Archbishop Stephen Brislin offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Wednesday 17 November 2021, during this time of the coronavirus pandemic. It is also available on the Archdiocese of Cape Town’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Please also see below the text of his reflection, primarily for the deaf.
As we near the end of the Church’s liturgical year we are urged in the Readings of the Mass to prepare ourselves for the “end of time”, for judgement and for the salvation for which we hope. Welcome to this reflection and I will begin with the Adsumus prayer, praying for the Synod of 2023:
We stand before You, Holy Spirit,
as we gather together in Your name.
With You alone to guide us,
make Yourself at home in our hearts;
Teach us the way we must go
and how we are to pursue it.
We are weak and sinful;
do not let us promote disorder.
Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path nor partiality influence our actions.
Let us find in You our unity
so that we may journey together to eternal life and not stray from the way of truth
and what is right.
All this we ask of You,
who are at work in every place and time,
in the communion of the Father and the Son, forever and ever. Amen.
The Scripture text is from the First Reading of today’s Mass, the Book of Maccabees (2 Maccabees 7:1, 20-31):
I do not know how you appeared in my womb; it was not I who endowed you with the breath and life, I had not the shaping of your every part. It is the creator of the world, ordaining the process of man’s birth and presiding over the origin of all things, who in his mercy will most surely give you back both breath and life, seeing that you now despise your own existence for the sake of his laws.
These were some of the words spoken by a mother to her seven sons who were being tortured and put to death during a time of persecution of the Jews. The pagan king tried to force them to eat pork, forbidden for the Jews, and to abandon their religious beliefs and customs. The mother urged her sons not to give in, to remain faithful to the Lord and expressed her deep faith in the Resurrection for those who remain faithful to him. She had to watch the death of each of her sons and extra pressure was brought on her when her youngest was about to be put to death but she did not relent and the young man did not forsake his faith.
As we approach the end of the Church’s liturgical year, and we hear about the terrible “signs” that will accompany the end of times, it is opportune to look at this Jewish mother’s faith and to emulate her. Not only should we remain strong in our Catholic faith and our religious customs, but we need to strengthen others to do the same. So much pressure can be brought on people to conform to other practices or beliefs because it is the trend or politically correct. The lure of conformity, of submitting to prevailing culture even when it is contrary to our faith, and the seduction of promises of reward and acceptance, can be overwhelming especially for young people. Parents have a very important and essential role to equip their children in the faith, to pray with them, to encourage them and, most important of all, to be good role models by living the faith.
Our fidelity to Christ and our faith pays off. Not only is it the road to peace, harmony and acceptance, it will also bring to a happy completion our earthly pilgrimage. The funeral liturgy – and every Catholic and catechumen has a right to be buried according to the rites of the Church – celebrates with hope the deceased’s entry into new life. Recalling the sinfulness of every person’s life and also the faithfulness with which we try to live our lives, we commend the deceased through our prayers and rituals to the mercy of our loving God. The body itself is honoured as the coffin is sprinkled with holy water, recalling the person’s entry into the Church and Christian life through baptism, and is incensed as a sign of the holiness of one created in the image of God and the acknowledgement that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. This is why it is important for the body to be present at the Requiem Mass or funeral service – only in unavoidable circumstances (such as the time when there were fears that a body could infect others with Covid) should the body be absent or only the cremated ashes be present.
As people of faith, we come to bury our dead with sadness and mourning, but also with the unshakeable hope of Resurrection. As we hear in the first Preface of the Dead, for life is changed, not ended. To bury the dead is one of the corporal acts of mercy and our task, the way in which we can be of service to the deceased, is by our prayers made sincerely and humbly. So many things can creep into the funeral liturgy through sentimentality, such as unnecessary speeches, secular music or panegyrics; yet these are of no help to the deceased. Our prayers will help the deceased, and our humble act of returning to God the gift of the life of our loved one given to us by God, will be of service to our departed loved one. It is in God that our hope lies, it is he who is merciful and the Master of all life, it is to him that we go in our sorrow and to him we commend our loved one through Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life (Jn14:6).
We should always endeavour to keep the funeral liturgy simple, so that our prayers do not become cluttered with unnecessary symbols or excessive words. Let the focus always clearly be on God who is our light and salvation (Ps 27:1). I will end with the “Prayer of final Commendation” taken from the funeral liturgy, and I suggest you could use it during this month of November when you pray for your deceased loved ones and for the souls in purgatory, remembering especially the forgotten ones:
into your hands we commend our brother (sister).
We are confident that with all who have died in Christ
he (she) will be raised to life on the last day
and live with Christ for ever.
We thank you for all the blessings
you gave him (her) in this life
to show your fatherly care for all of us
and the fellowship which is ours with the saints
in Jesus Christ.
Lord, hear our prayer:
welcome our brother (sister) to paradise
and help us to comfort one another
with the assurance of our faith
until we all meet in Christ
to be with you and with our brother (sister) for ever.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Let us now pray for God’s blessing:
The Lord be with you: And with your spirit.
May Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.
Thank you Your Grace. Beautiful reflection on the Book of Maccabees Reading, and also the pointers on what really matters at Catholic funerals.