Today's liturgical observance is called a "commemoration." Because the Church finds herself praying for those who have died, we cannot bring ourselves to call it a "feast" or a "solemnity" even though it holds that rank in the table of liturgical precedence. For those who have recently lost a loved one, designating today's observance in such a way would be probably renew the wounds of grief and loss that accompany the death of a loved one. So the Church calls today a "commemoration," a memorial for those who have died.
Having said that, we must also pause today and remember the more than the five million people who have passed away worldwide during the current pandemic. Sometimes we have a tendency to speak only of our own countrymen when we speak of the mortality rate. On a day like today it is important to remember that this is a worldwide issue or problem. There are signs that we may be turning the corner, but the number of infections and the number of deaths continues to rise albeit at a slower rate.
However, to put this in the context of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, not even a pandemic can separate us from the love of God. While the veil of death of which the prophet speaks is very much with us, one day God will triumph over death and will lift the veil which has currently grown so heavy for us. All of us know of people, perhaps some loved ones, who have succumbed to this virus. Today, we look to our God and we rejoice in the fact that God is stronger than any virus and our faith cannot be broken by it.
The Gospel today is a familiar story but one that is not frequently proclaimed as it gets lost in movable calendars and feast days. The Gospel of Luke is the only Gospel that tells of the raising of a dead man as his body was being carried out of the village for burial. His mother, a widow, walks behind the body of her only son. St. Luke pointedly reports that Jesus was moved to pity when he saw her. What Luke doesn’t say but what we know is that a widow who has no living son is completely without resources in this culture. When her son died, she died along with him as all of his material wealth would be transferred to his closest male relative.
This story reminds us that while we mourn the dead, particularly those who have died during this pandemic, we must also be mindful of the fact that the poorest among us have been affected even more drastically. So we not only pray for them, we also pledge to alleviate their sufferings whenever and however we can.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator