“Death thou shalt die”
Whenever The Commemoration of the faithful departed (All Souls) falls on a Sunday, the following Sunday is the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Each of these days in its own way is an invitation to reflect on the meaning of God’s people gathered to be church.
The Commemoration of the faithful departed reminds us that we are still one with those who have gone before us into eternal life, and that death is not and can never be the end. Since they are alive we still owe them love and support in Christ’s name, even beyond the grave.
The Basilica of St. John Lateran in
While the readings for both days may be chosen from a great variety found in the Masses for the dead and the common of the dedication of a church I have taken the ones mentioned above. This gives us an opportunity to look at the mystery of death and the new life that Christ has won and promised for all of us who believe.
The question of where we go when we die is a question that has puzzled and continues to puzzle the minds of many. It is a question that brings out the fact that we realize that this life has to end and all of us no matter how strong we are, no matter how rich or poor have to die some day. Death has been and will continue to be a mystery. While we know that we have to die and today with the advancement of science and technology can delay death by a few days, months or even years in some cases and can tell how a person may have died, what we will never know, what will always remain a mystery is why a person must die at a particular moment in time. The feast of the Commemoration of the faithful departed does not provide the answer to this question, but informs us that for us as believers, death is not and can never be the end.
If in the past the focus of the feast was on praying for the deliverance of the “souls” in purgatory who were regarded as the “Church suffering” and needed our prayers so that they could join in heaven the saints and add to the number of the “Church triumphant”, today the focus is different. This focus is brought out through the readings suggested for this day.
It is quite amazing to find a text like the first reading of today in the Old Testament in which we do not find any clear theology of the resurrection of dead. During most of the time before Christ, only a vague idea of afterlife is found: and "abode of the dead" called Sheol, whose inhabitants had only a shadowy existence. God’s favor or disfavor was understood in terms of the present life only. However, as hard times and tragedies befell the Jewish people, ideas of life beyond this life began to emerge. Isaiah saw this as eternal restoration of the nation where death would be destroyed and the whole people would live forever. The text comes from within the block of material known as 'The Isaiah Apocalypse' (Isa 24-27). The view of the future within these chapters is universal in outlook and speaks of God's power in the cosmic as well as the earthly realm. An invitation to a feast is also issued in the first reading from Isaiah. Those who will heed the call are invited to the mountain of the Lord,
The Gospel text is addressed to all those who accept the message of Jesus unlike those in Chorazin and
Even as we commemorate the faithful departed we must remember that the readings opf today do not focus on death at all rather they focus on life and life in abundance. In writing to the Thessalonians Paul makes clear that we cannot behave as a people who have no hope. Our grief has to be a controlled grief. It has to be a grief that has its basis in the hope that all who have died in Christ are sure to rise with him. After God has spoken in Jesus, death is seen only as transition from one kind of life to another. In the words of the sixteenth century poet John Donne: “Death, thou shalt die”.