REQUIEM MASS FOR THOSE WHO HAVE DIED IN THE PAST YEAR
ST CHAD’S CATHEDRAL: 2 NOVEMBER 2020
Homily by Archbishop Bernard Longley:
Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.
Every year during November the Church encourages us to gather together so that we can pray for the Faithful Departed. This year it has not been possible, because of the coronavirus pandemic restrictions, to visit our local cemeteries for the blessing of the graves of our relatives or friends – and I have been unable to celebrate this annual Mass for the deceased clergy of the Archdiocese as I usually do at St Mary’s College, Oscott.
I am therefore grateful to be celebrating this Mass here in the Cathedral on All Souls Day, when the universal Church remembers the Holy Souls at Mass and in the Divine Office. Today we especially call to mind our families, our parents, brothers and sisters and our friends, as well as the bishops, priests and deacons who have served us and all those to whom we are bound by ties of faith, affection or kinship.
The month of November normally offers us some important opportunities to pray for the Faithful Departed who were members of our own communities. No doubt we shall share in the national commemorations on Remembrance Sunday, but in a different way this year. As the news unfolds day by day we shall be praying for all those who have died as a result of Covid-19 and remembering all those who mourn their loved ones in these unsettling times.
But our Christian faith in the resurrection does not permit us to feel overwhelmed by the certainty of dying or to regard death as an isolated, terminal moment that marks the extinction of life. Death does not bring closure to the pilgrimage of life. It is a unique moment of passage on our journey into the fullness of life. The sacraments we received in life prepare us to embrace this moment, seeing it for what it really is: the call of God to share in the divine life.
For those who have died in the last year, the call they receive at the end of life is a beckoning to be faithful to Our Lord to the very end, in the hope that they may receive the reward of faithful servants. They wait and listen, as they have always done in their daily prayers, until they hear the beckoning words of Christ: Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.
Among the many servants whose memory we honour, those who served in the sacred ministry have a special call upon our prayers. During their lifetime and in the course of their ministry they offered sacrifice and prayer on our behalf – their vocation was to serve and accompany others along the pathways of holiness. In the different circumstances of their lives and in their manner of facing death we have also learnt how to prepare ourselves for the journey towards risen life in Christ.
All the baptised are called to reveal the compassionate presence of Jesus Christ in our world, not only through their words and deeds but by the entire witness of their lives. This Mass is offered for all those who were called to share in Our Lord’s priesthood through their baptism, those who have comforted others in their time of grief and our clergy who have themselves offered many Masses for the Faithful Departed.
As ordained ministers they also offered their personalities, their gifts and talents, redeemed by Christ but with all their strengths and flaws still evident until the work of grace should be complete in them. In our prayers for all the faithful departed we ask especially that the work of redemption should now be brought to completion within them.
While remembering the many blessings of their lives, it would be wrong to forget the difficulties and challenges they faced as they coped with the demands and pressures of daily life or in their witnessing to Christ, and in the set-backs they experienced. In all of these too the Lord loved them steadfastly and surely used them as instruments for good.
Last year we were blessed to witness the Canonisation of a great priest who worked for the good of others in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, St John Henry Newman. As we pray today for those who have died we are consoled and moved by the compassionate words of Cardinal Newman, who saw that the call of God is always direct and personal:
God beholds thee individually, whoever thou art. He ‘calls thee by thy name’. He sees thee, and understands thee, as He made thee. He knows what is in thee, all thy own peculiar feelings and thoughts, thy dispositions and likings, thy strength and thy weakness. He views thee in thy day of rejoicing, and thy day of sorrow. He sympathizes in thy hopes and thy temptations. He interests Himself in all thy anxieties and remembrances, all the risings and fallings of thy spirit.
Compassionate Lord, grant your peace and a place in your Kingdom to all who have served you and witnessed to your goodness in the sight of others.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
And let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace.