Remembering the dead in prayer

November 23, 2021 in coronavirus, Featured News, News

Richard Dwyer SJ welcomed a large congregation to St. Francis Xavier’s Church, Gardiner Street, on Saturday 6 November 2021, for the celebration of the Annual Remembrance Mass for the dead. It was a moving occasion for all present, with candles, singing, and a litany of the dead, as pastoral worker Christine Halloran reports below.

Mourning the loss – honouring the dead

This annual mass, a long-held parish tradition, is an opportunity for the parish community to come together and to honour and celebrate, in a special way, those whose funerals have taken place in the church throughout the year.

In light of the year that was, the team at Gardiner Street felt that this year’s mass needed to be something extra-special. Their hope was that this mass would provide some sense of peace and consolation, perhaps even closure, to all of those who had experienced the loss of a loved one during the Covid-19 crisis.

Bereaved families received a personal invitation by phone, and were encouraged in turn, to extend the invitation to other family members and friends who, due to Covid restrictions may not have had the opportunity to attend the funeral in person.

Fresh floral arrangements adorned the church, the altar, and the sanctuary. The High Altar was bathed in radiant light from dozens upon dozens of twinkling candles. A warm welcome from parish team members greeted those arriving at the church foyer.

At that point people were also encouraged to take a moment to check for the name of their loved one on the list of the dead, which was illuminated by the light of two brightly burning candles at the entrance to the church.

Throughout the Mass, the gentle guitar music and vocal harmonies provided by Fr Niall Leahy SJ highlighted most beautifully the haunting voice and singing of Ms Lynn Hillary.

Fr Richard began the service by welcoming everyone and acknowledging the deep sense of loss and grief that people were experiencing especially in these difficult times he said: “I hope and pray for all of you, that if not at this time, then sometime down the road, you will feel a deep sense of love and gratitude for the loved one, you mourn this evening”.

Later, in his homily, he offered further words of solace and comfort when he shared how a line from the Apostles Creed had helped him personally, as he dealt with the grief around losing his own parents some years back. He continued: “When I say that I believe in the Communion of Saints, it means that I believe that I am part of a community of believers, both living and dead, and that the love that was there between us during their earthly lives does not come to an end but remains. In fact, it can even grow deeper and stronger because it lives on for all eternity between us and our beloved dead. I believe love does not come to an end, no, it is eternal and never ending”.

Following the homily, the slow and reverential naming of the dead (forty-four in total), was accompanied by the lighting of an individual candle in memory of each one of them. There was an extra candle lit in memory of all those who have no one to pray for them. Family members got to bring their special candle home.

Finally, a very moving and powerful rendition of John O’ Donoghue’s poem: ‘On the Death of the Beloved’ was given by Gerry McArdle, formerly of RTE and now a Minister of the Word at Gardiner Street. You can watch it here » or read below.

Words of thanks and gratitude were openly expressed to Fr Richard as people slowly made their way out of the church at mass’ end, some of them still very visibly moved.

On the Death of the Beloved

Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts,
Where no storm or night or pain can reach you.

Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure of colour.

The sound of your voice
Found for us
A new music
That brightened everything.

Whatever you enfolded in your gaze
Quickened in the joy of its being;
You placed smiles like flowers
On the altar of the heart.

Your mind always sparkled
With wonder at things.
Though your days here were brief,
Your spirit was live, awake, complete.

We look towards each other no longer
From the old distance of our names;
Now you dwell inside the rhythm of breath,
As close to us as we are to ourselves.

Though we cannot see you with outward eyes,
We know our soul’s gaze is upon your face,
Smiling back at us from within everything
To which we bring our best refinement.

Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.

When orchids brighten the earth,
Darkest winter has turned to spring;
May this dark grief flower with hope
In every heart that loves you.

May you continue to inspire us:
To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation,
Where all tears will be wiped from our mind,
And where we will never lose you again.

John O’Donoghue