03 December 2014

2014 Requiem Mass Homily for Grand Priory of England

One of the principal signs of genuine religion is charity. The very last command that Our Lord gave to His disciples on the night before his death on the cross was “Love one another as I have loved you… By this love you have for one another everyone will know that you are my disciples”. (John 13: 34-35). Regarding charity shown to those most in need Christ also said “…insofar as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” (Matt. 25: 40). The basis of God’s judgement of us and the measure of our reward will be decided upon our response to these words of our Saviour. Seeking to put this teaching into practice Christians have sought and found ways through the centuries to make charity effective and to alleviate suffering in all its multiple manifestations. It has motivated individuals, pioneering novel methods of care and also founding fraternities to extend and continue the work into the future. To be truly meritorious, the primary motive for the relief of suffering should be love of God and of others or His sake. It is essentially seeing Christ in every indigent and vulnerable person and treating them as though we were caring for Him. Over the centuries the notion of care at every level extended to the very extremity of life and beyond. In many countries confraternities were formed to arrange the funerals of paupers and condemned criminals, imitating the charity of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. It also embraced praying for the deceased. Wherever the Catholic faith reigned supreme, charity towards neighbour and belief in its continuity and effect beyond the grave became a permanent feature of Catholic worship. Everywhere, chapels and chantries were endowed by nobles and high ecclesiastics specifically for that purpose. Again confraternities flourished to provide a focus for such devotion and every parish and religious community had its obit roll and yearly emphasis in November on prayers for the Holy Souls.
This is still one of the most consoling aspects of our Catholic faith. Effective charity towards each other does not end with death. The soul cherished by the community and loved by family, friends and fellows continues to benefit from their prayers in its journey to God after death. This is what we intend when we consider and engage in prayer for the deceased. We want that love and respect which we felt for them in life to carry on bringing them support and comfort beyond the grave. In the sadness of our bereavement it also comforts us to know that any loosening of the ties of love in this life can be mended by prayer directed to God for the departed. Because our effort to procure eternal peace for the deceased takes the form of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass there can be doubt of its effectiveness. Opportunities of prayer for the dead through the Mass should never be neglected. One day, we shall be the ones needing it. 
Few writers have been able to express this so movingly and eloquently as Blessed John Henry Newman. His spiritual legacy is one of deep faith and intellectual conviction of the most elevated kind. He never tired of explaining and teaching the faith. During his life he was part of a religious fraternity and was able to correspond with so many on matters of faith. He also wrote poetry with religion as its theme. Probably his most famous work, later set to music by Sir Edward Elgar, is the “Dream of Gerontius”. It is the story of a soul’s passing from this earth to judgement and its realisation that though redeemed and longing to live in the blessed sight of God it must undergo a process of further purification in order to be completely at home in heaven. 
Newman’s poem is in the form of a dialogue between Gerontius and the Angel who conducts him through and beyond the gateway from earthly life to a world of spiritual intensity unfamiliar until the moment of death. The soul travels but is aware of those left behind; especially their prayers for the departed. “I hear the voices that I left on earth…the friends… who say the Subvenite with the priest”. In the final verses of the poem the Angel comforts Gerontius with the reminder that his time of waiting will not be a lonely one for “Angels to whom the willing task is given, shall tend and nurse and lull thee as thou liest: and Masses on the earth and prayers in heaven, shall aid thee at the throne of the most Highest”. 
Dear confreres and brethren gathered here this evening, this is the holy and charitable enterprise in which we are all engaged. In our thoughts and prayers are individuals whom we have known and loved in life. Each of us will have a particular memory that is most personal to us alone and by which the flame of affection is kindled in our minds and hearts. In a wider sense we may also be aware of the contribution to the general good made by those for whom we are praying. Especially within the traditions and purposes of our Order, founded for the relief of the misery of poverty and sickness and the defence of the Catholic faith, our deceased members have played their part both by their practical support and their prayers. Like the devoted servants praised in the Gospel, they have used their talents for the benefit of others and to enhance the good name of the Order. The form of the Mass we follow reflects the purity of a rite developed from apostolic times and with which, since the very foundation of our Order until recent decades all our confreres were conducted to the grave. The chants and prayers provide a solemn and sombre reflection upon the inevitability of death while offering assurance that to all of us who seek pardon for ourselves and for others mercy is within reach. As the Mass is the source of all sanctity it is also the sign of our corporate solidarity with, in and through Christ. May all here present derive both consolation and comfort from these rites and may the souls of those for whom they are offered, be blessed with pardon everlasting peace. May those souls in turn, who achieve the heavenly reward for which we pray, be mindful of us in their future blessed state and aid us to reach that redemption of which the Mass is both the means and the supreme sign.

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