April 18, 2021 - Pastor Message05/18/2021
THE YEAR OF ST. JOSEPH PATRON SAINT OF A HAPPY DEATH (cont.)
“Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. As she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there...Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni,’ which means teacher. Jesus said to her, ‘Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’’ Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord,’ and what he told her” (John 20:1-14, 16-18).
Continuing this month’s reflection on St. Joseph as the patron saint of a happy death, we will look this week at the meaning and importance of Christian burial. It is no accident that the first encounter in the gospels with the risen Jesus takes place at his tomb. We tend to think of Pentecost and Jesus’ gifting the apostles with the Holy Spirit as the beginning of the Church, but Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Christ at his tomb and his commissioning of her to be the first witness of the resurrection in a very real way launched the entire mission of the Church. We are all called, each in our own way, to witness to the resurrection of Jesus in the world today.
One very important and powerful way we are all called to do that is to celebrate a funeral Mass, complete with Christian burial, for our deceased loved ones. By celebrating a funeral Mass, we build up and proclaim our faith in the resurrection, that, as our loved ones shared in Christ’s death, they will also share eternal life with him. That new, risen life is not that of a ghost or spirit, just as the risen Jesus was not a ghost or spirit. We are not simply spirits, but embodied spirits, and Jesus did not come to save only our souls but our whole life. At the end of time, in the final judgment, Jesus will raise all the faithful to a bodily resurrection, just as he rose.
Our faith in bodily resurrection is the reason we treat the bodies of our deceased loved ones with special reverence. When we sprinkle the casket with holy water at the beginning of the funeral Mass and incense it at the end, we are actually sprinkling and incensing the person’s body within the casket and, through our reverence for their body, the whole person. The same is true for how we bury the body in a consecrated grave or inter the body in a consecrated crypt or niche. The bodies of our deceased loved ones are sacred, so, as an expression of our faith and hope in their bodily resurrection, we bury or inter them in a sacred place. Every Catholic cemetery, including both of ours, is consecrated as sacred ground, and every mausoleum and columbarium in those cemeteries is also a sacred place. Even when a Catholic is buried or interred in a non-Catholic cemetery, we normally bless their grave, crypt, or niche.
We have not yet consecrated our new columbarium, but we plan to do so at this year’s Memorial Day Mass on Monday, May 31, at 9:00 AM. Weather permitting, we plan to celebrate that Mass at the top of the circle in front of the columbarium at Mount of Olives Cemetery, so please bring your own lawn chair and join us for Mass and the consecration of our columbarium. Mary Magdalene was the first witness of the resurrection, encountering the risen Christ and receiving her mission to be his witness at his tomb. Recalling this experience, the beginning of the mission of the Church, we have named our new columbarium the St. Mary Magdalene Columbarium. May those who will be interred there encounter the risen Christ too, and may those who inter their loved ones there experience the same gift of faith in the resurrection that Mary received and, like her, share that faith with others.
Fr. Marc Stockton