Commemoration of the Departed Faithful

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Our dear departed ones were in fact the nearest witnesses to Jesus’ manifestation, redemptive work and Trinitarian economy of salvation. Thus they follow the Patron of the Church as real examples in our heaven ward pilgrimage. Hence the last Friday of Denha in this tradition is set apart to honour them. Moreover, their remembrance is very significant in view of the Great Fast to follow. The Church intends to induce the faithful in this context to think over the eschatological realities and renew their life through suffering in imitation of the departed ones. The weeks of Great Fast is indeed a time, according to this liturgical tradition, to remember specially the departed ones.

 

St Paul’s attribution of the epithet saints to ordinary Christians living upon this earth is to be given theological importance. Those who are leading good Christian life and trying their level best to avoid evil and sincerely trusting in God, are aiming at sanctity and therefore can be called saints in the inchoative sense despite their human imperfections. There are some who have been already pronounced saints officially by the Church after their death. This does not mean that all the others in heaven are not saints. All those who enjoy the presence of God after death are saints and they can intercede for us in heaven. Moreover, we must understand that such prolonged and strained canonization process is a later addition in the Church. The acclamation of the community was the important mark of sanctity in the early Church and even today in all Eastern Churches not in active communion with Rome. Therefore today’s Commemoration of the Departed Faithful induces us to pray for the repose of the souls of those that need purgation, and to pray to those who are enjoying heavenly bliss for their intercessory help. Thus the Communion of Saints can be understood in the extended meaning of the communion of all the Departed Faithful with those living on earth in the shade of the Grace of God.

 

In the Latin Church the Commemoration of the Departed Faithful is done on 2nd November, the morrow of the Commemoration of all saints and related to the sanctoral cycle of the Liturgical Year. But in the Oriental Churches this Commemoration is part of the Mystery of Christ and thus of the temporary cycle of the Liturgical Year. Those who do not understand the spirit of the Liturgical Year of Oriental Churches and the intended spiritual growth accordingly, may clamour for the fixation of this Commemoration on 2nd November for uniformity in the Church. But they should remember that unity is not uniformity. The Catholic Church is the Communion of Individual or Particular Churches having diverse traditions. This idea has been acknowledged, endorsed and even enunciated by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. No Catholic should think differently. If they think one with the Universal Church, they will understand the logic and reason of the arrangement in the Liturgical Calendars of the Oriental Churches and will agree with the present fixation.

 

According to the Syro-Malabar Liturgical Calendar the Commemoration of the Departed Faithful is on Friday just before the commencement of the Great Fast (Sauma Ramba) or Lent according to the Latin Church. Sauma Ramba is a period of intense prayer, fasting, penance, almsgiving, reconciliation with others, in short a period of conversion, and meditation on the sufferings and death on the Cross of Our Lord in preparation for the Feast of Resurrection. To remember all the Departed Faithful who are our brethren in Faith before the commencement of the Season of the Great Fast is calculated to remind us of our death and our eternal goal in heaven. This will make us mend our wrong behaviour, which process is called conversion. Friday brings to our mind the suffering and death of Our Lord. Therefore the Friday just before the commencement of the Season of the Great Fast is the apt day to remember the Departed Brethren. Moreover, according to the liturgical spirit of the East Syriac and thus also of the Syro-Malabar tradition, the faithful ought to pay homage to their departed dear ones during the weeks of Great Fast.

 

The saints in heaven participate in the glory of the Resurrection of Our Lord. Therefore according to the Syro-Malabar Liturgical Calendar the Friday just after the Resurrection Sunday is fixed for them Commemoration of all the saints. Here all the saints mean all those who are in heaven including those who have been officially declared by the Church as saints in order to show them as models for imitation.

 

Now coming to today’s Biblical readings in the Sacred Eucharistic Liturgy, the first reading prescribed is Ezekiel 37:1-14. This is the description of a vision of the prophet in which he was brought by Yahweh to a valley full of bones. He was asked to prophesy to them. To prophesy here means to speak the word of God. Hearing the prophet the bones turned into human persons forming a big multitude. The prophet was told by Yahweh that this was the symbol of the resuscitation of the Israelite exiles in Babylon who were living without hope and as dead people. Through the prophet Yahweh promised them that they would be brought back to their own homeland from exile.

The vision of prophet Ezekiel here may be applied to each human individual living on this earth as a captive.  If the human beings hearken to the word of God and react accordingly on the earth they are sure to rise up with vigour from lethargy and live authentically to achieve the goal in heaven.

 

The next reading is from the Book of the Wisdom of Jesus, the Son of Sirach 44:1-45:6. Here the author begins with the statement: “Let us now praise famous men and our fathers in their generations”. Thereafter he recounts till verse 23 of chapter 44 the different types of people who were his ancestors: Among them there were kings, powerful men, counsellors, leaders, learned men, wise men, instructors, musicians, poets and rich men. Some of these people have left a name. But some have passed away without memorials. Nevertheless, they were men of mercy whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten. Even their children continue forever. After this the author mentions some people of the Old Testament by name. They are Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Chapter 45 begins with the mention of Moses as a descendant of Jacob and describes his glories in the first five verses. Today’s portion for reading from this Book concludes with the mention of Aaron in the 6th verse as follows: “He exalted Aaron, the brother of Moses, a holy man like him, of the tribe of Levi”.

 

After this section the recounting of the illustrious men of the Old Testament continues in the section till the 27th verse of chapter 50. The conclusion is as follows: “Instruction in understanding and knowledge I have written in this book, Jesus the son of  Sirach, son of Eleazar of Jerusalem, who out of his heart poured forth wisdom” (50:27). Surely we also have to think about our ancestors on this day of their Commemoration.

 

The third reading for today is 1 Cor. 15:34-57. St Paul discusses here the theological aspect of the resurrection of our bodies on the Last Judgement Day. As new life sprouts from a seed sown on the earth, the resurrected bodies will be beings with new life and that new life will be transformed into eternal life. Those who happen to be living on this earth on the Last Judgement Day without dying will undergo an instantaneous transformation in order to be like the resurrected bodies of those who had died. Jesus gained victory over death and therefore God will give us victory over death in our resurrection through Our Lord Jesus Christ. These ideas of St Paul encourage us on this day of the Commemoration of our dead, to look forward to the day of our resurrection with hope.

 

The Gospel reading of today is Mt. 25:31-46. This is the depiction of the Last Judgement. Jesus will come as a Glorious King accompanied by all the angels in order to judge the human race. He will be seated on a glorious throne and the righteous will be grouped at His right side and the wicked on the left side. The criterion of judgement will be the doing of the works of charity which Christ the Judge will consider as done to Him. Feeding the hungry and thirsty, giving shelter to the homeless, giving dress to the naked, visiting the sick and visiting prisoners are highlighted as the works expected to be done. Those on His right side will have the credit of having done all these charitable works and therefore they will be admitted to eternal bliss. Those on His left side will be people who were selfish and had not been charitable. They will be awarded eternal punishment in hellfire. Here it is clear that the love of God is practically manifested through the love and concern for other fellow men.

 

On this day of the Commemoration of the Departed Faithful this Gospel passage is very opportune. Let us examine ourselves during the Season of the Big Fast whether we have fallen away from charity, and if fallen, let us be converted and start practicing charity along with fast, prayer and repentance.

 

 

Credits: Father Thomas Kalayil, CMI <thomas 'dot' kalayil 'at' cmi 'dot' in>

 

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