Each year the community of St. Agnes Parish, Lambhill hold a Remembrance Mass for all deceased buried in the cemeteries within the parish boundaries or whose final committal took place at Glasgow Crematorium.
As ever, the church was full to capacity. The liturgy was preceded with the singing of Handel’s ‘Father, give us thy Grace’ and began with the singing of the plainchant Introit, Requiem Aeternam before the entry procession. As the altar was incensed, the choirs led the congregation in singing the Introit “Just as Jesus died and rose”. The liturgy continued with the penitential rite which concluded with the Russian Kyrie. The Psalm for the Mass was Psalm 8 – a timely reminder of how important we are to our Creator – beautifully sung by a young cantor of the parish, Amy McLeod.
In his homily (reproduced below in full) Fr. Barry referred to the questions raised in the Gospel by the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead because it was not mentioned in the Torah. This led them to concentrate on the “here and now” and resulted in an attitude of self-interest but their questions echo in us today.
We too ask “what happens after death – what about heaven and hell and purgatory?” particularly when thinking about our departed loved ones. We can all be so wrapped up in our narrow views that we miss the big picture but the question remains – what is the connection between the resurrected life and our present life? He quoted the C.S. Lewis story and the well-known poem “The Hound of Heaven” for some food for thought. In conclusion, he suggested that we pray for the dead because we believe that God created us for life, a life that is “changed not ended”.
Before the Intercessions were read, the St. Mungo Singers sang the beautiful James Quinn hymn “Remember those O Lord” to the setting by Fr. Gerry Fitzpatrick, and concluded them with Noel Donnelly’s setting of “May the Souls of the Faithful Departed”.
As is the tradition for this Mass, a second collection was taken up for the invaluable (and perhaps undervalued, at least by government) work of the St. Margaret Hospice. During this, Carissa Bovill played clarsach. The sung Eucharistic Prayer lent a special feel of occasion to the Mass.
At the end of the liturgy, choirs and congregation joined in singing the Song of Farewell, “Receive their Souls”, a prayer which expressed so well what people wished to say and which was obvious in their participation. The final hymn ~”Thine be the Glory” expressed a positive sense of hope in the resurrection, a reminder of what our faith is about.
The parish community offered hospitality in the hall at the end of the service to give the congregation an opportunity to come together after the service.
Fr. Noel’s Homily
I was thinking about that question posed by the Sadducees – and remembered another question which goes like this: How many times can you subtract the number five from the number 30. The answer is actually very straightforward – but you’d be surprised how many people – even teachers – get it wrong. The answer, of course, is just once.
That’s the kind of question which gives us a flavour of the theological trivial pursuit that the Sadducees indulged in when, pretending to be sincere, they tried to undermine Jesus by ridiculing him. Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees believed that Moses himself had written the first five books of the Bible – the Torah – and that everything God wanted to convey to His people could be found in those writings. So, they reckoned, since neither Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers or Deuteronomy contained any mention of Resurrection of the Dead, there could be no such thing. In consequence, all that really mattered to them was the here and now – which is why the aristocratic Sadducees were so driven to protect their own self-interest.
Their carefully constructed teasing conundrum about the woman with seven husbands highlighted an attitude that could well have inspired this sarcastic epitaph on a headstone over the grave of a certain Mrs. Wallace:
“The children of Israel wanted bread – and the Lord sent them Manna. Old Clerk Wallace wanted a wife- and the Devil sent him Anna”.
Yet the Sadducees’ question often finds an echo with us – and for very understandable and heartfelt reasons. All of us want to know what happens to our loved ones when they die. What is heaven like? Do our departed loved one who are there miss us as much as we miss them? If so, how can they be happy? If they don’t miss us, how can they still love us? What is purgatory, anyway? Are the people there sad or are they happy? And what about Hell? Does a loving God really send people to a place of eternal pain?
Intriguing questions – tough questions too – but the fact is, like the Sadducees, we will always be way off course trying to visualise heaven in narrow human terms – as if Heaven were a wonderful theme park where everything is as it is now, only better, where ice cream contains no cholesterol. The Sadducees’ tragedy, you see – and it was a real tragedy – and one we sometimes share with them – is that they were so wrapped up with their constricted view of things that they couldn’t even accept that there was a big picture.
Trapped in the cul-de-sac of believing that there is no resurrection – they were oblivious to the hope, the wonder, the glory, of the altogether fulfilling transformation that must surely not only epitomise life with God after life here – but also give a wholesome sense of purpose and meaning to life in this world. And yet, that said, still the question remains. What is the nature of the relationship between the resurrected life and this present one? What is the connection?
The English writer CS Lewis, in his fascinating story entitled The Great Divorce tells of people finally confronted with the deepest choices they make in this world. Those who cling to their fears, who nurse their resentments, who refuse to let go of their prisons of antagonism and their cocoons of indifference, are finally given by God what they selfishly live for. Those, however, who live in hope and trust, who cast themselves into the arms of the living God, no matter their sin or shame or sorrow, find what they, in their hearts, want most.
To quote CS Lewis: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ – and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.'” But even that isn’t the full story – because we know, too, that for all His willingness to respect our free will, we know that God is also the Hound of Heaven of Francis Thompson’s famous poem – braying at the heels of those who run from him through the corridors of their lives – such is the passionate nature of His love for each of us whom He created in love, and for love.
And that’s why we pray for the dead: not that God’s mind will be changed, but that they will be more open to God’s love, so that they can be truly – and joyfully – alive in Him.Quite simply, because we believe that God does not create us just to walk away from us – because we believe that life’s destiny leads us to more than a row of headstones – because we believe that life, for our departed loves ones, is “changed, not ended”, we continue to love them and to support and encourage them in the only way we can, the only way that really matters – with our prayers.
In fact, we express our continuing solidarity with them every Sunday when we recite the Creed and affirm the words: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come”. That’s the big picture that brings us to every Mass to receive the Body and Blood of Christ as food for our journey – and which brings us here today. As the great St. Irenaeus once observed: why would Jesus bother to nourish us with his Body and Blood, if our bodies are not going to be raised on the last day? God, as Jesus made clear when answering the Sadducees, God has nothing to do with death – absolutely nothing to do with death – but everything to do with life.
It was a truth well grasped by John Owen, the great Puritan preacher who, when he lay dying, rallied a little and decided to dictate some last letters to his friends. Probably with a twinkle in his eye, he said to his secretary: “Write this. I am still in the land of the living”. Then he paused, stared into the distance, and said: “No, change that to read – I am still in the land of those about to die, but I hope soon to be in the land of the living”.