||John D. Azzara, Sr., RIP
Mass on the Day of Burial
Readings on the Day of Burial
About three or four years ago one of our parishioners donated some very nice
white lace surplices for our altar servers to wear over their black cassocks at
Mass. John was one of our men who was enthusiastic about serving Mass, and loved
to wear the fancy surplice as often as Church regulations allowed. One day, when
the surplices were very new, he turned away from me as he vested for Mass-I was
horrified to see blood coming out of the back of the surplice! I got John out of
the vestments immediately, threw the surplice into the sink in cold water, and
administered first aid (yes, in that order). It turns out that John had been
carrying around a piece of Korean War shrapnel in his back, and it had finally
worked its way out, fifty years later. Korea was John’s second combat
assignment, having served in the South Pacific with the 1st Marine Division in
World War II.
In recent years, John had a few difficult hospital stays-events that he might
not have survived if it were not for the kindness of friends who were close to
him-a survival that might not have been possible for a man who lacked the
tenacity of United States Marine.
But, finally, the bullet that had John’s name on it took him down in the
form of a stroke. Some might say that death always wins, being the end of all
mortal men and women. But I don’t think John would agree that death had gotten
the better of him. Knowing John, I suggest that he would say that, in every way
that is important, death lost.
Death is a natural thing, common to all living beings that inhabit the earth.
From the least complex organism to the most, it is the common heritage of all of
God’s material creatures. For being material creatures, a vast complexity of
things must work together to keep us alive. But it is the nature of material
things that, with time, they break down and become more and more disordered. A
man can live with some of this disorder. He can cope with the loss of a limb, or
eyes that don’t see too well. He can get some help from his physician. He can
cope with a little Korean steel in his back. But, eventually, it becomes
impossible to hold everything together, and he goes the way of all living
But there is a part of man that is not material, and not subject to
decomposition-his spirit-his soul. Does man have a soul? Of course he does! It
is not hard to recognize the soul in man, for man is much more than just the
material parts. Man-like God and the angels-has both intellect and will; that is
to say that man is capable of both thinking and of loving. These powers of the
spirit transcend the limits of material being.
Man seems to be unique in this among his fellow creatures. We do see
something that resembles intellect in the higher animals; we do see something
that resembles love-but it is difficult to distinguish these qualities apart
from animal instinct.
Man, on the other hand, plans, and designs, and builds. He makes tools which
give him far more strength and speed than the animals-tools which today even
help him to think faster. He protects himself from the elements: the heat, the
cold, the rain, and the wind. He protects himself from predators, both the
four-footed and two-footed varieties. His intellect leads him to society with
other men, joining their strength and their minds to his own so that everyone
can be better off. Man is a builder of magnificent bridges and skyscrapers, he
forms symphony orchestras, and even fighting organizations like the United
States Marine Corps-and he is capable of using all of these things for the good
Man’s intellect allows him introspection. He knows his own existence, and
the part he plays in his society and in his world. He can look down into his own
heart, where his conscience dwells, and where he knows the Holy Ghost to reside.
He can also look above on a clear winter night, and recognize in that order and
beauty the handiwork of God. Man alone among his fellow material creatures is
endowed with these gifts of God.
Man is uniquely capable of abstraction. That is to say that his soul can draw
concepts out of the material things around him. He can contemplate concepts
like truth and justice and freedom, compassion and love. He can contemplate
these things, and he can desire them, and he can strive to make the concepts
into realities. Something far more than just his material being is capable of
going our from him to the poor and the sick and the confused. His love for his
wife and family and friends is above and beyond his material being. Again, man
is more than the sum of his material parts, for his soul, the seat of this
reason and love-like God and the angels-goes on forever.
Now, some will ask why God made man out of the same complex, and therefore
breakable, materials as the rest of earthly creation. We can speculate
about God’s reason, but we know from God’s revelation that He
intended somehow to preserve men and women from the disintegration suffered by
the lower creatures. He gave Adam and Eve special gifts which protected them
from sickness and toil and even death. They and their descendants would have
lived forever if they had not lost those special gifts through sin. (Lest anyone
be tempted to complain that this was unfair to their descendants, first
recognize that none of us has done any better than Adam or Eve.)
And, even in their sins, God did not abandon His children. He sent His Son,
Jesus Christ, true God and true man, into the world to heal the rift between God
and man. By Jesus’ death on the Cross, mankind as a race is redeemed from the
sin of Adam. Through the preaching of Jesus’ public life we are made aware of
God’s Commandments for our behavior, and made aware of the things which God
wants us to know and believe about Himself. By the Sacraments which Jesus
established, we are capable of taking that belief, and earning the graces that
will bring us to eternal life.
