Mass on the Day of Burial
is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death,
where is thy sting?”
The most disruptive event in anyone’s life is, arguably, the death of a loved
one. It may be a little easier if the deceased is older, rather than
younger—a little easier if the death is the result of a long illness, and can
be seen as a relief from suffering, rather than the result of an unexpected
accident—a little bit easier if we have had some time to confront and accept
an imminent death, rather than to have it come upon us without warning.
But, nonetheless, the loss of a loved one is about as disruptive as anything
gets in our human experience.
There is the discontinuity of a person’s life being radically changed as he or
she becomes progressively less able to do the normal things of life.
Physical activities become difficult and even exhausting; even mental
activities are disrupted by pain or by the remedies for pain, and perhaps even
more so by the anxiety of not knowing precisely what will happen or how long it
will take. These things are painful for the dying, but also painful for
any decent person who is involved.
Then there are the social discontinuities. Knowing that the familiar face
that has been around as long as anyone can remember will no longer be there.
Knowing that a person to whom we went for advice, or encouragement, or amusement
will never again welcome us at her door—that her voice will not answer the
telephone should we call to share a few minutes.
All of us will grieve at loosing Marion. Depending upon how close we were
to her in life, a larger or smaller piece of our own lives will be missing, and
will never be completely replaced. It would be wrong and foolish not to
grieve over loosing her—particularly those in the immediate family—you
should go and cry for a while if you feel inclined to; it is good for you.
But we should not lose sight of the fact that in the midst of what seems like
the ultimate disruption there is a sure and certain continuity that
endures in the life of Marion Lycoff. It is part of human nature that as
we get older our bodies gradually cease to function as they did when we were
young. The human body is a material thing, and like all material
things it is subject to breaking down and wearing out. But we men and
women are more than just what makes up our physical bodies. The part of us
that enables us to think and to love—the part which Christians call the “soul”—is
not a material thing, subject to breaking done and wearing out. The
soul is a spiritual thing that must exist forever like the angels. Indeed,
when we say that we are “made in the image of God,” as it says in the Book
of Genesis, we are affirming that spiritual part of our nature that was
created to be like God and with God in all eternity.[i]
In our first parents, Adam and Eve, God gave mankind a special relationship with
Himself, raising us, His creatures, to the status of His sons and daughters.
We know that Adam and Eve lost that status for us through original sin—but we
also know that we have been redeemed through the sacrifice offered on the Cross
on our behalf by Jesus Christ, the true Son of God. We know, as well, that
our Lord left us seven Sacraments, which enable us once again to live a
spiritual life with our Father in heaven.
Understand, please, for this is very important, that eternal life with God
begins long before death. Eternal life, in fact, begins with Baptism, when
sanctifying grace fills the soul and enables us to share in God’s divine life.
At holy Mass we hear that through Baptism and the other Sacraments we “become
partakers of His divinity, Who humbled Himself to become partaker of our
And we know that Marion was a devoted partaker of that divinity. One
Sunday she missed Mass because of car trouble, but she got a neighbor to bring
her to church to receive her Lord in Holy Communion after the Mass.
Again, this spiritual life did not begin in old age. It was not the
product of illness or the fear of death. God’s relationship with her has
grown and grown for years:
Baptism, God washed away every stain of original sin, and infused His divine
life into her soul.
she fell, He heard her Confessions and restored her baptismal innocence.
“Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them.”[iii]
holy Matrimony she has brought many descendents into the world—many other
souls created “in the image and likeness of God.” There were
children, and grand children, and great grands. She was married for
forty-four years before her husband was taken away, and lived another
twenty-one from her widowhood.
she was ill He sent His priests to anoint her, as St. James tells us,
with oil, so that “if we be in sins, they shall be forgiven.”[iv]
blessed her with the Apostolic Blessing, allowing Saint Peter to
“loose on earth and in heaven,” some or even all of the punishment due
to her sins.[v] She breathed her last in comfort and
tranquility, with her children, the attentive people of the Cardiac ICU, and
the wonderful people of Hospice.
has sent all of you good people here to pray for her, and to console one
another with your kind words and your warm company.
So, in spite of the terrible discontinuity of death, we have every reason to see
eternal continuity. During the celebration of her Requiem Mass we
will hear the very encouraging words, that:
who are 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.[vi]
That “blessed resurrection” is what Saint Paul was writing about when he
wrote to the Corinthians: “Death has lost its sting” precisely
because, on the last day, “the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall rise
On that last day, God will raise up the dead in glorified bodies—whole once
again, healthy and entire, not subject to the ravages of disease or the passage
of time. It will make no difference that our bodies were buried in a pine
box or scattered to the four winds—for God will make all things new.
For those who have lived the spiritual life here on earth—those who have
associated themselves with God through prayer and good works, by the keeping of
His Commandments and the reception of His Sacraments—the resurrection on the
last day will represent conquest over death in all of its aspects.
But parenthetically, I must add that while the good have every reason to look
forward to that day of judgment, the bad have every reason for dread. That
glorified body, intended for happiness with God in heaven, will only make the
just punishment of eternity all the less bearable.
The very memorable Bishop Fulton J. Sheen often said that he hoped that he would
die on a feast our Blessed Mother. He died on December 9th, a day too late
for the Immaculate Conception, and a day too early for Our Lady of Loreto.
But Marion was privileged to go on the feast of Our Lady of Mercy for the Ransom
of Captives. That feast commemorates the appearance of the Blessed Mother
to Saints Peter Nolasco and Raymond of Pennafort, and to King James of Aragon,
asking them to establish a religious order for the ransom of those taken captive
by the Moslems. The work of ransoming captives was important, not only to
free them from slavery, but also to insure the safety of their souls from their
Saracen captors. We trust that Our Lady will have the same concern for
Finally, let us reflect briefly on those words we hear in the Old Testament Book
of Machabees: “It is therefore a holy and a wholesome thought to pray
for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins.”[viii]
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.”[ix]
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. May God swiftly take His handmaid,
Marion, to the mansion He has prepared for her in His heavenly kingdom.
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 live God’s spiritual life, to keep His
Commandments, and to 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 certainly one
day we will be the one for whom people have gathered to mourn, and 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.
rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May
she rest in peace. Amen.
[ii] At the blessing
of the water to be added to the chalice before the offertory.
[vi] Preface of the
1 Corinthians xv: 51-57.