All Souls

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter J. Daly

November 3, 2003

 

            One of the things the Catholic Church does well is remember the dead. In a very real sense they are still present with us in our prayers, memory and in our hope for reunion in the next life.

 

            We pray for the deceased at every mass. This is includes those who have “gone before us in faith” and those “whose faith is know to God alone.”

 

            Like most parishes, we have tried various ways to remember them in the month of November, around the feasts of All Saints and All Souls.

 

            Each year our parish has 25 to 35 funerals. So each year we have a whole new community of “those who mourn” whom we should comfort. Our modern lives have become so “atomized” (separated) that it is difficult to fulfill the important spiritual work of mercy of comforting the sorrowing.

 

            Some years ago, at another parish, I tried having a special mass and luncheon each November for all those who had lost someone in the past year. While it was appreciated, it did not work very well. The grieving families live too far away in modern America. It was hard to get people to come back for the event.

 

            At another parish, we tried to send out cards each November to those who lost someone in the preceding year. This was only partially successful. It was hard get the addresses of family members and friends and hard to know who to put on the list.

 

            At my current parish we simply try remembrance in prayer. During the month of November, we read all the names of those whose funerals we celebrated in the past year at all the Sunday masses. It takes only a minute to say the 25 to 35 names during the mass, but it is amazing how much people appreciate it.

 

It makes us call the dead to mind. It reminds us to comfort someone who is still grieving. People suddenly remember to call the widow or the children.

 

            Beyond remembrance at masses, we also list all their names in the bulletin each week through out the year. We list all the names of people buried from our parish since its' founding on the anniversary of their death. This parish “necrology” is fairly easy to do in this age of computers.

 

            Finally, during November we place a book of remembrance at the back of church. It lists all of the deceased of our parish. People can add names to the book. It becomes our book of remembrance and hope. It is amazing how often people stop and flip through its pages.

 

            Some churches don’t approve of our remembering the dead in prayer this way. But it seems to be a universal aspect of human spirituality. Every great religious tradition has some remembrance of the dead.

 

            Psychology professor Ralph Piedmont, at Loyola College in Baltimore, recently published a nine question survey to determine a person’s spirituality. In the survey he included three question on remembering the dead.  He says it indicates a sense of connectedness to other spiritual beings. The three questions he asks include: Do you do something to please a dead relative or friend? Are you influenced by their memory?  Do you have strong emotional ties to someone who has died?

 

            Evidently on some deep level, being a spiritual person means somehow being connected to those who have gone before us. That is part of what it means to believe in the “communion of saints.” That is what we remember in November, the month of all souls.