Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Margo Sturma, RIP

15 November AD 2006

Mass on the
Day of Burial

“I know that my Redeemer liveth,
and in the last day I shall rise out of the earth.”[1]

    The “living God” is precisely what that name implies—God is the God of life.  We know that God made the world to be lived in.  He created it with blue sky and blue water surrounding fertile lands, with a great light to warm our days, and lesser lights for the cool of night.  “The living God ... made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them.”[2]  On the fifth day, He created all of the lesser living creatures, ordered their increase and multiplication, and saw that His work was good.[3]  On the sixth day He made man, male and female He created them, in His own image and likeness.[4]

    This creation of the sixth day was an entirely new form of life.  The angels He had created, much like Himself, beings of pure and immortal spirit.  The creatures of the earth, sea, and sky were purely material—they would live in abundance, but their material substance would one day return to the earth.  The man and the woman created on the sixth day were to be different—“created just a little bit below the angels, crowned with glory and honor.”[5]  The crown of men and women was to be the honor of immortality like the angels—material creatures who would share with God the glory of heaven.

    The angels never die because they are purely spirit.  They have no material parts to break down or wear out.  But we human beings—men and women—are a composite made up of two parts; body and soul.  Like the angels, our soul is spiritual, and therefore it never dies.  But our bodies are like all of the other material things around us.  Think about that bright, shiny, new car you bought ten years ago;  or that beautiful new dress;  or even durable things like diamond jewelry.  Some last longer than others, but in the long run, all material things just seem to fade away.  It is simply their nature—the way they were created by their Creator.

    Yet, we saw that men and women, made on the sixth day, were different from all the other creatures of the material world.  God made them with a “spark” of His own immortality.  And He placed them in the garden of paradise.  God specially preserved Adam and Eve from all pain and suffering, and would have preserved them free even from death if they had not sinned.

    But lest anyone blame Adam or Eve for our present condition, remember that we did no better—we have all sinned ourselves.  None of us has the right to complain that we are unfairly treated by our very natural mortality.

    Yet, even the sin of Adam did not damn us altogether, for God is the “living God,” the God of Life..  In the very same chapter of the Book of Genesis, in which Adam sinned, God gave us the promise of a Redeemer.  God would send a woman, whose offspring would crush the head of the serpent—the devil who had tempted Adam and Eve.[6]  Although the physical damage to humanity would not be undone in this life, it would be undone in the next—and the spiritual damage would be undone in the here and now for all who sought forgiveness of their sins.  Even the most holy people are left with the reality of suffering in the world, and the inevitability of death, but redemption and resurrection were faithfully promised.

    Apart from the sufferings of our Lord on the Cross, it is hard to think of any person in Sacred Scripture who suffered more than that man named Job, whose book comes between Esther and the Book of Psalms.  We know that Job lived east of the Promised Land; perhaps in modern day Syria or Iraq—his book is believed to have been written around the time of King Solomon, although he may have lived much earlier—at least three thousand years ago.[7]

    The book opens with Job being a prosperous man, blessed with flocks of animals and a goodly number of children;  a holy man who offered sacrifices every day for the sanctification of his family.  The devil was displeased with this display of goodness, and obtained permission from God to allow disaster after disaster to take away all of Job’s wealth, and eventually even his health.  The devil, and Job’s friends, and what remained of his family, all expected Job to “curse God and die”—as though eternal death would be better than a difficult life.

    It is only in the nineteenth chapter of his book that we learn the reason for Job’s perseverance.  Out of his anguish, Job replied to his friends, who were taunting him:

I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the last day I shall rise out of the earth.  And I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I shall see my God.  Whom I myself shall see, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.[8]

    What Job knew was the significant difference between the creatures of the fifth day, and the man and woman of the sixth day:  The lesser creatures would all revert to the earth; the materials might be reused by future creatures, but the same, individual and unique creature would never be again.  Job knew that after the passage of time—no matter how long—the individual and unique creature known as Job, would once again be clothed with flesh, and Job would see God with his eyes—and God would see Job in return.

    And this was not merely Job’s private opinion.  Later on in the Scriptures we read about the Machabees, staunch defenders of the Law of Moses, who had lost many men in defense of their holy religion, who sent:

to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection.  For if they had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead.[9]

    The Machabees understood something that Job may have missed.  They:

considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them.  It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.[10]

    By the time of Christ, the knowledge of the individual resurrection had become common knowledge.  We just read the words of Martha to Jesus:  “I know that my brother will rise in the resurrection on the last day.”[11]  Jesus, of course, identified Himself personally with this resurrection:

    I am the resurrection and the life;  He who believes in Me, even if he die, shall live....  the hour comes wherein all that are in the grave shall hear the voice of the Son of God;  and they that have done good things shall come forth unto the resurrection of life, but they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment.[12]

We would be seriously mistaken if we were to think that death is the final end of the human person.  Remember, man is made up of two parts;  the body which is not permanent, which grows old and suffers and dies;  and the soul which is permanent, that 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.

    St. Paul tells us that “death is swallowed up in victory ... for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall rise again incorruptible.”  We 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;  that in this life we may have lost a limb.  It matters not that our bones are in a fancy box, or our ashes scattered to the four winds.  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.

    So, remembering the words of the Machabees, 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.  “It is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead.”

    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.


[1]   Job 19:25.

[2]   Acts 14:15

[3]   Cf. Genesis i: 20-25.

[4]   Cf. Genesis i: 26-31.

[5]   Psalm viii.

[6]   Cf Genesis 3: 15.

[7]   Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Job”

[8]   Job xix: 25-27.

[9]   II Machabees: xii: 43-44.

[10]   II Machabees: xii: 45-46.

[11]   Gospel of the Mass: John xi: 21-27.

[12]   Ibid. and John v: 25-29.


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