Tuesday, 4 November 2008

'For These Stones Which have Echoed their Praises are Holy.....'

We have here some pictures of the annual Requiem High Mass at Saint Cuthbert's, Darwen. A full church of parishioners, and those who have had their loved ones taken on the last journey and their souls commended to God in this place, came and offered prayers, as Christians have since the earliest times, for their salvation. It is no longer the custom to place relics of saints on the altar during the Requiem Mass, but Christianity would not have gained acceptance had not the remains of the early saints been brought to the basilicas in Rome and the Empire and interred there, under the floor and the altars. The sanctity of the early men and women who died for the faith and the presence of their bodies caused the Roman people, slave and free, to want to be near their remains in a complete turn around of public polity, before the bodies of the dead were not allowed into the city under severe penalty, but this bringing in of the dead caused a resurgence in faith and an acceptance of the truth of Christ. To this day, many churches have relics of the saints placed under their altars, as many of us will be aware.

2 Maccabees 12:42-46.

'Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. The noble Judas warned the soldiers to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had died. He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin.'

We intercede to the Father during the Mass that, as he becomes present, body and blood, soul and divinity upon our altars, he may look kindly upon those in purgatory and allow them into His Kingdom. The financial sacrifice of Judas above is replaced with the sacrifice of all time, instituted at the Last Supper when Christ made the final covenant with humanity and remained with us, until the end of time, when we 'look to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come'.

Christ crucified hangs above the book of the names of the dead, the Necrology read out previously, His body, real flesh, and His blood, real drink, bringing life to those who dwell on earth and hope in the life after that we, utterly unworthily, may share in the heavenly banquet. He knows His own sheep as they know Him, and His own sheep know themselves to be sinners and unworthy to enter the banquet before washing themselves clean.

As the names of the dead are read out the relatives get up from their seats and light a candle at the font, the place where the journey began for many, in this very church. The hope in the waters of life mingles with our prayers and burns the bright light of immortality.

"...for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that there is, namely, Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay or straw, the work of each one will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire [itself] will test the quality of each one's work. If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. But if someones work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only through fire." (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)

Writing in the year 211 A.D., Tertullian said, "We offer sacrifices for the dead on their birthdays and anniversaries," for the same reason that Saint Peter exhorts us to in 1 Peter 4, "for this cause was the Gospel preached also to the dead, that they may be judged according to men, in the flesh, but may live according to God, in the Spirit'.

Moreover, we are of God and made in His image. In His image here, we pray for each other and for the world. There is no reason to suspect that when we die we will stop praying for each other, so if the dead are praying for us, should we also not pray for them?