Last Monday morning the Redemptorist Community gathered in the Community cemetery to celebrate a Requiem Mass for all the deceased members of the South African Province of our Congregation. We had to contend with an unusually hot sun and the accompanying strong sunlight. To sit in a little semi-circle in one of the few shady spots surrounded with headstones and filled with vivid memories of our departed confreres was a very moving experience.
We were reminded of the multitude of tiny acts of kindness, of the years of obscure fidelity to God, of lives totally given to service, of suffering and misunderstandings, of tragedies and immense joys, so that it was a not just a duty but a privilege to gather all those lives into the sacrifice of Christ and offer them again to the Father of us all.
From the very early Church it has been a tradition to visit the graves of departed Christians, for a little while to be physically close to the last resting place of the martyrs and to those whose lives had been a living gospel. To this day in many countries families visit the cemetery on November 2nd or sometime during this month dedicated to the dead. It is a human instinct which chimes in with the Gospel of life: may they rest in peace.
Certainly we pray for the dead in every Eucharist; often we have the opportunity to actually name a particular person in a particular Mass. But we also need to express our solidarity in the Communion of Saints from time to time in ways which our Christian tradition has blessed. Visiting the cemetery or garden of Remembrance is one such way.
People often find peace in this tradition. We pray that our dead may “rest in peace” but we too can find help to live in peace –before we follow our deceased!
Fr Seán Wales, C.Ss.R.