I feel truly blessed by God to be on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land that spans nearly ten weeks. The pilgrimage has afforded me the opportunity to pray at and visit many holy sites throughout this land where Jesus walked in addition to the study of Sacred Scripture and Ecumenism.
Recently our group visited a museum, which had an exhibit on Jewish Life: Birth, Marriage, and Death. What struck me the most about this exhibit was the portion dedicated to death and mounring. In reading the small descriptive plaques about the customs of Jewish people, I could not help but realize how in our contemporary culture we have lost the touch with the ability or even freedom to mourn.
In the time I have spent in hospitals and parishes I have realized that most people do not know how to mourn. Many places of work do not recognize the grief one experiences at the time of loss, granting days off only for close family members — usually only parents and siblings. Mourning the death of a loved one might make one also feel uncomfortable so they want to get over it as soon as possible. Some people view being emotional, especially for men, as a sign of weakness. The hurriedness, uncomfortableness, and reactions of our peers have stymied our ability to effectively mourn.
I learned three things from my survey of of the Jewish life exhibit. First, it is customary for Jewish people to light a candle in both the synagogue and their home in memory of the person who has died. The glowing light is likened to the light of God and the memorial flame to the soul of the departed, who is forever joined to the divine light and the memory of the people.
Secondly, according to Rabbinic literature, accompanying the dead on their journey to burial is one of the essential deeds for which one is rewarded in in their lifetime and earns a reward in the life to come.
Thirdly, mourning goes through stages, beginning with seven days, thirty days, and yearly. On the anniversary of the deceased’s death, it is customary to visit the gravesite.
As Catholics we have our own process of grieving. Unfortunately it is a growing trend for families to forego the Mass of Christian Burial in favor of a service outside of Mass or gravesite service. Sometimes this is done because of cost or because the children do not share the same religiosity as their loved ones did. The Church envisions a three part liturgy: the vigil, Mass, and burial. I have found the Church’s funeral rites to be a very beautiful ritual of the Church.
We should not be afraid to mourn for our loved one’s who have died. Jesus himself in the scriptures mourned the death of two important people: John the Baptist (Mt 14:13) and Lazarus (John 11:35). He also showed pity toward the Widow of Naim by raising her son (Luke 7:11-14) and compassion toward his own mother by entrusting her to the beloved disciple. Furthermore Jesus taught in the Beatitudes “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Mt. 5:4). In light of Jesus’ resurrection we know that death does not have power over us because we too will rise on the last day.
As Catholics we recognize the value in praying for the dead. Let us never forget to pray for our departed loved ones. Have Masses said for their souls and visit their gravesite and pray for them. Pray for the souls in purgatory. Let us be confident in the teachings and promises of Jesus, and not be afraid to mourn, knowing that we will be comforted and that He will one day turn our mourning into joy.