Eternal life! Death is not the final end of man! The human soul, that
non-material part of man, which reasons and loves, goes on forever. It is simply
not capable of decomposition. While the body, which is not permanent, may
grow old and suffer and die; the soul which is permanent, lives forever
like the angels. As we will hear today in the Preface of the funeral Mass:
We, afflicted by the certainty of dying, may be consoled by the promise of a
future immortality. For unto Thy faithful, O Lord, life is changed, not taken
away; and the abode of this earthly sojourn being dissolved, an eternal dwelling
is prepared in heaven. The hope of a blessed resurrection has shone upon us.
What did Saint Paul just say to us? Just as Jesus rose from the dead, so will
those “who have fallen asleep through Jesus ... the dead in Christ shall rise
... and we shall be caught up together with them in the air, and we shall ever
be with them with the Lord.”
Martha, the sister of Lazarus, knew that her
brother would “rise in the resurrection on the last day,” for this was
already known to God’s people-and Jesus would further explain: “I am the
resurrection, and the life; he who believes in Me, even if he dies, shall live.”
Elsewhere, Saint Paul tells us that “death is swallowed up in victory ...
for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall rise again incorruptible.”
know that on the last day, Almighty God will raise us from the dead and restore
our souls to a glorified body; one no longer subject to sickness and death. It
matters not that we died young or old, weak or strong; or even that in this life
we may have lost a limb. It matters not that our graves are marked with a fancy
stone, or that our remains are lost in obscurity. In any case, God will raise us
up, whole once again.
And if we have kept His commandments, we shall share some of God's glory in
heaven, and our resurrected bodies shall enjoy the newfound pleasures of heaven.
But woe to the one who dies in his sins! A soul intended to be with God, as
all souls are, but eternally denied His gaze. A glorified body, intended for the
delights of heaven, left to feel the pains of Hell.
But here again, we see that God has conquered death in another way. He has
conquered not only the death of the body, but also the “death” of the soul.
By virtue of our Lord's life, death, and resurrection, He has even conquered
Look at how good He was to John:
John was raised by the religious at Saint John’s Orphanage in Wheeling,
West Virginia-in those days, the Sisters of Saint Joseph. The Sisters saw to his
Baptism, Confession, Communion, and Confirmation. They educated him in the true
Catholic Faith, which he held steadfastly until his death. It was the example of
the Sisters that formed his love of Christ and His Church and His Holy Sacrifice
of the Mass. They were the ones who taught him to serve at the altar-which he
did with care and precision until his final years.
On July 6th, 1940, God gave John a loving wife,
Carinda, in the Sacrament of Holy
Matrimony. They shared an all too brief forty-five years together, and he never
remarried. Semper fi, it would seem, goes beyond the grave. I know their
wedding date because it is date of my father’s death, and John always joined
me in offering Mass for them on that day each year.
God saw him safely through the horrors of war, returning him to a
productive life lasting for decades.
In his infirmities God sent His priest to absolve John from his
sins and to give him Holy Communion while he was still able to receive It,
and then a few days later, to anoint him with the Holy Oil of Extreme Unction. God allowed our Holy Mother the
Church to grant him a plenary indulgence at the moment of his death in the
Both in his last days and hours, and even now after death, he is surrounded
by friends who loved him, and who were concerned for his physical and spiritual
God has truly conquered sin and death!
Yet, still, it remains for us to reflect on those words we heard from the Old
Testament: “It is therefore a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the
dead, that they may be loosed from their sins.”
While sins and the punishment
due to sin may be forgiven during this life, our Lord speaks of sins forgiven
“in the world to come.”
We pray for the dead that God will swiftly cleanse them of those small sins
and imperfections that might keep them temporarily from enjoying the glory of
heaven. That, by His mercy, He might quickly forgive the punishment that is due
to their sins in Justice.
But, we also pray for the dead, that we might receive something for
ourselves; that by reflecting on the realities of life and death, of heaven and
hell, we might be more motivated to keep His Commandments and receive His
Sacraments in order to ensure our own eternal salvation. These are things
not just to talk about, for they are realities; we might even say the only
realities, for nothing else matters if we lose our souls.
Finally, we pray for the dead, so that they will pray for us. The souls in
Purgatory need our prayers, for which they are eternally grateful. Remember that
they are God's saints, soon to share the glory of heaven with Him; powerful
intercessors on our behalf. Let us not forget those who have gone before us,
lest they forget to pray for us.
 Preface of the Mass for the Dead.
 Cf. Epistle: 1 Thessalonians iv: 13-18.
 Cf. Gospel John xi: 21-27.
 Cf. 1 Corinthians xv: 51-57.
 2 Machabees xii: 43-36.
 Matthew xii: 32.