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. Therefore, it supplants the liturgy that would ordinarily be celebrated today or the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time. So we continue to remember the great cloud of witnesses that has gone on before us.
At Our Lady of Angels Seminary in Quincy, Illinois, the college seminary I attended, a set of stained glass windows that depicted the seven last things (death, burial, particular judgment, general judgment, heaven, hell and purgatory) decorated the west side of the chapel. They were a constant reminder to a community of very young men that life does not go on forever. That reminder was made all the more powerful when one of my seminary classmates was killed in a car accident on October 4, 1969. His was the very first funeral to be celebrated in the seminary chapel and, for me personally, the first funeral to be celebrated according to the new Rite of Christian Burial. Because I served as sacristan during my years in the college seminary, preparation for the funeral Mass is permanently seared in my memory.
I am sure that today evokes memories for all of us. Death and the rituals that surround it hold a power unlike any other human experience. As it happens, my sister-in-law’s father will be laid to rest today and will likely be another permanent memory for the family.
As we celebrated the commemoration this morning, I was struck by the words of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans: Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us (Romans 5:5). Though the thoughts and memories which fill our minds today may be sad, the Scriptures remind us that today is all about Hope.
As many of you know, I am a fan of the books written by J.K. Rowling and the movies that followed them about a certain young wizard who seems to be in a constant struggle with the evil Voldemort, the very personification of death. Harry Potter emerges victorious from this struggle. The headmaster of the school reminds Harry toward the beginning of the saga that he was saved from Voldemort’s attack on him when he was yet a baby by his mother’s love. Harry quotes these words at key moments in the ensuing and developing story. As we keep this memorial, let us remember that we too were saved by love, the love of God personified by Jesus Christ who died that we might live with our God forever.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator