntly: Tempus fugit, Momento mori (Time flies, Remember death).
Inevitably, I have a bit of time to think about death when I am on retreat with the Trappist (Cistercian) monks. I usually visit their cemetery, praying for the deceased monks who had given their lives in the service of God and the Church. Their graves are marked by a simple wooden cross. This seems to me a stark reminder of death’s finality for them and for us in this world.
During the month of November, we are asked to pray for the Holy Souls. We begin the month with All Saints Day followed immediately by All Souls Day. Have you considered having a Mass offered for your deceased loved ones? There is no greater prayer and offering that we can make on behalf of our deceased loved ones than to join our prayers for them to the offering of the Mass. We should realize that the Mass is a re-presentation of Jesus’ Last Supper and His Sacrifice on the Cross on our behalf. It is a continual sacrificial offering of God’s only Son, Jesus, made in reparation for our sins to God, His Almighty Father. There simply is no more perfect sacrifice that can be offered.
The Church has continually taught that our prayers and especially the offering of the Mass can assist our deceased loved ones in their journey to Heaven.
I think of it this way: I suspect that most of us die imperfect. I hope that we are not so evil that we deserve the eternal punishment of hell. At the same time, we are probably not so perfect that we deserve to see God immediately without some type of purification or purgation first. Following the ancient practice of the faithful praying for the dead (see 2 Mac. 12:46), the Church teaches that there is a period of cleansing that we call purgatory.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church #1030:
All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
When I die someday—when it’s time for me to take the dirt nap—I hope that someone prays for me and has Masses offered for me that my sins will be forgiven. Skip the flowers and the other worldly gestures of sympathy. I know that there’s nothing more beneficial than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for my (or your) soul.
Fr. Ed Namiotka