Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI in the Czech Republic - Hope Cemetery Commemoration - A Book on Notre Dame Cemetery

The Holy Father is on a three-day visit to the Czech Republic, one of the places most influenced by the atheistic propaganda and ideology of the Communist State (formerly Czechoslovakia).

If the Church is to begin to stimulate a taste for the Gospel message and a turning to the salvation offered in Christ, the challenge to Europe, which--as a continent that extends from the Atlantic to the Urals--has lost, and is increasingly losing, its roots in, and ties to, the Christian revelation, this is a liminal moment for the new evangelization.

Let us pray for God's blessing on this important moment. May Our Lady, Star of the New Evangelization, guide his words and steps these day.

At left: Pope Benedict prays before the statue of the Infant of Prague on the first day of his pastoral visit.

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Each year, I spend part of a Sunday afternoon at our two Archdiocesan cemeteries, Cimetière Notre Dame Cemetery on Montreal Road and Hope Cemetery/Cimetière d'Espoir on the south end of Bank Street.

I was at Notre Dame Cemetery on August 30 for prayers for the repose of the souls of our beloved Catholic deceased and for the consolation of the bereaved.

This afternoon, Sunday September 27 at 2 PM there will be a Liturgy of the Word with prayers for the deceased, the consolation of the bereaved and the blessing of the graves, columbarium niches and interment areas [Hope Cemetery, 4660 Bank St., Ottawa, ON].

You know, perceptions of death have evolved over millennia and continue to undergo change.

Cremation, for example, once was forbidden Catholics because those promoting it denied the afterlife. Separated from such ideological ties, it has become more common. It is now possible for a funeral Mass to be celebrated in the presence of cremated remains, though it is still preferable for the coffin to be present, with cremation taking place afterwards.

Funeral and burial customs, too, are in flux. Society’s focus on individual preferences has spread to the funeral home where directors help families make statements about the passing of the deceased. This has led to demands that funeral ceremonies take such desires into account, including permitting testimonies to be made at the funeral Mass.

Televised funerals—of politicians, celebrities or Canadian soldiers killed in action—show eulogies being given, leading to demands for similar courtesies to be extended at the local parish.

The Church, however, invites believers to see in the funeral liturgy an expression of hope in God who governed the life of the deceased, so as to situate the lives of survivors in the perspective of eternity.

So the eulogy—praise of the departed without reference to God—holds no place in a Christian’s funeral. However, references to God’s saving grace and power at work in the dead person’s life are not out of place.

Brief and well-prepared remarks by family and friends belong following prayers at the funeral home, at the graveside or, occasionally, prior to the funeral Mass.

Christians have remembered their dead from earliest times. Third century writers spoke of an intermediate place of rest where the faithful awaited God's Final Judgment. St. Monica, in dialogue with her son St. Augustine at Ostia where she lay dying, told her son not to worry about her burial place, asking only that he remember her at the Eucharist.

Thoughts of the ever-evolving place of the dead in our life and in society were evoked by the recent publication of Ottawa's Notre Dame Cemetery: An Historic Cemetery of National Importance Established in 1872(by Jean-Yves Pelletier; Quebec, QC: Editions GID, 2009, $35). This English edition was published at the same time as the French original; generally speaking the translation is serviceable though infelicitous or sloppy at times.

Mr. Pelletier’s research offers an overview of earlier burial grounds where Catholics had been buried and of how Mgr Guigues, conscious of the growing need to serve the Catholic populace with cemetery space well into the future, effected the creation of Notre Dame by a timely purchase of land.

The author then gives an overview of Notre Dame’s development to the point that now it has reached a total of 123,000 burials. This is considerably more than neighbouring Beechwood Cemetery, which, though having fewer interments, recently was granted national status, something the author argues is merited by Notre Dame.

As someone still new to Ottawa and gradually learning its history, I was fascinated by the way people I have heard about in politics, sports, commerce, education, scientific research and religion come together in this book. I have enjoyed dipping into the thumb-nail sketches of personalities featured in the main part of the book (pp. 42-145). Ten pages of photographs (le patrimoine mortuaire), a list of religious communities represented in the cemetery and a number of annexes round out this interesting collection of cemetery data.

In a little over a month, we will be entering the month of November, the month of the Holy Souls, extending the observance of the Solemnity of All Saints on November 1and the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed on November 2. The practice began at the abbey of Cluny under St. Odilo; in his view, prayer for the dead (that they “rest in peace”) joined with celebration of the saints showed more fully Catholic belief in the communion of saints (those on earth, in purgatory, in heaven).

As we remember the dead, let us be aware of the patrimony of our cemeteries. They are the places where we commend our loved ones and associates to the heavenly Father until the Lord Jesus’ return in glory and fulfilment of our hope in the resurrection.

For those who wish a copy, it is available in the French original or the English translation through Notre Dame Cemetery (613) 746-4175.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this excellent posting concerning funerals and death in the Catholic tradition. I am pleased to hear you say that eulogies do not have a place in the Catholic funeral Mass. Inevitably there will be a state funeral in our Cathedral during your tenure as our Archbishop (no doubt televised as well). Will you allow eulogies at such an occasion? This will be an issue, so it might as well be dealt with in advance. Many of the faithful can't understand why the Church teaches one thing about the placement of eulogies and then does something opposite when it comes time for the funeral of a high profile person.
    Thank you and God Bless.